How trusts can pioneer a better model of EAL provision

Our specialist EAL provision is delivering great results and supporting students’ rapid integration into school and community life

Our specialist EAL provision is delivering great results and supporting students’ rapid integration into school and community life

21 Apr 2024, 5:00

CORE Education Trust’s school communities include students from many nationalities, including a number of refugee and migrant children. This brings cultural richness, but also significant responsibility.

With approximately 20 per cent of students nationally (and 50 per cent of CORE students), learning English as an additional language, this is something many other trusts are facing too, yet finding the best approach to supporting EAL students remains challenging. In 2021, we launched CORE Hello, a pioneering intervention programme of curricular and extra-curricular activities to address this challenge. Here’s how it works.

An immersive approach

Before launch, a key consideration was whether to create a central resource base to support targeted sessions or to create an immersive experience. Based on research evidence, we opted for a 12-week immersive programme.

We’ve found this cycle long enough to give students essential learning support, while giving us the opportunity to identify and address any wider learning needs which may be masked by poor English.

Developing the content

Aligned with the Bell Foundation’s Five principles to guide EAL pedagogy, our curriculum is designed to stimulate language acquisition in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Students focus on spelling, punctuation, grammar daily, and the key vocabulary and subject terminology needed to unlock academic success.

We then make use of technologies for translation and interpretation (as well as more traditional tools like the bilingual dictionary) to support students to access an adapted core curriculum in maths, science, humanities and arts. This helps them settle back into mainstream provision when they leave the programme. And of course, all of these subjects include listening, speaking, reading and writing in English too.

Identifying a base

There has been historical criticism language centres might contribute to isolation, so we gave CORE Hello a home within one of our schools. Spending lunch and break times with other students and joining in other whole-school and community events has allowed friendships to form and a sense of belonging to develop.

To avoid confusion and additional transport costs for families, we bus students to CORE Hello from their home schools ourselves. This has become a learning experience in itself, with staff encouraging them to sing and chat to improve their English while they travel.

A holistic response

While communication is essential to academic progress, it is also critical to addressing emotional needs. With limited English, understanding what they have experienced and any underlying trauma is hard.

When they join, we ask each student to create their journey wheel, a pictorial narrative of what has brought them to Birmingham. It’s a great ice-breaker and way to assess their language skill, but it also provides an important way in to assess wider support needs, which we can quickly bring in specialist help to address.

As well as a rich academic programme, CORE Hello provides plenty of opportunity for students to continue their learning and social integration outside the school walls. Regular trips to community destinations – including the local library and theatre – provide meaningful opportunities to use their newly acquired language and begin to feel at home.

EAL teachers

Any trust looking to embark on a specialist EAL provision is likely to find staffing an issue. Trained EAL teachers are rare, yet their skills are essential. In addition, many of them won’t necessarily have experience of teaching school-aged children.  

To ensure we have staff with the right skills and approach, we have found a ‘grow-your-own’ method to be effective, providing an excellent progression route for talented teaching assistants.

CORE Hello has been a major investment, but one with great returns. In just over two years, the programme has helped 118 students. Seventy per cent have made at least one level of progress in language proficiency during their 12-week programme. Some 10 per cent have made two. By contrast, research for the Bell Foundation found two-thirds of students new to English may take six years to gain full proficiency.

But it’s comments like this one from a recent Syrian student that make it all worthwhile: “If I had not gone to CORE Hello, I would have been very sad and lonely, and I would have struggled with my school work.” 

We are keen to keep building our own experience, as well as to encourage a professional network to flourish across the sector. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch.

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