EAL and BME data collection : between a rock and a hard place


The recent furore about the changed Census requirements for schools as of September 1 was an accident waiting to happen.  As soon as the draft proposals were published last January, the professional EAL community were alert to the challenges and uncertainties. For free CPD, it’s well worth spending some productive hours retracing the discussions via a visit/search of the EAL Bilingual Googlegroup https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/eal-bilingual  hosted by the EAL Subject Association NALDIC  http://www.naldic.org.uk

As well as the new requirement to identify English proficiency stages for all EAL pupils ( via descriptors borrowed from Wales without consultation or research informed evaluation) , it was obvious that the DfE request for data about nationality and place of birth was going to be a hot potato. Appearing in the year of the Brexit vote and following years of toxic media coverage of migration issues, alongside total government neglect of EAL and multilingualism, it could hardly be anything else.

And so it has come to pass. EAL Assessment remains something of a wallflower at the Life After Levels party and is rarely mentioned in any high profile mainstream school accounts of new and exciting approaches to assessment, including those schools with EAL pupils, some well above 50%. It’s a lost opportunity in view of the ground breaking work on EAL Assessment currently taking place in the background, largely unnoticed by mainstream.  For example, the BELL Foundation funded project   https://www.bell-foundation.org.uk/Work/EAL/Resources/GuidingprinciplesofEALassessment published its Guiding Principles of EAL Assessment last December and is due to release descriptors and case studies very soon. With 20% of our pupils having English as an Additional Language, this work warrants a wider conversation about how schools systems and structures can best respond.

In the meantime there are serious ongoing questions about the validity of any EAL proficiency data the DfE may extract from the Census return, although the problems of reliability probably won’t be fully revealed until the data analysis of the January 2017 return is published. There has been no national moderation or guidance beyond the Census instructions https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-census-2016-to-2017-guide-for-schools-and-las  Many schools still don’t  know  with any accuracy who their EAL pupils are, beyond the obvious new arrivals. If the Census belatedly requires all schools  to take notice of their Advanced EAL learners then the chances are that these young people will be ticked automatically as ‘fluent’ by whoever in the office does the MiS data transfer and even a skilled EAL professional like Kamil Trzebiatowski is wrestling with the challenges of mapping his existing EAL assessment systems onto the sketchy DfE descriptors https://ealjournal.org/2016/09/22/working-with-the-new-eal-stages

Meanwhile, the biggest Census kick off, predictably, has been the issue of parents providing their child’s nationality and place of birth.  There has now been extensive media coverage of some rocky school practice and the burgeoning boycott https://www.schoolsabc.net campaign, with Schools Week  providing both detailed coverage  http://schoolsweek.co.uk/pupils-who-were-not-white-british-told-to-send-in-birthplace-data  and a characteristically incisive editorial by Laura McInerney http://schoolsweek.co.uk/school-are-not-mini-immigration-offices-and-never-should-be before the dailies caught up.

I’m very grateful to Ross McGill, a stalwart supporter of diversity and social equity, for letting me guest blog about this on his Teacher Toolkit site and have my tuppence ha’penny http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2016/10/01/eal-census

There are huge issues intersecting here and I would like to supplement the blog post in a few areas. As time has gone on I’ve done a lot of thinking about some of the contradictions, much supported by this site   http://defenddigitalme.com

It feels to me that on so many of the issues at stake we are caught, perilously, between a rock and a hard place, paddling frantically to navigate our way round Scylla and Charybdis

  • We can challenge institutional complacency about EAL outcomes by providing detailed national data to support intersectional, disaggregated analysis– but is it naive to disregard what other uses this might be put to once it leaves us?
  • We know how important it is to cross reference ethnic identity with language use and other factors to ensure some pupil groups are not overlooked – but are we campaigning strongly enough to improve the poor labelling of ethnicity categories supplied by the DfE and the government?
  • Research tells us how important it is to capture the fullest possible portrait of an EAL child’s educational, linguistic, cultural, geographical, social/emotional context – but is there a risk of this process becoming another form to fill in, with sensitive, complex, confidential details indistinguishable from what the school is legally required to request for the Census return (and parents may refuse to reply).
  • We want to do the very best for our refugee children and asylum seekers but how can we evaluate this without being intrusive or breaching trust? (note that there is, rightly, currently no question about status in the Census)

I’ve been genuinely shocked to realise just how many parents didn’t know that there was a school census return three times a year which included their details, let alone that they have options not to respond in some areas. If that’s already the case, how many EAL parents know about the new proficiency stages? What are schools doing to share the judgements they make and the methodology used?

