CPD for the EAL classroom

Written by: Silvana Richardson | Published:
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As schools become linguistically and culturally diverse, it makes sense to ensure that teaching staff are adequately prepared. Silvana Richardson looks at CPD to enable teaching staff to work effectively in diverse multilingual and EAL classrooms

The daily experience of many teachers in England is that the schools where they work are becoming increasingly diverse. As microcosms of wider society, classrooms reflect global trends – namely, that due to globalisation and transnational movement of the population, many pupils arrive at school already speaking more than one language, with English being their second, third or fourth language.

This linguistic diversity is accompanied by pupils’ diversity in prior exposure to English, prior experiences of schooling, their length of residence in England and their social circumstances (Cenoz & Gorter, 2015; Foley et al, 2018).

Official figures show a marked increase in the last 15 years in the number of pupils with EAL: according to last year’s Schools Census, there are now 539,895 EAL pupils in state-funded secondary schools, which means that the numbers of EAL learners have more than doubled since 2006.

In schools which are both linguistically and culturally diverse, it makes sense to ensure that teaching staff are adequately prepared to work effectively in diverse multilingual classrooms.

In England’s schools the curriculum is almost entirely taught and learnt through the medium of English, and the English language is the “primary evidence for learning” (Mohan et al, 2010).

This can be particularly challenging for secondary teachers specialised in subjects other than English, who may not have been trained to consider the many linguistic demands that the subjects they teach make on learners with EAL.

It follows, then, that CPD focusing on meeting the language and literacy needs of those pupils who can access the curriculum to a limited degree and are therefore less likely to perform to their full potential should be a fundamental mainstream concern. This CPD focus should be ultimately about ensuring that English language development in the curriculum is effective and sufficiently rapid for all learners.

Recent research (Foley et al 2018) suggests that teacher learning in this area should not be viewed as yet another specialised area of expertise that needs to be squeezed into a packed programme of professional learning, but instead schools should conceptualise multilingualism and multiculturalism as the norm in mainstream classrooms.

A number of studies also report that the challenges teachers face in meeting the needs of diverse pupils has a negative impact on their confidence (Foley, 2010, 2013; Anderson et al, 2016; de Jong & Harper, 2011; Kosnik et al, 2013; Foley et al, 2013, 2018). Therefore, prioritising this area in CPD programmes is fundamental, as many practitioners feel deskilled and disempowered as they implement pedagogies designed for monolingual English-speaking classrooms that are not suitable for multilingual classrooms.

Teachers also feel they need a broader knowledge-base that would allow them to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners more effectively (Foley et al, 2018).

The gap between the complex demands of multilingual, multicultural classrooms and staff’s perceptions of the fitness for purpose of their own expertise to address such demands requires that school leaders and CPD providers consider three crucial questions:

  1. What do teachers need to learn to meet the learning needs of pupils with EAL? This question refers to the content of CPD programmes.
  2. What types of teacher learning programmes enable teachers to judiciously apply what they learn to their practice? This question is related to approaches to CPD that ensure impactful and transferable teacher learning.
  3. To what extent is your school’s CPD programme building the necessary expertise, confidence and self-efficacy that staff require to meet the language and literacy needs of learners with EAL?

As the answer to the third question will depend on the specific CPD arrangements in place in each school, the remainder of this article will focus on addressing the first two, and it will list sources and resources that can be used in CPD events.

Content of CPD programmes

A CPD programme focusing on teaching diverse multilingual classrooms will need to take account of differences in teachers’ expertise and experience regarding working with pupils with EAL.

The following is a suggested list of possible content, by no means exhaustive and not intended to be followed sequentially. It may serve as a starting point for senior leaders to identify content to explore as part of a school’s CPD programme, or for individual teachers to self-assess their own knowledge and identify learning needs (many of these recommendations were made by Foley et al, 2018).

This list is necessarily generic and as such, decontextualised. Therefore, when designing CPD programmes, school leaders are advised to use it judiciously and to consider additional areas of pedagogic content knowledge that their staff need to learn in their context.

The socio-economic and educational contexts of EAL pupils

  • The super-diversity that characterises this group.
  • The difficulty of drawing general conclusions about the heterogeneous EAL cohort, as there is wide variance in attainment which makes averages misleading (Strand & Hessel, 2018).
  • Key factors that affect the educational outcomes of pupils with EAL, such as the learners’ level of English proficiency, their age of arrival in the English school system, their first language, and their prior educational and life experiences (for more details about these factors, see Strand, Malmberg & Hall, 2015; Hutchinson, 2018; Strand & Hessel, 2018).
  • The specific features of the different groups that make up the school’s current EAL cohort.

How EAL learners use language

  • Thinking, listening, speaking, reading and writing between languages – known as translanguaging practices (both when pupils are asked to alternate languages and the complex language practices of plurilingual individuals. See Garcia & Wei, 2014).
  • The cognitive and affective demands of moving between languages.
  • Differences across languages.

Making the curriculum accessible

  • Features of English that are often problematic to pupils with EAL.
  • Factors that aid or hinder comprehension in spoken, visual, written, multimodal, and digital texts.
  • Varieties of English that pupils are likely to encounter and use in different contexts.

