Consider this gem from an Ofsted report:
“Pupils … who speak English as an additional language … make progress in line with other pupils.” (Horsendale Primary School, Nottingham, July 2013). The school was graded good. Perhaps the inspectors did not know that all of the published data on EAL pupils’ progress (including RAISEonline’s value add measure) suggest we can reasonably expect 50% more progress from EAL pupils over a four to five year period than we can expect from their monolingual, English only peers.
At least those pupils (and there were not so many in that school) were noticed by the inspectors. In February 2014 I school I know well in the East of England was put into special measures by Ofsted. Given the previous year’s GCSE results and my knowledge of the school, I was not surprised. I was, however, astonished when I read the published report and could find no mention of EAL. After all, 25% of the GCSE cohort who had not done very well had EAL and more half of the school’s then Year 9 had EAL. It was as if these pupils were invisible.
Eighteen months later, during a monitoring visit from HMI, the school asked me to sit in on an interview with an inspector about EAL. This time it was an inspector with a strong EAL background asking appropriately awkward questions: why do some teachers not know pupils’ first languages or their previous educational history and why are some teachers not ignoring the needs of more advanced learners of English?
So what has changed? Why do we now find examples of good questioning from Ofsted and see “progress in line with other pupils” less frequently? On the face of it, EAL is less visible in the current Ofsted framework. The excellent guidance for inspectors on EAL (you can download it at the NALDIC website) was withdrawn in September 2015 along with almost all of the other supplementary guidance.
The new Ofsted framework contains very few references to EAL, as a presentation (available at https://www.hightail.com/download/ZWJYQ1ZnaFI4Q1RtcXRVag) by Mark Sims, Ofsted’s Lead on EAL makes clear. Something, nonetheless, is afoot. The same presentation makes it clear that the very powerful equalities legislation that the UK enjoys must underpin inspection. It also describes Mark’s EAL training for Senior HMI, a number of recent publications looking for EAL good practice and Ofsted’s focus on local authorities where the attainment gap between EAL pupils and pupils whose first language is English is unusually high.
What are the implications for schools? Schools need to know their EAL pupils and their individual histories well. They need to be aware of differences in outcomes for different kinds of EAL pupils. They need assessment systems that show the progress of current EAL pupils, whatever the starting point. They need leaders able to articulate how the school’s provision for EAL pupils meets a range of different needs and has a positive impact on all EAL pupils. And they need leaders who know that EAL pupils are good for schools.
This post was published in the first issue of the EAL Journal.