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Non-English-Speaking Pupils in UK Schools & Their Challenges

non english speaking pupils in UK schools

Did you know that across the UK there are many non-English speaking pupils in the educational system? Furthermore, the number is consistently increasing, leaving a disparity between the resources and support offered to those pupils and their families. Let’s take a closer look:

What Is EAL & How Many Students Fall Under This Category?

The term EAL means ‘English as an additional language’ and it is used to refer to those who are learning who speak English, as well as native or home languages. English would always be the additional language and not the native or home language.

As it stands, around one million children in primary schools are categorised as EAL pupils, and over 600,000 secondary school pupils also fall under the EAL title.

Risk Factors That Impact EAL Pupils And Their Ability To Reach Their Potential

With all EAL pupils there is a risk for them to struggle to reach their potential in the UK school system. Multiple factors influence this risk potential including:

  • How proficient they are at English – the more proficient they are when they enter the school system, the more chance they have of doing well
  • When they enter the school system – the earlier the better, according to all current evidence, with the latest arrivals struggling the most to catch up
  • First language is a factor because some languages are closer to English than others, both phonetically and grammatically, making it an easier switch

Of course, the amount of support provided by the school to both the child and their parents is a huge factor in how well they will do, and sometimes that can be a postcode lottery.

Which First Languages Are Seen In EAL Pupils Across The UK?

Over 300 languages are spoken by EAL pupils across the UK at the moment. The languages most spoken are: Polish, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati and Arabic, with English remaining at number one on the most spoken languages list overall, outside of alternative language groups. On average, Chinese and Tamil speakers tend to do better in their academic achievement, whilst those who speak Punjabi, Czech, Slovak, Portuguese, Turkish and Pashto are shown to achieve less – this correlation is proven in studies.

EAL And How It Relates To National, Ethnic And Cultural Background

It is important to recognise that the Nationality, Ethnicity and Cultural background of EAL children is relevent in their learning process. White Other, Black African and Pakistani Groups are more at risk of underachieving in school compared to their peers. There may also be religious or cultural beliefs that impact on a childs learning and abilities to fully immerse in the educational system, particularly if that faith is central to their lives. Schools need to look beyond language to ensure that these children are fully supported in their ability to attend school and integrate well, which happens more seamlessly if all factors relating to their background and lifestyle are embraced and accounted for.

Is There A Difference In EAL Pupils Across Different Regions?

There is a difference in the performance of EAL pupils across the country with EAL pupils in the South East and in London having the highest level of English proficiency, with the lowest levels belonging to the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber regions. These figures can have a connection to the amount of pupils in those regions, and so the reflection of strains on services, provisions and other factors may need to be considered. There is, in fact, a big difference in how many EAL pupils there are in any one area. Let’s take a closer look:

North East – 25,017 pupils

North West – 151,320 pupils

Yorkshire And The Humber – 127,968

East Midlands – 96,837

West Midlands – 182,767

East – 124,352

London – 560,206

South East – 165,431

South West – 55,893

The strain on local EAL services is likely to be much larger in areas with a lot of EAL pupils, although budgeting may be more extensive in areas with a larger intake. Those children will all, also have different levels of English proficiency, different language, cultural and ethnic needs and background, and they will be entering school at different times.

What Schools Need To Do To Support EAL Students

In reality, the amount of EAL students starting school in the UK education system continues to rise, which means that schools have to put more into helping those students achieve the best experience within school. This involves a huge range of different actions and changes, including:

  • Teacher training
  • Supporting teachers in learning additional languages
  • Encouraging teachers with multilingual skills into teaching posts in high EAL intake schools
  • Supporting EAL parents to engage with the UK education system
  • Providing texts in translated language versions
  • Providing online resources in translated language versions
  • Adding subtitling and foreign language voiceovers to media put out by the school
  • Embracing different languages and cultures within the school in lessons, celebrations and signage
  • Working with well known resource providers and paid language services to enhance your EAL offerings

It is a consistent case of improving what is on offer to ensure that your school is able to support EAL students well. In reality, every school needs to do more, and it can be challenging when resources are stretched.

The Next Step For Schools

If you are looking to make positive changes to your school to help EAL pupils utilise free resources, seek funding, engage with local communities and supplementary schools, and utilise paid language services. The more improvements you make, the more likely EAL students at your school are able to achieve the grades they truly deserve.

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