Two new research studies on EAL

On Friday, the British Council and the Bell Foundation published two new research studies on EAL. Frank Monaghan was at the launch event and sends this report.

Funny, isn’t it, you wait ages for some classroom-based EAL research and then two of them come along at once…

Two studies, one by a team from Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge Universities and the other by researchers from Edinburgh and Reading universities, both funded by The Bell Foundation, were launched at The British Council on Friday, July 8.


Language development and school achievement: opportunities and challenges in the education of EAL students

Pages from Executive_SummaryThe Cambridge study, Language development and school achievement focuses on ‘the perceptions and positions of EAL students, parents of EAL students, and school staff, with regard to EAL opportunities and challenges’ (p.3) and explores three main research questions:

  1. What are the perceived and experienced connections between English and language proficiency, academic achievement and social integration?
  2. What strategies do teachers employ and what are the implications for their professional knowledge and pedagogy?
  3. To what extent are parents of EAL students encouraged by schools to be involved in supporting their children’s educational progress and how can this be improved?

It will probably not come as any surprise to people working in the field that the overall finding of the study confirms ‘a need for a holistic, systematic approach to the support of EAL pupils’ and emphasizes that language development, social integration and parental engagement play a crucial role in EAL learners’ academic progress. The authors acknowledge this is, of course, true of all learners, but argue that it is particularly true for EAL learners given their unique circumstances.

Michael Evans

Dr Michael Evans (Cambridge) presented an analysis of the students’ use of spoken and written English exploring progress made over the course of a year on a range of linguistic items. Some of the key findings he highlighted included:

  • There was no significant effect of home and school use of L1 on the spoken and written performance
  • EAL students in mixed friendship groups performed best in the writing tasks whilst those who reported having mostly L1 speakers as friends performed least well in writing tasks
  • EAL students were more confident in speaking than other aspects such as listening and writing, both inside and outside the classroom
  • EAL students appeared to conceptualise their progress more in terms of informal interpersonal language development than more formal linguistic competence
  • There is a need to develop an emphasis on academic English, both spoken and written.


Youngcan Liu

Dr Youngcan Liu (Cambridge) reported on their findings in relation to teachers’ professional knowledge and practices and outlined ‘Ten Grounded Principles for EAL’ that emerged from the research:

  1. Make professional judgement based on professional expertise
  2. Use bilingual resources and strategies for specific teaching purposes
  3. Employ multimodal aids to reduce the linguistic demands in learning
  4. Simplify tasks to cater to individual needs and contexts
  5. Use home language for academic and social purposes
  6. Make cultural and contextual reference to create resonance and rapport
  7. Combine mainstreaming with individual focused support
  8. ‘Buddying’ to provide peer support for learning and social integration
  9. Use dialogic tasks for effective content and language integration
  10. Use flexible and continuous assessment to promote learning

The work of EAL coordinators was seen as central and a clear argument made for the need to ensure schools develop and support their work. They recommended the development of a Master’s level qualification for EAL (as for SEN coordinators) and highlighted the need for clear school policies and guidelines that emphasized a coordinated approach to EAL provision across the curriculum, the need for high quality EAL induction for NQTs, long-term CPD and access to information and resources (including ‘key websites such as NALDIC’, p. 24).


Claudia Schneider

Dr Claudia Schneider (Anglia Ruskin) presented the work on parental involvement and pointed out that whilst much progress had been made in this area, ‘there is still much more to be done’ (p. 26). She acknowledged how complex home-school communication and engagement can be with both sides sometimes struggling with issues such language difficulties, and assumptions about aspirations and engagement. Amongst other things the report recommends that schools and teachers:

  • Develop an ‘outreach mentality’
  • See parents as an asset
  • Broaden understanding of what parental engagement means (it’s not just attending parents’ evenings!)
  • Develop communication strategies (using translators, interpreters, Skype for meetings with parents who cannot come into school easily, translation software for communications, podcasts in different languages, to inform parents about the school, curriculum organization, exam systems, etc.
  • Enable EAL parents to have a representative voice – they are often significantly under-represented in school structures.

The full report can be found here.


