A Helping Hand for EAL Pupils

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 The Issues

When I began my post at Tennyson Road Primary school, three years ago, one of my main priorities was that of EAL teaching, especially as 13.2% of pupils did not have English as their first language. 


As Luton is an airport town, it has a high number of families who have moved to England from abroad; over the years this has been steadily increasing and is reflected in the number of EAL pupils at school.  By 2008, 22.2% of pupils at Tennyson Road Primary did not speak English as their first language, 2.6% higher than the national average.


With such a wide range of cultures at the school, from Afro-Caribbean to Romanian, Portuguese to Bangladeshi, it is important to find resources that suit the needs of the pupils, helping them develop their English skills so that they can access the curriculum and ultimately progress with their education.  When investigating potential EAL resources, the richest source of knowledge and advice may come from other schools in a similar situation.  However, often EAL subject leaders do not have the spare time to discuss effective resources with other schools.  Similarly, trying to discover the best EAL resources through trial and error methods can be costly and it could be easy to waste valuable money testing different resources.


How we support our EAL pupils

Tennyson Road Primary is very lucky in that we receive a lot of support from our local authority.  As the headteacher, I worked with my local authority School Improvement Advisor (SIA) who gave me advice on how to provide support for EAL pupils.  As a result, the SIA offered training for teachers and teaching assistants, recommended resources from their resource library and worked with me to implement a New Arrivals Policy. 


The EAL pupils are encouraged to work with the teaching assistant that comes in to school for two mornings per week, these half hourly sessions take place out of class.  On some occasions we use a scheme called Talking Partners – a method that the local authority introduced to the school to target pupils that require focused attention.  One teaching assistant works with a group of three pupils – for twenty minutes, three times a week - to improve the pupils’ competence with speaking and listening.  Working in small groups also means that the teaching assistant can provide focused attention and understand the needs of individual pupils, what they are doing well at and what needs more work. When the children are not with the teaching assistant they are fully integrated in to the class, this may sound daunting for you and me but at that age pupils pick up and understand basic English very quickly.  It is also vital that the pupils are not seen as separate or different from the rest of the class to help them fit in and feel comfortable - factors that impact success at school. 


At Tennyson Road Primary we have also set up a ‘New Arrivals Policy’, a set of guidelines created for the effective handling of new arrivals. This is managed by the school’s family worker liaising with the class teachers. New pupils are interviewed, along with their parents to find out about the child, their culture and how they cope with transition.  Knowing as much as possible about the child allows the teacher to ensure that integration in to the class is as smooth as possible.  Talking to the parents of EAL pupils however, is another hurdle that must be managed effectively.  As a result quite a proportion of the funding provided by the local authority must be spent on translation to parents. 


In addition to the support that can be achieved through the local authority, there are also resources that schools can separately purchase if their budget permits.  After speaking at the BESA Summer conference 2008 about EAL funding, Manic Monkey sent me a piece of software called Little Bridge designed with primary EAL pupils in mind.  It is used with the children by the teaching assistants in the out-of-class sessions although it is equally effective in a whole class situation.  Little Bridge is an interactive 3D resource where English grammatical topics and vocabulary are covered through meeting the characters of Little Bridge, an authentic English village, and learning about their daily routines, hobbies and special celebrations. We’ve found that the children progress quickly using the resource and love the adventure games and songs.  One of our Chinese pupils even taught her little sister the Little Bridge song at home.


Pupil Progress

It is vital that teachers are aware of how all pupils are progressing; formal assessment is available for English speaking pupils yet there is no way of formally assessing EAL pupils in terms of how their language skills and understanding is developing.  Without assessing this, pupils could slip behind in class or perhaps not be stretched to their full capacity.  Tennyson Road Primary has benefited from an assessment programme developed by Luton Borough Council: Language Development for Bilingual Pupils.  The programme assesses listening, speaking, reading and writing skills by categorising progress in terms of six stages: from beginner to fluent.  The programme is particularly useful for teachers throughout the school as the criterion at each stage offers a standardised format.  In addition to this we also make use of the online Learning Management system available through Little Bridge which allows the teachers to store and track pupil progress.  The scoring system on Little Bridge is both formative and summative meaning that teachers can clearly see how a child is achieving, a useful tool to ensure pupils are given additional help in the areas in which they need it.


As headteacher of a school that has a high number of EAL pupils, I am aware of the need for good quality resources to help non-English speaking pupils develop their language and listening skills in order to be successful at school.  By liaising with our local authority and using engaging software packages, Tennyson Road Primary has been successful at implementing strategies to help these children cope in a foreign school.



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