The Blog

Politics Of English As An Additional Language (EAL)

Many schools have started collecting data on pupils' country of birth, nationality and level of English proficiency through the school census in line with the national population census, to fulfil the Department for Education requirement.

Many schools have started collecting data on pupils' country of birth, nationality and level of English proficiency through the school census in line with the national population census, to fulfil the Department for Education requirement.

"The information will be used to help the DfE better understand how children with, for example, English as an additional language, perform in terms of broader learning" informs DfE.

The information on children aged 2 to 19 will be added to the National Pupil Database after being collected during the 2016-17 school census this autumn.

"Following Brexit it seems like [the government] wants to highlight the fact that there's not enough school places because a lot of foreigners live in the UK" - this at the BuzzFeed sums up parent and teachers typical concern.

This DfE requirement that seems to have more political than education objective, takes back to 1960s where a problematic view of immigrants was legalised by the Local Government Act of 1966, stating a negative definition "immigration is the great social problem of this century and of the next" (HANSARD: 1966/67:Volume 29 p1308).

Such politicising resulted in Section 11 of the Local Government Act of 1966 funding to the authorities as a response to the perceived impact of immigration on education which remained controversial through its life, partly because of limited educational validity as the funding was coming from the home office, a controlling body, rather than the education department, and partly because of the misuse of the funding.

Sir David Renton referred to "Substantial numbers from the Commonwealth whose language and customs differ from those of the community", and asked "Thus, where the language and customs of the immigrant differ, grants (Section 11) may be given but otherwise, apparently, they cannot be. Is this an indirect reference to the increased educational change due to immigration": (ibid)

Roy Hattersley, a then senior Labour MP, was also worried "probably education in immigrant areas presents the biggest problem in constituencies like mine": (HANSARD: 1966/67:Volume 29 p1336). He advocated assimilation by "providing small classes in which English can be adequately taught".

The education supreme, the Department of Education and Science at the time, reinforced what the politicians were saying and argued for English as a Second Language (ESL) "to provide the key to ..... cultural and social assimilation" (Working Paper 13).

The DES pointed out that "the feasibility of doing so varies from group to group - Western European non-English-speaking immigrants find this easier to accomplish than others, for obvious reasons".

The uproar about tagging immigrant children as a ESL group, led to softening the term to English as an Additional Language (EAL) without changing the premise that was argued to provide help and support for pupils who are learning English as an additional language and have gaps in their command of the English language.

Since the language is power and words create structures, EAL created its own structures like outside classroom language activities during the curriculum time, use of EAL rather than National Curriculum levels to assess English language attainment and identifying EAL pupils as a sort of cultural group (irrespective of their command of the English language), setting a culture of low expectations.

Such a grouping is still on the basis of the information supplied by schools. I inspected many schools, including some high achieving schools, that reported their most ethnic minority pupil population as EAL whilst only a very small number of them might had the language needs and should have really been termed as the 'EAL pupils'. It is this distortion that inflates the number of pupils speaking English as an additional language in our data systems which is then used by the schools and the local authorities for additional funding or justifying any under-achievements.

The number of the EAL pupils in the school is worked out on the basis of the language spoken at home rather than pupil's acquisition of the English language - the information is usually gathered through the admission process where parents are asked "what language is spoken at home" rather than 'what is the child's first language?'. Because of such a practice a vast majority of ethnic minority children born in the UK (even the second and third generation children) who do well in the national tests and examinations (for example, from the East African Asian background) are included in the EAL category.

Over the years the politics of EAL has hardly changed. In 2012, Theresa May said that the high percentage of children who speak English as an additional language in London schools represented the "challenges we now face as a country" - almost same what Roy Hattersley said in 1966!

Very concerning that the politics of immigration and language is hitting our school in this way.