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

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.

I seem to have gone MIA from the Conference homepage but my presentation and resources can be found here.

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.

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 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.   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 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

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.




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