This research review is part of an online module on refugee education – Chartered College of Teaching members can access this learning for free.
English as an additional language (EAL) support is central to ensuring that refugee and asylum-seeking children remain and thrive in education. In addition to supporting their English language and thus academic development, EAL departments can play a crucial role in supporting the integration, An approach where a school aims to ensure that all children ... and wellbeing of refugee and asylum-seeking children. However, reduced support from specialist local authority EAL teams across the UK has negatively impacted upon provision for learners (Gladwell and Chetwynd, 2018). With specialist expertise in schools becoming increasingly rare (NALDIC, 2015), there is a real need for schools to urgently increase their own capacity to support EAL learners.
The role of EAL specialists, in addition to providing specialist EAL teaching, should span the whole school, from contributing to whole-staff training, to working with curriculum planners to identify the language and literacy demands of curriculum content and identify suitable teaching strategies, to assisting classroom teachers in setting practical goals and objectives for EAL learners (Department of Education and Training, 2022). The importance of trained staff in schools is paramount (Gladwell and Chetwynd, 2018). Furthermore, schools with EAL departments will often include a physical space or ‘EAL Base’ (McIntyre, 2021a, p. 57) specifically for the use of new arrivals, which itself can play a very important role in supporting those new arrivals.
The different roles of EAL departments beyond English language support
Research conducted with teachers in three city-centre schools in England (pseudonyms used to refer to these), all known for their work with refugee and asylum-seeking children, has revealed the varied roles of EAL departments (McIntyre, 2021a; 2021b; 2021c). EAL departments may seek to:
- Support new arrivals to feel a sense of safety. In Larkspur Secondary Academy (all school names are pseudonyms), EAL is part of the languages department. Safety is centred around recognising and responding to each child’s physical, emotional and psychological needs. Initially this happens in the EAL base, which functions as a transitionary safe space to support students’ integration. The EAL base celebrates The recognition of individual differences in terms of race, ... and offers an inclusive welcome – for example, through displaying words in a range of languages, helping new arrivals to feel safe as they settle into their new school (McIntyre, 2021a).
- Create a culture of belonging. In Jasmine Gardens Academy, new arrivals will initially spend time in the EAL base, which helps them to quickly feel a sense of belonging. From this base, new arrivals are then supported to feel part of the wider school community, with regular visits from children in their tutor group at break- and lunchtimes (McIntyre, 2021b).
- Celebrate success. In Lilac Lane, success is broadly conceived to include engagement in a range of open-ended activities that build confidence and self-esteem. The EAL department regularly shares knowledge through different forums to ensure that the whole school understands their work to support students to experience different elements of success. The department also works with individual faculties, leads aspects of whole-school training and shares advice about best practice in the termly teaching and learning bulletin. Outside of the school, the lead practitioner for the EAL department also regularly works with local teacher training providers (McIntyre, 2021c).
Although each EAL department has a slightly different role, they are united by an inclusive approach to the education of refugee and asylum-seeking children, which recognises that their needs extend beyond acquisition of a new language.
The importance of a whole-school approach
However, EAL specialists and departments cannot and should not bear the sole responsibility for students with EAL, including refugee and asylum-seeking students. The importance of a whole-school approach to continuing professional development for EAL has been recognised repeatedly. It is important to enable all teaching staff to understand:
- how an additional language is learnt
- the teaching and learning conditions that best promote the learning of EAL
- the language and literacy demands of classroom activities
- EAL teaching strategies to use in their classrooms
- the stages of EAL learning
- the particular learning needs of the full range of EAL learners (Department of Education and Training, 2022).
Beyond these language-specific aspects, it is important that all staff develop their understanding of how to create a safe and welcoming environment for refugee and asylum-seeking students.
- Specialist EAL support is central to ensuring that refugee and asylum-seeking children remain and thrive in education
- The role of EAL specialists is varied, working across the whole school
- A whole-school approach to continuing professional development for EAL is important
- An inclusive approach to the education of refugee and asylum-seeking children recognises that their needs extend beyond acquisition of a new language.