The data tell us an interesting story. Lea Forest is a Birmingham primary school where around a third of pupils have English as an additional language and just over one in five pupils is of Pakistani heritage. In 2019 87% of the EAL pupils in Year 6 reached the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics compared to the national EAL average of 66%. 27% reached the higher than expected standard against just 11% of EAL pupils nationally. When you dig a bit deeper, it is even more impressive because Lea Forest did not have any pupils from the highest achieving EAL groups (Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi) in the 2019 Year 6. Indeed, over a third of the cohort are from Pakistani backgrounds. While this group are the lowest achievers of the large EAL groups across the country, at Lea Forest they do much better.
How does Lea Forest do it? As you walk around the school what is clear is that in every classroom the school’s values are lived every day. Drawn from the Academies Enterprise Trust’s overarching approach, these values succeed in inspiring pupils to believe in themselves. A creative curriculum enthuses pupils about learning and success follows.
However, values alone do not lead to great EAL provision. At Lea Forest constant celebration of the multilingual, multicultural and multi-faith community the school inhabits reinforces the values and the community is seen as an educational resource. In addition, the professional development programme ensures that all teachers know how to meet the needs of EAL pupils. The EAL and SEND teams work together to ensure there is no confusion between EAL and SEND. The induction of new arrivals is the responsibility of the EAL Co-ordinator, Sarah Jones, and is designed to address they social, emotional and academic needs of pupils.
Induction is flexible. The length varies according to the individual pupil’s needs, but all new arrivals are allowed at least a week to settle into their new class and find new friends before joining a rigorous programme that reinforces the social English they are learning from other pupils and teaches them explicitly about the English needed for the primary curriculum. In addition, pupils have access to the Learning Village, a rarity among on line language learning products in that it includes resources based on National Curriculum content.
I talked to a small group of pupils (including those with no previous schooling and those already literate in at least one other language) who had arrived in the school relatively recently, but long enough ago to have settled in well. They were all very happy and able to express their enthusiasm about the school and its values. They were also very proud of their ability to operate (in most cases) in three languages. The EAL Academy’s strap line is “Developing literacy for a multilingual world” so I was delighted to meet a group of learners successfully developing multi-lingual literacies for their world.