A study by the University of Oxford is calling on schools to use its evidence to better target EAL funding.
For example, the research finds that speakers of Portuguese, Somali, Lingala and Lithuanian have “especially low outcomes” at 16, while Russian and Spanish speakers do well.
EAL pupils in the ethnic groups of White Other, Black African and Pakistani also have markedly lower outcomes than their non-EAL peers.
Last year, more than one million children were categorised as EAL, with local authorities allocating £243 million to schools to support these pupils.
The research, conducted by Professors Victoria Murphy and Steve Strand, highlights that currently EAL is used to refer to any child that speaks a language at home in addition to English. Pupils are eligible for funding if they have entered the English education system within the past three years.
This means the category could include children who speak English fluently – the bilingual child of a French banker is grouped together with a Somali refugee who may not speak English at all, for example.
Also, the EAL classification gives no indication of a pupil’s proficiency in English.
However, the research concludes that the funding being invested in EAL students is contributing to their increased attainment.
On average, it finds, EAL pupils are catching up with their peers by age 16. At age 5, only 44 per cent have achieved a good level of development compared to 54 per cent of other pupils. However, by age 16, 58.3 per cent are achieving five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths compared to 60.9 per cent of other pupils.
Three organisations that funded the research – the Education Endowment Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and the Bell Foundation – are now calling for EAL funding to continue but for it to be targeted at those most at risk of under-attainment.
Diana Sutton, director of the Bell Foundation, said: “While 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 three 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.”
All three funders 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”.
The full research reports can be downloaded at http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/publications/eal-review