Policy, Pedagogy and Pupil Perceptions: EAL in Scotland and England

Pages from CERESExecsummaryThe second report was presented by Dr Yvonne Foley (Edinburgh) and sought to include the voices often missing from the discussion, those of EAL students themselves and these were contrasted with the perceptions of their teachers. This was a small-scale study using interviews and focus group discussions conducted in two secondary schools, one in Edinburgh, Scotland and the other in Reading, England. A key finding, shared by the Anglia Ruskin/Cambridge study, was the need to take a holistic view of the child and the need to learn and understand as much as possible not only about their language profile but also about their ethnic, cultural, and social contexts. It is the interaction of all these fields that have an impact on how the child and their teachers perceive one another – and on how well the child does in school and how well the school does by the child.

Yvonne Foley

The report confirmed previous findings that we need to see EAL as ‘a resource for rather than an object of education (p. 17) and, amongst other things,  called for a greater recognition of and emphasis on:

  • Understanding how diverse the migrant experience is, including their languages and previous schooling
  • Recognising the need to acknowledge and respond sensitively to the emotional and social challenges of transition
  • Going beyond ‘encouragement’ of the learners’ L1 to actively ‘providing teachers with strategies, activities and exemplars of good practice’ (p. 17) that will allow them to make effective use of it
  • Going beyond ‘good practice for all’ to a highly differentiated approach to teaching and assessment for EAL learners that is appropriate for their particular developmental trajectory
  • The need for career long professional development to provide sustained development rather than punctuated ‘one-off’ events.

The full report can be found here.

Both reports emphasis the need to take a more holistic view of the EAL learner and so it is appropriate to close with this clip in which Dr Foley describes one child’s story, language lies at the heart of our identity and yet often remains invisible in schools:


Frank Monaghan, School of Languages and Applied Linguistics, Open University

7 thoughts on “Two new research studies on EAL

  1. Thank you for this account of the launch of these reports. In particular, I am glad to see the emphasis on meaningful engagement with the parents of EAL learners. Thank you for providing a link to the second of the two papers. Are you able to provide a link to the first?


  2. Good to read the research. Wholly agree that there is a need for ‘Going beyond ‘encouragement’ of the learners’ L1 to actively ‘providing teachers with strategies, activities and exemplars of good practice’ (p. 17) that will allow them to make effective use of it’. However, although the report calls for research into EAL learners’ literacy in L1 and also into acts of translation, it does not seem to call for research into classroom strategies that allow effective use of L1 and exemplars of good practice. Does this presume that evidence-based research into this already exist? If so, can we have a publication to address this recommendation (and not just point to existing research on translanguaging?) There is also a need for the Integrated Content and Language Learning approach (which many would subscribe to as EAL pedagogy) to include a more systematic consideration of the use of L1 into the model to make it more ‘holistic’ from the point of view of the learner.


    1. Excellent point. In my experience (and I am studying just this thing for my PhD) there is very little evidence on the effects of strategies that use L1 as a pedagogical tool. The assumption that is alluded to in this report – and many other publications – that there are empirically validated ways by which L1 has a substantive effect on educational outcomes is just that, an assumption.

      We have good evidence that bilingual programmes of education confer linguistic and academic advantages (at least for a short time) to those children who attend them compared to their peers who attend immersion schools (see Krashen and McField 2005 for a good summary But, it is one thing to say that bilingual education (in all its glorious complexity) works. It is quite another to say L1 mediated learning tasks delivered in linguistically heterogeneous mainstream schools in the UK do too.

      All of this is not to say that L1 is of no use. For example, some studies have argued that acknowledging children’s L1s and allowing them to use them acknowledges them as unique individuals, has a facilitative effect on task completion, and allows them to access their existing knowledge, among other things. Whether these translate into improved prospects in and after school is another thing. An hypothesis based on that assumption can and should be assessed in fair comparisons of alternative approaches to L1 use. More and better research definitely needed.


    2. Hi Amy,

      I’m interested in the idea of CLIL pedagogies though I do wonder how the L1 could be systematically incorporated in the very diverse linguistic settings in UK schools – much easier to envisage in schools with just two or three languages in operation, of course. I went to a very interesting talk recently by Jasone Cenoz and Durk Gorter about ‘sustainable translanguaging’ in Basque schools and they showed some very interesting examples of the use of bilingual learning materials that might be close to the sort of thing you seem to be thinking of. I’ve seen similar things done in mathematics classes in South Africa (see Setati’s work on this).
      I hear Richard Barwell is going to be over in the Autumn (possibly at the NALDIC conference) so it would be good to catch up with him and bend his ear about this.


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