Response to the “£244 million” article on EAL children and native English speaking school students

Rather disturbingly, this Daily Mail article , got published just two days ago. It claims that due to the support provided to EAL learners, native English speaking children have become a “low priority” group. Disturbing, but sadly not very surprising: another piece ostracizing EAL children (and migrants in general) and clearly seeking easy cheers from those already strongly against the migration into the UK, whose views are held largely due to misinformation and ignorance.

It is quite obvious to me reading this that there is almost nothing to balance the claims of the article (meaning very little evidence from the other side of the argument is provided). First of all, obviously, the article doesn’t seem to have any sources for the claims it makes. I would really love to know where the sums such as £244 million expenditure per year (for EAL children) quoted in the article are coming from. I think I know where they’re from, but the article simply doesn’t say (which it should – quote its sources!). However, the £244 million corresponds with the LA data proforma, available from DfE at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/295647/LA_data_proforma_2014-15.xls.

Now, £244 million does sound huge, doesn’t it? Do they tell you how it compares to the overall school budget and what proportion of school budgets this actually is (for England)? No. Well, I made my calculations using the same Excel spreadsheet linked to above. It’s actually around 0.27%! I don’t know about you, but suddenly the £244 million doesn’t sound huge to me! The entire budget for schools is around £90 billion. Does it sound now like it’s this huge expenditure spent on over a million of students?

Now, let’s go further here. Let’s see how many students there are in the England and divide this expenditure per capita. NALDIC, the largest UK-wise EAL teaching association says that there are 1,061,010 EAL pupils in England (http://www.naldic.org.uk/research-and-information/eal-statistics). 230 pounds. PER YEAR. Now, whilst, obviously, schools also get to spend their main budget (rather than the EAL funding) on the education of EAL children in mainstream classes, the £230 per annum is puny, given their very specific linguistic needs. So let’s please put this in perspective. In my school, there are approximately 180 EAL students (meaning both new to English learners and any other bilingual ethnic minority students): there is just one teacher (me) and two EAL TAs. Yes, I can quite see this huge budget that we’re getting for these students!

Let’s also talk about the tone that the article takes. The “language problem”? Research into bilingualism has established rather well the enormous advantages that being bilingual confers – have a look, for instance at the CAL (Center for Applied Linguistics) website: http://www.cal.org/areas-of-impact/english-learners/bilingual-and-dual-language-education – this is for starters. Students in bilingual programmes have been shown to ouperform their monolingual peers and bilingual students have access to broader cultural literacy. This is backed up for Department of Education own EAL guidance! No space here to write more about the advantages – but do consult the research on this. In addition, the very principles of inclusive education which our English schools are supposedly meant to be going by speak directly against deficiency approaches to any learners different from “the norm” (please read publications such as The Salamanca Statement 1994, Ainscow and Booth’s Index for inclusion). This “deficiency” / “language problem” approach to the teaching of EAL learners is not helpful in the least. EAL is a difference, but is far too often perceived to be a problem because of the British monolingual perspective. Monolingualism is not a norm worldwide; bilingualism or multilingualism is.(Please read M.Kerma’s article on this!) It’s also useful to read Professor Grosjean’s webpage on the myths surrounding bilingualism at http://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/myths_en.html . Thus, Daily Mail’s article stating that our schools are not set up to accommodate this many learners who need to learn English is essentially defeatist and attempts to present the situation as acceptable. Well, “get them set up, then!”, I say. It’s not exactly like the presence of EAL learners at British schools is some kind of a sudden surprise – they’ve been here for decades!

The presence of EAL learners is also very uncomfortable to many because they are stark reminders of two things:

1. That the British are becoming rather famous for not being good at learning other languages (read this, for instance)

2. That, indeed, the world in general is not monolingual and has never really been. Next time you walk into an M&S store, please remember that one of M&S’s original founders was a Russian refugee, and next time you eat the seemingly very-British fish & chips, remind yourself that they were originally brought here by Jewish refugees, expelled from Portugal. They probably had to learn to speak English in the first place!