Meeting the needs of bilingual and plurilingual learners

  • Assessing the proficiency in English of EAL pupils for formative purposes.
    Setting language development targets alongside subject targets.
  • Planning for diversity.
  • Integrating language-focused activities into subject lessons.
  • Using the languages that pupils know in the classroom as valuable learning resources.
  • Supporting vocabulary and academic language development.
  • Classroom strategies and materials to support integrated language development in mainstream classes.
  • The specific language forms and distinctive literacy practices that are characteristic of different subject areas (subject literacies).
  • Addressing the language demands of assessment tasks.

Effective approaches to CPD

Raising teachers’ awareness of the topics mentioned above is necessary, and it is certainly a solid starting point. However, awareness alone will not empower teachers to “adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils ... using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively”, as required by the Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2011). As with any other subject area or cross-curricular pedagogic concern, ensuring transferability to the classroom and impact on pupils’ learning is paramount.

In this respect, the substantial body of research and evidence-informed guidance developed in recent years regarding the design features of CPD programmes that promote impactful teacher learning (for example, Cordingley et al, 2015; DfE, 2016; Richardson & Diaz Maggioli, 2018; Weston & Clay, 2018) applies to teaching diverse multilingual classrooms.

Here is a brief reminder of aspects to consider when planning CPD programmes focusing on transferability and impact:

  • Allow time and resources for teachers to engage meaningfully with this particular area over time. This means creating frequent and repeated opportunities for them to encounter evidence-informed approaches and practices and critically reflect on them.
  • Integrate initial input with discussions about how to transfer CPD content to practice, and with in-class experimentation and collaboration with colleagues, including follow-up and consolidation activities.
  • Design programmes with the specific learning needs of different practitioners in mind (e.g. teaching assistants, teachers working with different age groups and key stages or teaching different subjects, heads of year/subject/area, etc) and differentiate according to the priorities of different groups and individual members of staff and pupils.

In other words, dealing with this area once, and only telling teachers about it is unlikely to reap any benefits related to improved teaching and learning.

Another key variable to consider when deciding approaches to CPD related to diverse multilingual classrooms is how to conceptualise and frame this area of CPD work.

A possible way of framing CPD in EAL would be to adopt a “dual approach” (Foley et al, 2018) to staff development, consisting of:

  • A number of sessions and activities focusing on aspects of the content listed above, aimed at supporting teachers to develop relevant knowledge and strategies, and...
  • Input and activities for reflection and experimentation about diverse multilingual classes integrated in CPD events focusing on individual subjects, e.g. mathematics, science, etc, and on the more generic cross-curricular topics in teacher learning programmes, e.g. differentiation, Assessment for Learning, feedback, etc.

This ensures that language development in the curriculum is given a central place with a focus on making all lessons accessible.

Sources and resources

Schools do not have to reinvent the wheel as there are many available resources and professional development events which staff can access and CPD providers can build into their programmes:

  • Research reports: Access and download research studies of relevance to EAL free-of-charge via The Bell Foundation (see http://bit.ly/2Um6SIk).
  • CPD events: The Bell Foundation offers a series of free EAL webinars aimed at developing and embedding expertise among senior leaders and EAL staff (see http://bit.ly/2Djb5XB).
  • Assessment framework: Resources focusing on specific aspects of practice can be used as part of CPD sessions or events. The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework for Schools (2017) includes secondary support strategies and provides practical ways to support EAL learners at each stage of their language development (see http://bit.ly/EALassess).
  • Resources: The Bell Foundation’s EAL Nexus is a website that provides advice and resources to support staff to effectively assess, teach and support pupils with EAL within the curriculum. The resources cover all levels of language proficiency and whole-class activities (seehttp://bit.ly/EALnexus).


  • Silvana Richardson is programme quality manager at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education. Visit www.bell-foundation.org.uk

Further information & research

  • Classroom support strategies: Working with EAL learners in secondary settings, The Bell Foundation: http://bit.ly/EALstrategies
  • Multilingual Education: Between language learning and translanguaging, Cenoz & Gorter (eds), Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Developing great teaching, Cordingley et al, Teacher Development Trust, June 2015: http://TDTrust.org/dgt
  • Teachers’ Standards, Department for Education, July 2011 (updated June 2013): www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-standards
  • Standard for teachers’ professional development, Department for Education, July 2016: http://bit.ly/2Pj4Vys
  • English as an additional language and initial teacher education, Foley et al, University of Edinburgh, 2018.
    Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education, Garcia & Wei, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • Educational outcomes of children with English as an additional language, Hutchinson Education Policy Institute & The Bell Educational Trust, 2018.
  • Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges and border thinking, Mignolo, Princeton University, 2000.
  • Sociolinguistic competence and Malaysian students’ English language proficiency, Mohan et al, English Language Teaching (vol 3), 2010.
  • Effective Professional Development: Principles and best practice, Richardson & Diaz Maggioli, Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  • English as an additional language, proficiency in English and pupils’ educational achievement: An analysis of local authority data, Strand & Hessel, University of Oxford, Unbound Philanthropy, and The Bell Educational Trust, 2018.
  • Unleashing Great Teaching, Weston & Clay, Routledge, 2018.


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