These difficulties notwithstanding, I do believe that it is both morally incumbent upon us and possible to make a better job of this. My advice, as I wrote on Ross’ blog, is to protect relationships with EAL/BME families and the school community through absolute transparency. The only way I can see to do this at the moment is to strip back admissions and annual information forms so that the questions asked about identity precisely match those of the Census (no more and no less) and parents are clear both which answers are voluntary and what the possible purposes and uses are. If EAL parents lose trust in the system as a whole and decline all questions then we are not in a good place.

But alongside meeting their legal obligations, schools still need to capture the confidential profile information about EAL (and when appropriate BME)  learners described above. Best practice EAL provision depends on it. Increasingly I would recommend that this is collected and kept quite separate from a formal admissions and annual update form, even if this means a certain amount of duplication.  Many of our young people have complicated journeys into our schools and we need to understand these in order to teach them well.  Often we do need to know where a child was born/grew up in order to do this. The same is true regarding how a family self describes in terms of nationality. It’s entirely possible that a family who trusts their school will be willing to have those conversations and share this personal information but still prefer not to return it as data to the DfE. We should respect that.

The key word which underpins the ‘how’ of the process is conversation. There is very little to be gleaned from a form. Indeed, forms can be very misleading as regards EAL children.  What is your Home Language?  is a question which rarely has a simple or single answer in multilingual households and I have not yet seen ‘It depends’ provided as one of the possible answers.

Schools are far better off adopting a questionnaire approach and encouraging discussion and dialogue. For example via the Family Languages chart here http://www.gold.ac.uk/clcl/multilingual-learning/complementarypartnerships

It’s just one example and a legacy document which might welcome a bit of reformatting but the research principles on which it is based are rock solid and the answers will yield information you can actually use.

If it’s helpful I can blog in more detail another time about pupil profiles and case studies/vignettes and how these can contribute to planning EAL provision.

Recent events have demonstrated just how urgently schools need additional support and guidance for EAL/BME matters.  As I have commented before, baseline knowledge about EAL and multilingualism across mainstream  teaching and leadership is very limited, with some honourable exceptions. If schools (and the DfE!) had consulted more widely then some of the howlers shared online might have been averted without jeopardising community trust. There are real dangers ahead when colleagues make it up as they go along.

I regularly flag up esteemed EAL colleagues on twitter, in presentations and across this blog.  I’m personally always happy to talk to schools although I’m transparent that I’m currently working independently so there is only so much I can do for free.

But one of the very best ways a school can buy into research informed, credible EAL professional guidance is to join NALDIC, the professional subject association http://www.naldic.org.uk  and follow the EAL Journal blog https://ealjournal.org  If you want full access to the Journal and its cornucopia of research, practice and policy then you will need to take out a subscription. http://www.naldic.org.uk/Resources/NALDIC/NALDIC%20Membership%20Form%202016.pdf

A subscription also gets you reduced entrance to the NALDIC Conference which  is bang on the money for EAL provision in schools ‘ One Size Fits All? Addressing Diversity in EAL’, takes place in Sheffield on November 19 and gives a fabulous opportunity to network with schools in the same situation as you.

Just to be clear, all the above, the EAL Bilingual Googlegroup and the network of Regional support groups you can also access via NALDIC are provided by volunteers. NALDIC is a not for profit charity.  So if this post has ended, once again, as something of an advertorial for NALDIC, it’s not one which is going to make anybody, least of all me, rich. Copper bottomed investment for you guys though 🙂


Desperately Seeking EAL

They don’t seek it here, they don’t seek it there, the DfE seeks it – nowhere. Is it in heaven or is it in hell? The eternally elusive – EAL

with apologies to Baroness Orczy


Of course you don’t really have to look very far in the UK school system to find both EAL learners and issues for EAL provision which should impact profoundly on school systems and structures. It’s a curious situation indeed when just under 20% of our children and young people (as identified by the January 2015 census return) are deemed to be some kind of niche interest group within the national conversation about education.

However EAL learners are largely invisible unless they are new arrivals and framed by one of three positions.

i) There are too many of ‘them’, they deplete resources/are not sufficiently resourced and teachers don’t know how to teach ‘them’


ii)’They’ speak no English, or bad English or too much of another language


iii) Despite the above ‘they’ have better outcomes than monolingual children – for which ‘they’ may either be celebrated or castigated – or both simultaneously


All of the above, except the lack of guidance and support for teacher knowledge and expertise, are founded more on myth and misconception than reality.


