There can be no doubt international demand for English medium schooling is growing at a staggering pace and British schools have a strong brand presence overseas.
So, with ever more options appearing close to home for international parents, how can UK schools maintain a top spot on the shortlist?
Examining your EAL provision might just provide answers.
According to EAL expert and Bristol University academic Robert Sharples, outstanding EAL provision, embedded for the long-term, necessitates three key ingredients:
- Knowing your school and EAL learner cohorts well
- Understanding curriculum language and how to develop it
- Monitoring your delivery and impact
Put simply, it is not just a job for the EAL team and very difficult to do well, often resulting in an “implementation gap”.
Unfortunately, many schools do not have a defined picture of how EAL fits within the school offering. As Suzanne Rowse, founder of the British Boarding Schools’ Network, explains, agents advising international parents crave details.
“They want to know the language level you require, whether EAL is included in fees, how it will be structured and if EAL learners miss out on other areas of the curriculum.”
Lack of clarity, Rowse argues “undermines a key relationship in the admissions pipeline” and means schools may be “wasting precious time and resources processing unsuitable applications or making offers that are declined”.
“Agents advising international parents crave details.”
Schools have not always considered very deeply who their EAL learners are either, believes Eowyn Crisfield, a specialist in languages across the curriculum and internationally respected teacher trainer.
“What language(s) do your learners know and use?” says Crisfield. “Who do they use them with? Which are they strongest in? What is their curriculum language knowledge like? This is vital to informing how you will address their needs”.
An accurate pupil languages profile may also reveal some overlooked advanced EAL learners (UK born or partially educated in English) who sometimes only begin to academically underperform in later school years, adds Sharples.
Matt Norbury, director for international students at King’s Ely School, gathers a broad range of evidence for their EAL learner profiles, including a test of academic English. “We re-test on arrival using the same assessment to ensure we have a fair result and make subject decisions” Norbury says.
“The lack of time and a cocktail of human factors can influence an individual’s success.”
This benchmark is used to track progress, alongside weekly subject teacher feedback, half-termly summative class test results and termly mock exams.
Eight years of tracking reveals English language level is the strongest predictor of EAL learner outcomes on his school’s accelerated GCSE programme, with “less than 55 per cent on the Password proficiency test being a red flag”.
This insight helped Norbury strategically plan learning pathways which keep a route to university open by offering BTEC alternatives in IGCSE science option blocks for weaker EAL pupils.
“EAL learners are still seen as a problem for the EAL team to fix, rather than a whole school responsibility.”
Even so, the lack of time (20 weeks of teaching) and “a cocktail of human factors” can influence an individual’s success, including motivation, responsiveness to feedback, prior knowledge and “natural aptitude”.
Norbury says his struggles to improve lower level EAL learners’ language skills sufficiently to succeed in critical exams is unsurprising, given research findings on EAL learner rate of progression and educational achievement.
So, what about the second key ingredient of outstanding EAL provision: supporting language development across the whole curriculum? Sharples offers three actionable strategies to help subject teachers scaffold language learning:
- Prioritise vocabulary development – both subject specific and general academic
- Plan activities that promote high quality academic oracy before writing – learners need time to practice and organise their thoughts before committing pen to paper
- Let learners use their L1 for support
Sadly, in most schools “EAL learners are still seen as a problem for the EAL team to fix, rather than a whole school responsibility” says Crisfield. Worse still, many schools continue to impose “English only” rules, since they fail to appreciate the contribution of a learner’s L1 to their academic progress.
Students’ languages, and their diversity, are relegated to “food, flags and festivals”. This is less the case, she finds, in IB schools where, “parents have already bought into inclusive schooling which sees multilingualism as an asset, because this is integral to the PYP, MYP and IB Diploma”.
In fact, systematic efforts to implement whole-school training on language acquisition, bilingualism, EAL, CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning), translanguaging, and disciplinary literacy are rare in the UK. One-off EAL CPD sessions tend to predominate, says Sharples.
According to Crisfield, extensive quality training is more likely to be found internationally, for example The École International de Genève offers a six-month practice-based course on teaching multilingual learners in partnership with Oxford Brookes University.
“Schools with a senior member of staff with oversight of international provision have a clear advantage.”
Dulwich College International, part of the EiM group, has developed a languages policy and is now developing pre-employment micro-credentials on Crisfield’s core topic list, followed by induction and on-going pedagogical training to support their teachers with multilingual learners.
What of accountability, the last of Sharples ingredients? Rowse believes schools with a senior member of staff with oversight of international provision have a clear advantage, particularly if the EAL lead is visibly working with this person.
“Agents can see the admissions team, EAL department and those responsible for international student progress and pastoral care are all collaborating.”
In her experience this makes the international offering “more holistic”. Crisfield’s training projects with schools across the globe and Sharples’ with MATs and local authorities in the UK all point to similar conclusions.
Providing outstanding EAL provision is, indeed, hard work, requiring leadership, pedagogical skill and on-going monitoring, but these experts agree, it has the power to be transformational.