Now, let’s refer back to the article in question. In light of the amazing 0.27% that is spent on EAL pupils yearly, let’s examine the paragraph claiming that native English-speaking pupils are losing out because more time and resources are spent on immigrant children in the classroom. If you look above, can you honestly say that the 0.27% is “more”? Or, rather, if this is more, what did they get before? I am an EAL teacher, so I might actually know of a few more legal matters, which the author of the article does not mention. Do you know how long the funding is actually available to pupils with EAL? Well, as of July 2014, (check Department for Education’s document), this applies only to pupils who have been in school (and have English as an Additional Language) in the last 3 years. In other words, after 3 years of schooling in England, they cannot get the funding. Now, this is in complete violation of any education research I’ve ever read, such as J.Cummins’s research into EAL students developing their academic language skills – this well-recognized and well-respected Canadian scholar claims that it actually takes a minimum of 5 years (only if a child is literate in their first language and with proper school support) to develop academic language. So what exactly is supposed to happen in the year 4 and 5 of their being here? In Alberta, Canada, for instance, the funding cap is 5 years.

The British situation of EAL learners – them actually being underprovided for (financially), is a result of a power struggle – that is, the monolingual hegemony. In the United States, for instance, it has been shown that teaching bilinguals in two languages is actually effective (check this Rethinking Schools article) ; however, in Britain, only English language instruction is allowed, hence using children’s first language for their educational benefit (Science and Geography are not only learnt and taught in England and in English – if you’re good at Science, you’re good at Science!). Which is why in far too many places (and you would think we’re in the 21st century here!) EAL children are placed in bottom Maths sets on the basis of them being EAL. Believe me, I’ve seen things!

Yes, English as an Additional Language children do change the face of British schools – however, frankly, not because they don’t speak English, but because they remind schools of the huge literacy needs of all of their students. They remind them that English children, not new arrivals, cannot properly structure sentences or use connectives because it is assumed that they can. The arrival of greater numbers of EAL pupils to the country makes it obvious that language teaching is required, but mainstream teachers are not prepared to do so as universities do not prepare them for it. However, in too many schools have I reflected on how many native English speaking children and their literacy needs are not actually served. I have consciously chosen to work with schools in particularly deprived areas of the country as I do believe that that’s where the greatest needs lie. Beside being an EAL Coordinator, I am also in charge of a tutor group – when I see what is produced by English Year 10s, it is often not much dissimilar, to be honest, to what some of my EAL students (linguistically) produce.

So language is important for all, and EAL new arrivals are a stark reminder of that – reminder for all. However, teachers are not trained to incorporate it into their lessons, despite numerous literacy policies across the country’s schools, as it’s not something they’d been taught themselves at schools. Writing a summary of a process in Science requires language, but it needs to be made explicit to students. EAL students actually benefit from the same kind of teaching.

We’re going through a process of transformation, yes – schools are changing because the world is changing. People’s mobility across borders is greater and obviously, the amount of conflict in places like Syria, inevitably, will bring more refugees to countries where it’s actually safe. I am proud to be living in the country which can provide such safety. This rocks the deeply-held beliefs about the “rights” of countries to be monolingual. Much like Critical Race Theory addresses white hegemony in relation to the black race, here, it’s the monolingualism hegemony that is being shaken up.

Let’s be completely frank about a few things. Whilst it’s difficult to contest the claim that many teachers might be going on EAL courses at their own financial expense – I simply have no evidence neither in favour nor against it (although I have personally never heard in my own professional practice of any mainstream teacher going on evening courses and paying for these from their own pocket!), don’t you think it would’ve been more useful to provide specific EAL training to teachers prior to them starting teaching? Teachers at initial training courses are unprepared for teaching EAL learners (just try mentioning terms like Dictogloss or collaborative learning approaches or ask how often they use graphic organizers and substitution tables in their teaching). I have never seen EAL learners getting particular treatment over native English speaking pupils. Most schools I’ve been to do not even have a multicultural display (when I get there in the first place) and multiculturalism is not recognized, perhaps short of certain tokenistic gestures such as a one-off yearly assembly on racism or a display in one room. I have never been in a lesson where half the class wouldn’t understand what a teacher is saying. In fact, I don’t think it ever happens! Please take it from someone who both teaches new to English arrivals and supports mainstream teachers across schools and delivers whole-school training to them.