  • The numbers of new arrivals are pretty stable across the country. Of course it may not feel like that if your own class or school suddenly acquires a different demographic. However, the 0.7% rise in EAL in 2014/15 is largely an anticipated birth rate increase in families already in Britain and needs to be considered alongside the 2.7% increase in the pupil population as a whole. More additional children in the system are not EAL than are EAL.


  • There is EAL funding available for up to the first three years in Britain but because it is not ring fenced it may not get to point of need. It’s also questionable and under researched whether the new arrivals window is the most effective time to target money in relation to long term EAL outcomes.


  • Most teachers and school leaders are not well trained or supported with the knowledge and range of strategies needed for EAL provision, both strategic and in the classroom. No argument there.


  • EAL is a very large pupil group with a wide variety of fluencies and learning/individual contexts. There is a massed body of international research identifying the importance of recognising and developing L1 skills in order to support the development of English. This doesn’t just mean depending on conversational ‘as it comes’ L1 but whenever possible actively supporting academic fluency/literacy in the child’s strongest language while English is being learned – and encouraging L1 maintenance when English fluency achieved. It’s also quite unusual for any but the youngest children to have no English at all. The influences of global linguistic imperialism and anglophone media are still pretty powerful.



It requires knowledge and persistence to interrogate EAL data effectively. You also have to be determined since you only get a true picture by cross referencing both language and ethnicity information and this information is only readily available outside of your own school/LA/MAT via a FOI. Fortunately we have tenacious colleagues such as Feyisa Demie in Lambeth who are doing this work. The link below is to an analysis of Primary EAL outcomes in Lambeth. I believe analysis of Secondary  outcomes is on the way.


An overview of EAL data issues can also be found in a Schools Week article last year featuring incisive analysis from Graham Smith of the EAL Academy. http://schoolsweek.co.uk/eal-how-londons-pupils-are-winning-the-postcode-lottery


It’s ironic that a period which celebrates knowledge, mastery and research evidence completely ignores all of these things when it comes to EAL. I read recently in a blog post that the writer had done a few weeks’ reading about EAL (after a brief experience in a particular context) and come to the conclusion that opinions about EAL differed and she would make up her own mind. That is not an untypical response and it saddened me.

There is in fact a very strong international research consensus about the principles of Second Language Acquisition and the pedagogies which support it in various contexts.  It is true that much remains to be done in terms of researching long term trajectories and the detailed mosaic of intersecting influences on both individual EAL learners and patterns across groups and settings – but the findings across such topics as the impact of first language on learning are reliably consistent.  Of which more later since it deserves a post of its own.

As I explained in my School’s Week column this weekend Nobody puts EAL in the corner | Schools Week  the confused and somewhat perverse response to EAL learners outlined above stems from a deliberate and possibly strategic neglect from the top. I don’t have any illusions that writing editorials is going to shift the DfE  position. I’d be very surprised if any such august persons bothered themselves with my views whether I’m writing for large publications or on my little blog. I’m certainly not sitting by the phone waiting for a phone call inviting me to an EAL Steering group.

If those with knowledge about EAL sit quiet and compliant then they are likely to remain wallflowers in the corner a while yet. However it’s not really the DfE I want to connect with when I bang drums and thump tubs in an attempt to get to do a swallow dive with the late lamented Patrick Swayze.

I am most hopeful that if I and others can reach enough head teachers and system leaders who are willing to share, review and be willing to refine their existing EAL provision then a tipping point can be reached whereby it becomes axiomatic for schools to plan strategically for EAL centred on best practice principles.

When someone creates a bright burning fire why would you not choose to sneak a few glowing embers for yourself.

Best practice EAL is a crucible for so much more than just bilingual outcomes

I just read this from Becky  @shadylady222 and it made my heart sing. Enjoy



Next post  :  more about my EAL review agenda and practical next steps

EAL Data and Assessment

EAL Funding

EAL Sector and Support

First language maintenance






Banging the EAL Drum at #TMLondon

One year on, my formatting and design skills have progressed not at all. I know it.

And the hole at the centre of the polo referred to in my opening post is as much a gap in my output as an absence of concern by the DfE.

