Cash for pupils without English as first language should be better targeted

There is a huge variation in the results achieved by pupils classified as EAL (English as an Additional Language), according to new research published today.

The reports' authors, Professor Steve Strand and Professor Victoria Murphy of the University of Oxford, are calling on local authorities to continue prioritising EAL funding, and urging schools to use this new evidence to target EAL funding more effectively at those most at risk of underachievement.

The authors believe that schools should be held accountable for spending their resources in ways that reduce the attainment gap of pupils within the EAL category.

In 2014, over one million children were defined as having EAL. During the same year local authorities allocated £243 million to schools through their locally determined arrangements, to support EAL pupils. Under the current system, the EAL category encompasses any pupil that speaks a language in addition to English and has entered compulsory education within the last three years – the bilingual child of a French banker is grouped together with a Somali refugee who may not speak English at all. Crucially, the EAL classification gives no indication of a pupil's proficiency in the English language.

The reports – funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and The Bell Foundation – find that:

  • On average, EAL pupils catch up with their peers by age 16. At age 5 only 44% of EAL pupils have achieved a good level of development compared to 54% of other pupils. By age 16, this gap has narrowed significantly with 58.3% achieving five A*- C GCSEs including English and maths compared to 60.9% of other pupils.
  • Average attainment figures mask a huge range of results for different groups of EAL pupils. Speakers of Portuguese, Somali, Lingala and Lithuanian have especially low outcomes at age 16 but Russian and Spanish speakers do particularly well.
  • Pupils recorded as EAL are very unevenly distributed and concentrations of EAL students can be very specific to a small local area. A quarter of schools (22%) have less than 1% EAL pupils but in 8.4% of schools, EAL pupils make up over half of the school population
  • There is no evidence that pupils whose first language is English suffer from attending a school with a high proportion of EAL pupils, an outcome that is consistent at both Key Stage 2 (age 7-11) and Key Stage 4 (age 14-16).

Based on these research findings, the Education Endowment Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and The Bell Foundation recommend that:

  • The provision of funding for EAL pupils in the last ten years has contributed to improving overall attainment for this group of children. Local authorities should continue to prioritise it in their funding formula.
  • However, EAL funding should be targeted at those most at risk of under-attainment. Schools should review how they identify the language and learning needs of children within the EAL category to ensure that funds are targeted towards those at particular risk of low achievement.
  • Schools should be held to greater account for how their EAL funding contributes to improving pupil attainment in a similar way that they must demonstrate that Pupil Premium spending is improving outcomes for pupils from disadvantaged families.

The three funders of the report – the Education Endowment Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and The Bell Foundation – have pledged to continue working together to build the evidence base of cost-effective strategies for improving the attainment of those EAL pupils most at risk of under-attainment. They will make a further announcement about this in the next few months and welcome engagement from decision-makers and those interested in applying for grants.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: "We must ensure that all our schools are meeting the educational needs of pupils that do not have English as their first language. By ensuring that all these pupils have fluency in English, we can make sure that they have career prospects and a future here in the UK."

Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: "Improving the language skills of students without English as a first language is essential to their educational success and enables them to assimilate and engage with the community and country they live in. In order for schools and teachers to do this and best implement their EAL resources, it’s critical that they have access to high-quality evidence-based research."

Diana Sutton, Director of the Bell Foundation, said today: "Whilst this report shows that historic EAL funding has done much to improve the educational achievement of children in this category, it also sends a clear warning that Government and schools must not be complacent. Average attainment figures mask a disparate set of results and a significant chance of under achievement for some children. It may take longer than 3 years to acquire good academic language and this needs addressing by better targeting EAL funding to improve the educational outcomes of those most at risk."