How to make EAL pupils feel safer post-EU referendum

“Bye bye, you’re going home”: playground ‘banter’.

“Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin”: anonymous leaflets left outside a primary school.

“Why are there only 10 white faces in this class? Why are you not educating the English?”: street harassment  reported by a KS1 teacher.

On Friday June 24 at 5 am I tweeted what turned out to be a prescient message:

#EAL kids in your schools will feel unsure of their futures today. Uncomfortable. Maybe scared. Please be mindful.

I did not knowingly predict then what turned out to be a deluge of xenophobic and racist incidents across the country, many aimed at children.  My tweet was fuelled by the knowledge that many EAL and BME children and young people already felt anxious. Media headlines about immigration have assaulted children on their way to school almost every day. The attitudes expressed and language used about migrants have cut deep and teachers have not been immune to negativity. To describe young people at your school as ‘an influx’ is not welcoming, whether or not the real target is government funding. References to EAL children, as having ‘no language’ or speaking ‘poor’ and ‘broken’ English are reductive. Children are adept at reading adult subtext.

Inclusion requires more than some multilingual signs in reception

Of course teachers have a right to political views, including on immigration. Nobody should assume that all teachers voted Remain or that they and the parents who did so are not due respect. However, there is a professional duty of care for young people in school whatever their heritage and however they came into the community.

This is an important moment for school leaders and all those who work in school to evaluate how they can best ensure that EAL and BME children/teenagers feel safe and welcome, supporting them to challenge, not internalise prejudice. Inclusion requires more than some multilingual signs in reception and a statement about celebrating diversity in the school handbook.

There is no research showing that EAL children have any negative impact on educational outcomes and considerable qualitative evidence that monolingual learners in diverse, multilingual schools have an advantage (even though not all EAL/BME pupil groups benefit individually). How do you share this message with colleagues, parents and the local community and establish good relations?

If positive professional mindset about EAL is an issue in your context then you can do no better than read this blog to be inspired. The author, Becky teaches in a majority Leave area where diversity is relatively new and tensions exist.

There is a vital role for leaders and governors to demonstrate in practical ways, such as assemblies, displays and imaginative activities, that all of our pupils are welcome and everyone belongs to the school and local community. You can ensure your school makes visible the global contribution to our shared history and includes global languages and literature, community narratives/history and multilingual creativity. 

There is a vital role for leaders and governors

Bear in mind that a child who has just been abused in the street may baulk at ‘tolerance’ presented as a Fundamental British Value. However they may fear to say this in case that shows them to be ‘radicalised’. There has never been a better opportunity to ensure critical thinking approaches are embedded.

The advice from the police is that the xenophobic/racist incidents in the community involving children are hate crimes and should be reported to them. Families and children may need information and reassurance to disclose and report.

Leaders should also carefully monitor any spike in prejudice-related incidents in school, including ‘banter’ and make sure there are clear systems in place for reporting these and responding which all staff and children understand. 

New DfE Census requirements to report place of birth and nationality will need sensitive mediation in the current context and whatever the future may bring, children and families should be reassured that at present we are still in the EU and there will be no immediate changes to their status. Going forward, proactive provision of reliable sources of information and help with translation if necessary will be crucial.

Find further ideas, discussion and support: Diane Leedham’s blog, 
Universal Values, EAL Support network, Fulbridge Academy – an outstanding multi-cultural school 

Incidents can be logged online using the hashtag #postrefracism

Thanks to colleagues Ann Horton, Bill Bolloten and Jonathan Brentnall for their support with this article.

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  1. Thanks for writing this Diane. I think it’s very important that we, as teachers and leaders, are doing everything we can to make our students and their families feel welcome and safe in what they may see as a worrying and uncertain national atmosphere. It is not just new migrants that have been affected; longstanding first, second and third generation migrants have been given cause to feel a little weary in their own skin.

    Regardless of our own feelings about the referendum or immigration, we must make sure that our schools continue to embrace all members of their diverse communities. We have a duty of care to safeguard them from the perceived legitimacy of racist and xenophobic acts that a minority of the UK’s population seem to think this referendum result represents. What comes next politically is likely to be a protracted process, so these tensions are unlikely to go away in a hurry.

  2. Given that parents can already be reluctant to give home/first language information or identify their children as “EAL” out of fear of being disadvantaged, the new DfE Census requirements may not be well received if the current climate persists. Whatever the DfE’s intended purpose of this data, I could certainly understand families’ concerns.

    Whatever the future holds, I think comprehensible dialogue with EAL pupils and their families will be essential.

  3. Thank you for writing this Diane, and to all the many teachers around the country that are fighting against the tide of hatred. I will circulate this article among supplementary schools. They are struggling to cope with the sudden tide of abuse.