Nevertheless, just as nobody sits Baby in the corner, 20% of our kids deserve their moment in the spotlight. And there is no spotlight bigger or brighter than TMLondon.  So,  although I outstayed my 2 minutes on the night,  I’m hoping those present have forgiven me and this post revisits and extends the slides of my presentation which Ross McGill has already made available on his blog but you can also access here https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ju69pew8lmculry/AADFysE5O_PkTk9JPAFHq1BVa?dl=0

If you take a look at recent government legislation, DfE consultations and the gathering of the great, the good (and the extremely well connected) into the various expert review groups we now have,  you will generally observe a gaping hole where EAL expertise should be.  I have also observed an insidiously negative discourse of blame emerging via language about EAL learners  like ‘influx … gap … disadvantage  …challenge … problem’.  As anyone who follows me on Twitter will have noticed, this makes me quite cross and inclined to rant.

However TM London is about positive provocations and energising takeaways so in my presentation I decided to bang a EAL drum about what EAL Learners bring  to classrooms and challenge what ‘they’ (and therein lies another post about the terrible tendency to homogenise this exceptionally varied group of young people) are perceived as having missing in relation to monolingual norms.

A deficit model for EAL learners flies in the face of research and my presentation includes links which will help you develop your knowledge of this field.  Simultaneous bi or multilingualism is a huge cognitive advantage for the person concerned and a global norm beyond the anglophone world. As educators we should do our utmost to recognise the language repertoires of our learners and do whatever we can to support the maintenance and development of languages other than English.

It’s a sad fact that the majority of EAL learners enter the school system with the potential to be bilingual but most leave with English as their main language at whatever level of fluency has been reached.  Sometimes that is inevitable. The language learning trajectories and communicative practices of EAL learners are often complex and unpredictable. But we could try harder to redress the balance, not least because the development of a second language is supported by the equal development of the first. So more and better quality first language, if that can be supported, nourishes best fluency in English, however counter intuitive that may seem to a monolingual teacher.

How to make this happen? Every context is different and sometimes you need to do a bit of detective work in your locality and online. Below are some links to some organisations which offer models of practice, discrete projects, resources and helpful networks

HOLA  : Home Languages Accreditation (Sheffield based)


Supplementary Schools (National)



Arvon Foundation



Language Futures



Mantra Lingua



The Somali Literacy Project ( a US site but a great model)



Of course your own school community may provide the connections and expertise you need, including parents, community groups and faith settings. For example, parents attending ESOL classes also have language skills which can benefit all students, including the monolingual. Many projects referenced via the links provided are inclusive and adaptive for all fluencies.  As a country we often have a regrettably narrow perception of which languages ‘count’ as MFL, for accreditation and enrichment.

The leverage for prioritising multilingualism and best practice EAL provision is simple. If you put EAL at the heart of your school (rather than marooned in an intervention silo) there are huge benefits for everyone. This strategy is selfish altruism not charity.  The advantages relate to

  • teacher knowledge and language awareness/metacognition in classrooms
  • strong community relationships with opportunities for two way learning
  • systems and structures that focus on kids as complex individuals

Multilingualism is an opportunity but only if it is recognised as such and nurtured and developed in strategic, systematic ways. Sometimes a little honest self reflection is needed to check we are genuinely showing the value of language diversity. Multilingual welcome signs in reception are not sufficient in themselves to convey this message and young people quickly pick up difference between what we say and what we do …

I am particularly grateful to the conversations I have had with Keven Bartle and Helene Galdin O’Shea to support the development of this ‘EAL at the heart’ model. It emerged from the crucible of the Canons TSA Conference in February. http://www.doingitwelldoingitright.co.uk/news/?pid=13&nid=2&storyid=17

I seem to have gone MIA from the Conference homepage but my presentation and resources can be found here.  https://www.dropbox.com/sh/u3i5pq2xijgomvp/AAAMeHx0E3YOu5xfXrYN84XUa?dl=0

We can still benefit from multilingualism and warm our hands at its creative fire if we are monolingual. Below are a couple of links to projects and network hubs for a wealth of ideas for ways to do this. And if you live in London then look out for a NALDIC South London EAL Group  meeting on June 21 which will be sharing ideas too. https://www.facebook.com/groups/SouthLondonEALgroup/?fref=nf

Multilingual Creativity Hub


Critical Connections : Multilingual Digital Storytelling


Hampshire Young Interpreters Scheme


I have written a (subscribers) piece for Optimus on First Language in mainstream classrooms http://my.optimus-education.com/eal-teaching-using-pupils-first-language-mainstream-classroom and would be delighted to discuss, enthuse about, advise and develop projects in this area.


The example of a ‘trigger resource’ I shared at TeachMeet London is a site which I only just discovered and which has really grabbed my imagination. http://www.poetrytranslation.org   420 poems, 27 languages 40 countries

There are just so many ways you could use The Poetry Translation Centre in school

to increase awareness and familiarity with global literature, languages and cultures ( for example : assemblies, poetry events/recitals, displays)

to encourage close textual analysis and detective work in relation to vocabulary, language structures and imagery.

