The percentage of 5-16 year old pupils in English schools who are recorded in the English as Additional Language (EAL) category more than doubled from 7.6% in 1997 to 16.2% in 2013. Paradoxically perhaps, policy guidelines and local educational authority support structures have been reduced significantly over the past years. Why is that? I’ve had the opportunity to look at this from different perspectives over the past few weeks.
My daughter’s primary school had its Ofsted inspection last month. With 87% EAL children – and the majority of these of Pakistani heritage – the ghost of the Trojan Horse had arrived, and the school management had done their homework on British values. I was one of four governors taking part in a group interview, incidentally illustrating the ethnic diversity of the school: One White British governor, one South Asian-Pakistani, one South Asian-Indian, one White Other. As it happened, all went well, the feared Ofsted inspectors proved entirely agreeable, and we are still ‘Good’.
Looking through the report, I noted the emphasis on data relating to the category of pupils on Free School Meals (FSM), as an indicator of disadvantage, and the work the school did to close the ‘attainment gap’. Despite the high number of EAL children in the school, no specific reference was made to the nature and quality of EAL provision. Whereas the FSM category serves analytical purposes, EAL would appear a purely descriptive one. Not entirely unreasonable perhaps, as the EAL category includes children born and bred in the UK as well as very recent arrivals with very little or no English.
Altogether, this resonates with findings from Upstream, a research project on mainstreaming of integration policies, which we have carried out with partners in France, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK, focusing on two policy areas – education and social cohesion – at national, local and neighbourhood levels. The research questions relating to the education policy area addressed the way in which mainstream mechanisms meet the needs of immigrant children, and how policies were developed at national, local authority and school levels (https://projectupstream.wordpress.com/).
In a UK context, it can be suggested that the central mainstream mechanism is still the 1985 Swann Report ‘Education for all’, with a push towards a good command of English, whereas mother tongue provision was not considered a priority of maintained schools. EAL provision was first resourced through Section 11 funding, dating back to the Local Government Act of 1966, but in 1999 replaced by the ring-fenced Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (EMAG).
In recent years, EAL provision has been a policy area in decline at national and local level. There has been limited policy lead from the Department for Education, and in 2010 EMAG funding was mainstreamed into the total pot of formula funding managed at school level. One consequence was reductions to most local authority EAL support units, previously supported by EMAG funding.
This was not necessarily bad news at school level. In schools with historically high levels of ethnic diversity, the mainstreaming of EMAG funding only resulted in increased budgetary flexibility without impacting the actual initiatives. In Southwark where diversity has become mainstream, schools had built up considerable EAL expertise, and high EAL figures were no longer something to hide behind – as argued by the Southwark Head of Early Help: ‘I don’t believe that the schools will say to you ”...oh well, 75% of my population have come from overseas, that is the reason why we are not achieving well”. Not now, because it is the norm in Southwark’. The stats bear her out. EAL attainment in Southwark has, like other London boroughs with high proportions of EAL pupils, increased dramatically in recent years, with EAL students in London achieving higher scores than EAL students in other regions (Strand et al 2015).
What next for EAL support? Recent Ofsted research has identified challenges relating to the support for Roma children, with the large majority of new arrivals not only new to English, but often without previous schooling altogether (Ofsted 2014). But it is perhaps altogether in schools in areas with more recent experiences of immigration that challenges are biggest, even more so as many local authority support structures have faced so significant reductions.
Strand, S., L. Malmberg, J. Hall (2015) English as an Additional Language (EAL) and educational achievement in England: An analysis of the National Pupil Database, University of Oxford