The article states, “When we teach a maths, science or even a PE lesson, we are also having to teach the English language.” Yes! You have to teach the English language to everyone, because everything that you, teachers and any human being explain, elaborate and clarify is delivered through language. You can’t ignore it! So, yes, teachers have to teach language. It’s something that many teachers are learning to do better across the UK, but it will take time. You can grump however much you want about it, but it’s happening.

I find the suggestion  – that in many schools native English speakers have become a low priority group – to be extremely offensive: mainly, offensive to the mainstream teachers, to be quite honest! Whilst, yes, mainstream teachers are unprepared to teach EAL learners, simply because proper EAL training is not provided to them through their education, the vast majority of teachers would not even remotely make that kind of distinction (i.e. treating EAL learner as a greater priority than a native English speaking child), and would certainly not treat unequally students who are in their class. I have an enormous respect for teachers of all subjects: delivering their teaching often in very difficult stressful environment, quite literally buried with paperwork, Ofsted demands, juggling numerous pastoral responsibilities and constantly differentiating for all children. All meaning all: SEN, Pupil Premium and EAL. It’s just that teachers are not well trained in the provision for EAL (in addition, many schools do not even have any EAL teacher or assistant!), because the process is politicized and the powers that be do not want to empower ethnic minority groups and English as an Additional Language speakers.

Why do you think English as an Additional Language is not an actual subject in the UK and has no curriculum? You’d think that over 1 million pupils would justify this! No. EAL teachers tend to be shifted by larger power mechanisms. Even the term “mainstream” seems to suggest EAL is not “in the main” – and, yet, these days, it is precisely the linguistic expertise of people like myself (a trained linguist) that bridges EAL and Literacy needs of schools. Why else, in my previous school would I have been an EAL Teacher and Literacy Coordinator running programmes for both native English speaking and EAL learners alike? Simply put, it works – because that’s what the UK needs – for its pupils to know their language better. EAL and Literacy is a strategic tool for schools and EAL (language) specialists are invaluable to schools these days.

EAL has the power to change the British education for the better – it encourages learning the English language and improving everyone’s English literacy, makes all teachers and leaders think about the assets of multilingualism, it promotes awareness of other cultures and languages, improves tolerance between people and social cohesion. And in so doing, it will improve the British society as a whole. So that, when I have children, half-English, half-Polish, I can say to them with pride: this is where I’ve chosen to live; where people have respect and tolerance for others regardless of their background, where everyone is included, where the contributions of so many nations to this country are recognized and where people can find safety and refuge if they are unlucky enough to have had to flee their own countries. Where the true spirit of humanity abounds and where we’ve moved from separatist and isolationist to inclusive, accepting and together-like.

This is my dream. Some work ahead of us before this happens! I am really saddened that articles such as the one that’s been referred to here continue to fuel the separatist (I am actually thinking: tribal) approaches and ways of thinking. Instead, if you do wish that more and more EAL learners speak English quicker and we all benefit from their bilingualism or multilingualism, start putting some pressure on the government and Department for Education to increase the shameful amounts of money given to schools for EAL learners.

£244 million for EAL pupils per year is not a lot. It’s ridiculously little. It’s an outrage. Speak to any professional at any school and ask them if they think that what their schools get for their EAL students is sufficient – I guarantee you will never hear “yes” to the question.

And, how anyone can think that this makes English native speaking children become “low priority” in schools – I can’t understand.

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