The poet featured on the site last week was a Sudanese writer Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi. He writes in Arabic and his volume of poems He Tells Tales of Meroe  has also been shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Prize. I don’t think this narrative, that of a Black male writer, highly successful in prestigious literary endeavour, is one we share often enough in schools.

The poem I shared is They Think I Am a King, Yes I Am the King.  Three versions are available on site  – the original Arabic, a literal verbatim translation (including alternative vocabulary choices)  and a final version as a poem in English. This in itself provides a wealth of opportunity for any English Teacher. If any pupils are literate in Arabic then the potential for linguistic cross reference increases but even if there are not, the repetitive and patterned nature of the poetic form  and the wonders of Google Translate make it possible to include elements of the original even if the nuances are missed.  In particular you can identify nouns and track down phonetic transliterations which enable students to experience at least elements of the original language on their tongues. This is not nothing. The poem was written in response to a visit to the Petrie Museum and a photograph of the stimulus artefact is included. Plenty of opportunity for parallel creativity here, both using English and any other languages or mix of languages at the students’ disposal.

There are high status models for such approaches. Students only need consider the role of original quotation in The Waste Land and the use of English and Chinese in dialogue in  Sarah Howe’s 2016 TS Eliot prize winning collection Loop of Jade to observe a long observed literary tradition in action.

I have lots of resources and ideas to share in this vein if you are interested. Just tweet or email me dleedham1@icloud.com to discuss or request a blog post.


Teach Meet London is a huge and high profile event and I am proud and grateful to have had the chance both to contribute to its organisation and to raise awareness of a group of pupils who are often overlooked. And although my message was positive on the night, of course I know that many schools do feel anxious about their EAL provision and unsure how to access support and guidance.  The DfE has ‘a watching brief’ so there is nothing coming from the government.

So, as well as speaking as an independent advisory teacher, I also brokered two competitions with prizes supplied by two organisations I work for/with and value most highly.

  1. Bespoke EAL CPD from The EAL Academy http://www.theealacademy.co.uk

Question  : what is top of your list for big impact @EALACADEMY  CPD ? Answers to #TMLondonEAL1

This was won by Maggie from Moscow (who was actually in the room, showing the pulling power of TMLondon) . This brings some practical challenges but EAL Academy are hoping very much that Maggie will write about what happens next so it can be shared  with you.

  1. Annual membership of NALDIC with tri annual publications, reduced Conference fees, access to members only area on website with the journal archives, resources and research articles.

Question : why do you need @EAL_naldic membership?

Answers to #TMLondonEAL2

In the hurly burly of events nobody won this yet … the competition is still open until the end of April. Do please enter if you would like to.




I am so new to blogging that I didn’t even realise that simply creating a name and a tag for a blog would not make it immediately discoverable. So it will be some time before this space develops any observable bells and whistles and  I thank you in anticipation for your patience.  I will prioritise figuring out key visuals at least.  But having dillied and dallied I decided it is probably best to procrastinate no more and work it out on the job.  And here we are.

So what is Flexi-lingual for?

For a start, although I have administrative ownership of the blog and an explicit voice/positionality (which I will signpost clearly when that is what you are reading), I want to cultivate a curatorial, collegiate space.

When I know how to make links, I will include them. In a hub like way, though with no implied connotations that this space is central or more important than the work it connects to. That way lies ta solipsistic road to hell, albeit paved with good intentions.

Once I have got this tottering infant enterprise taking some baby steps forward, I will capture other news, voices, experiences, ideas, resources in the posts on here  … in any form that my colleagues prefer. I know a lot of people who know a lot about language who do not blog or tweet. I want to share their treasures more widely with those that do.

And why ‘Flexi-lingual’ ?

We deploy so many labels to box in the processes and practices of language learning.  Literacy, EAL, ESL, ESOL, MFL ….

The ‘we’ deploying these labels is itself a shifting pronoun according to identity and context of user … and our identities as language learners are not fixed even at any one moment in our lives, never mind as we move through time and across locations.

But despite all the complexities, teachers and students, young and old, have to make practical decisions about the how and the what of language learning as well as the why.

So Flexi-lingual aims to explore all that.

First stop will be EAL.  That’s the territory I am working in at the moment so it’s a secure foothold to get me started.

Why is EAL in England like a Polo Mint? Watch this space …