English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Naomi Flynn, Chris Pim and Sarah Coles| View as single page| Comment/Feedback
Teaching and Learning for pupils with English as an additional language
Identifying the teaching context for EAL learners
Developing language and literacy for EAL learners
Resourcing the teaching of EAL learners

Unaccompanied asylum seekers

UASC are children who come to the UK as unaccompanied minors i.e. they are not here with their families.  They have usually been trafficked, some having experienced significant hardship enroute to the UK, including homelessness, hunger, ill-health, lack of contact with their families, physical and/or sexual violence/abuse, arrest and detainment by the authorities in the countries they travelled through.  Most are male.  On arrival, they may not have any papers so some will undergo an age assessment to determine how old they are and, in some cases, to give them a notional date of birth.   

Typically, UASC first enter education in the UK in Secondary Phase, most going into Years 9, 10 or 11 (ages 14 – 16). They will be in the care of a Local Authority so they should be known to the relevant Virtual School, should have a Social Worker and should be on the radar of their school’s Designated Teacher for Looked-After Children. 

Some UASC will come having had little or no education in country of origin, hence their UK school may be their first experience of formal education.  Where they may have some first language literacy skills, these may have been learned at home from parents or members of the community.  There are likely to be gaps in other areas too, but at the same time background experiences and skills that are not normally recognised in schools e.g., they may have worked on their family’s farm in country of origin and have skills with livestock. 

For some UASC, the trauma they have experienced in country of origin and on their journeys to the UK can result in such things as difficulty sleeping, mental health issues, issues relating to separation and loss. Good induction processes as they join their new school and on-going pastoral support are therefore crucial, as is staff understanding of the UASC’s situation; this to avoid inappropriately penalising them by using detentions and exclusion for off-task behaviours or for failure to return homework. Choose their tutor/subject teachers carefully; for example, male UASC from countries like Iran or Afghanistan may fare better with a male tutor/subject teacher.  Encourage the UASC to join clubs and activities that match their interests and give them access to supportive peers.  Monitor how they settle in over time.  See if there is an appropriate adult from the community, someone who shares their language, who can mentor them.  Check in with their carer(s) regularly.  Offer cross-cultural counselling and/or support with their emotional literacy as soon as this becomes a viable option. 

As with all learners of EAL, gathering background information and carrying out a first language assessment are valuable starting points.  Provision should be based on what is learned about the new arrival and may include making provision for religious observance where this is desired.  Giving them a timetable may be something to delay, as they may not be in a position to make informed choices such as for options or pathways post-16. Instead, it may be worth investing time having them shadow other students so they get an idea of what the different curriculum subjects involve before they decide what courses they would like to follow. 

Creative approaches to timetabling may be needed. UASC may need to be taught to read for the first time in English; best done in withdrawal once they have had some time to tune into the new language and have acquired some basic vocabulary. Where this is needed, make sure resources are carefully chosen and are age and interest-appropriate; avoid reading material that may be retraumatising or culturally inappropriate.   

The best place for UASC to acquire English is in the mainstream classroom with their peers using strategies that are suitable for the age and EAL stage of the focus student. Avoid both under-setting and back-yearing (deceleration); choose groupings that include peers who are likely to be supportive and friendly.   

Consider the UASC’s stated interests and ambitions post-16 when it comes to timetabling. Consider part-time attendance at a college for ESOL or for vocational courses for older UASC going into Years 10 and 11; this can support their transition into post-16 education. Consider doubling up on core subjects like Maths when thinking about provision at school and withdrawal provision to back-fill the basic subject-specific knowledge that may be missing. Consider also a work-experience pathway; for example, some UASC with an interest in childcare have spent part of their week working in a nearby nursery, appropriately supervised. Make sure the UASC has access to an interpreter for important meetings about their education and their future, including their progress meetings and any careers advice sessions they may be able to access. 

Sources of information and guidance specific to UASC  

IRC United Kingdom | International Rescue Committee (IRC) includes information about their ‘Healing Classrooms’ training.  

Student Action for Refugees (STAR): Student Action for Refugees (star-network.org.uk) 

Course: Asylum Seeker & Refugee Support (hants.gov.uk) open-access collection of links and resources.  

Asylum seekers and refugees guide | Hampshire County Council (hants.gov.uk) information, downloadable resources and a guide for UASC that covers aspects of life in the UK which may be new to them. The guide has been translated into Arabic, Pashto and Dari and there are audio versions too. 

Original guide sponsored by the University of Winchester, this revision sponsored by The University of Reading and Hampshire EMTAS.