Joint review commissioned to narrow the attainment gap for EAL learners

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), Unbound Philanthropy and The Bell Foundation have joined forces to commission a review focused on helping teachers and schools identify the most effective approaches to raise the attainment of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL).

In 2013 there were over a million pupils with EAL, with 3% fewer achieving five GCSE A*-Cs including English and Maths than non-EAL pupils. This gap is even larger for EAL pupils eligible for free school meals. However, these overall figures mask significant variations depending on the area where EAL pupils live, their first language, and at what age they arrived in the UK.

EEF, Unbound Philanthropy and The Bell Foundation have commissioned a practitioner-focused review with the aim of identifying the most at risk EAL learners in England and understanding which interventions have the most potential to address those gaps. The review will be led by Professor Steve Stand and Dr Victoria Murphy from the University of Oxford and is due to report in the summer of 2014.

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the EEF says:

“The EEF’s work is all about helping schools understand better the most effective ways to tackle this country’s stark attainment gap which means pupils from low-income backgrounds under-achieve compared to their better-off classmates.

“The data is clear that EAL pupils eligible for free school meals achieve worse overall, but that this average conceals a lot of variation. This shouldn’t be surprising: the experience of girl born in Cambridge to Chinese-speaking parents will be very different to that of a Somalian boy who arrives in Sheffield aged 13 without any English. This new study will focus on helping us understand this granularity – and in particular on equipping schools with the knowledge of what works best in addressing the different needs of their EAL pupils.

“This is important work and we are delighted that academics of the calibre of the Oxford team will be leading it. I am also very pleased that the EEF is partnering with Unbound Philanthropy and the Bell Foundation, who are offering funding, support and advice. Our mission is to break the link between family income and educational achievement and we know that ambition can only be realised by working with others who share this aim.”

Will Somerville, UK Programme Director at Unbound Philanthropy, says:

“It is essential that we increase the attainment of all disadvantaged children. This work, led by some of the leading experts in the country, will ensure we have up-to-date analysis of which EAL groups are most at risk of underachievement and what are the most promising interventions to arrest such an outcome. We too are delighted to be working with the Education Endowment Foundation and the Bell Foundation, philanthropists who share our desire to scale interventions that are built on objective evidence of what works.”

Diana Sutton, Director of the Bell Foundation, says:

“Government data shows that the number of EAL learners has doubled over the last ten years, is now over 1 million and rising. This has happened at a time when the delivery of support for EAL learners has changed. EAL learners typically achieve less well and this important work will help get a clearer picture of why that is and what can be done to address that, so that every child can achieve their full potential. We are delighted to be working with EEF and Unbound Philanthropy on this project. ”


1.The 2012/13 figures for GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics are available here (pp11-12):

2.The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead charity in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education endowment of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £28.7 million to 56 projects working with over 300,000 pupils in over 1,800 schools across England. In March 2013 the Education Endowment Foundation and the Sutton Trust were designated the ‘What Works’ centre for improving education outcomes for school-aged children by the government to develop evidence-based policy making in central and local government and among practitioners.

3.Unbound Philanthropy is a US-based charitable foundation dedicated to ensuring that migrants, refugees, and their families are treated with respect and dignity; are able to contribute fully in their new communities; and can ultimately thrive in a society that is comfortable with the diversity and opportunity that immigration brings. Unbound Philanthropy seeks to ensure that interventions are based on evidence of what works.

4.The Bell Foundation was established in 2012 with a mission to change lives and overcome exclusion through language education. The Foundation works in two thematic areas: children with English as an additional language and offenders with literacy and language needs in the UK.

5. A team from the University of Oxford has been appointed to undertake the review, led by:

  • Professor Steve Stand, Professor of Education at the University’s Department of Education (;
  • Dr Victoria Murphy, Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition at the University’s Department of Education (

6. The review will focus on EAL learners in primary and secondary schools whilst being mindful of other sources of data relating to ethnicity and immigration. The main focus of the review will be on attainment in English literacy at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 but if gaps also exist between EAL and non-EAL learners in numeracy at these stages, these will also be identified and addressed.

The review will aim to identify:

  • The most at-risk groups of EAL learners and predictors of low attainment for these learners; and
  • The most promising programmes and interventions to address these gaps on the basis of causal evidence.
  • The audience will be policy-makers, practitioners and funders who might use the review for the purpose of effective targeting of policy, interventions and funding to address these gaps. Thereview will be published in the first half of 2014.