EAL: Working with new arrivals

Written by: Dr Ruth Wilson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

This September, many secondary schools will have new arrivals from abroad who have English as an additional language. Continuing our series on EAL, Dr Ruth Wilson gives some practical advice for you and your schools in meeting the needs of this diverse group of learners

New arrivals with English as an additional language (EAL) are a very diverse group. Their language proficiency can range from “new to English” to “fluent”. The young person can arrive at any age and with widely different socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Some students may come from an advantaged context with a high standard of education; others may have had little or interrupted schooling or experienced traumatic events. A new arrival could for example be a refugee from a war-torn country or a child of a German banker working in the City of London.

Data show that, on average, pupils arriving late into the English school system do less well in external exams than their first language English peers, and that the older the pupils are when they arrive the less likely they are to achieve good results in year 11 (Hutchinson, 2018).

This article gives some practical advice for you and your schools in meeting the needs of EAL learners who are newly arrived from abroad.


First, it is important to make new arrivals and their parents feel welcome and help staff to make appropriate plans to include them. If possible, this will mean leaving a gap of a few days (not more than a week) between the initial admission interview and the start date, so that information can be circulated to subject teachers and the relevant pastoral support team.

The EAL co-ordinator, if the school has one, often conducts the initial interview and disseminates information to colleagues. This would normally include:

  • Country of origin and other countries of previous residence.
  • Language(s) spoken, read and written.
  • Previous education.
  • Proficiency in English.
  • Family details.
  • Other information. e.g. SEND, health issues, separation or trauma, interests, strengths.


Induction for new arrivals from abroad is, in many ways, similar to the induction for anyone starting at a new school, however, more serious consideration needs to be given to making the information accessible to new arrivals and their parents during induction. Schools should: “Make them feel welcome, provide support, encourage friendships, make sensitive assessments of their current levels of attainment and learning needs, and provide a curriculum that meets those needs.” (NUT 2002, cited in Monaghan 2004)

It is easy to focus on issues connected with language development, particularly with beginner EAL learners, but young people learn best when they feel secure and valued, and it is important to get the basics right in terms of pastoral support for new arrivals, for example through:

  • Inclusion: all pupils have the right to access the national curriculum so a key principle is that provision for a new arrival is not separate but integrated into all subject areas. Integration into mainstream classes with adequate support and good language models will promote rapid language development.
  • Key member of staff (form tutor, EAL co-ordinator): someone a pupil can go to if they have problems.
  • Safe space (e.g. library, EAL hub): somewhere pupils can go at lunchtimes, before or after school.
  • Peer support: this can be encouraged informally or introduced through a peer scheme. Students taking part need to be carefully selected for their personal qualities, e.g. empathy and reliability. The peers may be bilingual and share a language with the new arrivals but this is not essential. One example of good practice is the Young Interpreter Service (YIS) model developed by Hampshire EMTAS service (see resources).

Initial assessment

As recommended in the first article in this series (SecEd, June 2018), a key feature of your approach should be to create a comprehensive profile of each new arrival. It is important to establish, through EAL assessment, both a learner’s proficiency in English and their competence in curricular subjects.

For example, a learner may have covered the content in their home country but lack the vocabulary to express it in English, or alternatively may have had limited prior education in their country of origin. So, it is key to establish a real understanding of the learner’s competencies and abilities through assessment.

The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework for Schools is a useful tool which can be used for initial, formative and summative assessment of English language proficiency. It supports target-setting and planning, and is accompanied by classroom support strategies, all of which are free for schools to download.

Research consistently shows the importance of assessment of the proficiency in English as an indicator of future attainment and therefore The Bell Foundation recommends that assessment is on-going.

Many local authority EAL teams have developed initial assessment packs to support you in assessing new arrivals and some of these are available online (see resources).

If a first language assessment is possible, that is very helpful. If not, it is still worthwhile to ask the learner to write and read something in their first language. You can get a general impression of a young person’s literacy skills from seeing how confidently they approach the writing task and how fluently they write. It can also be useful to ask the pupil to read a text aloud. A tip is to keep a stock of leaflets that have been translated into a range of languages (NHS leaflets are excellent for this), as well as the English version, so you can see if they are able to tell you what the text is about.

Aim high

As with all learners, high expectations are key, and it is important not to underestimate a new arrival’s potential. There are many reasons why it can be easy to do. A new arrival may appear not to be making any progress while they are tuning into a new learning environment. Some students have a much higher level of proficiency than is first apparent and may be adjusting to English that sounds very different from what they were taught in their country of origin. A good rule is to always expect the student “can do more than you currently imagine, and you will probably be proved right” (Monaghan, 2004).

A whole-school approach

The first article in this series also stressed the importance of a whole-school approach to provision for new arrivals. Some of the main considerations are:

  • Grouping: remember that the higher the group/set the pupils are placed in the more likely they are to encounter good models of English and of learning.
  • Management: appoint a senior member of staff to have responsibility for new arrivals. This person should have had additional training in EAL pedagogy, so they can support and advise staff as well as monitor pupil progress.
  • Build on the student’s first language: make sure staff, pupils and parents realise the importance of maintaining and building on the new arrival’s first language, at home and at school. If pupils have good literacy skills they may also be able to take a GCSE in it.
  • SmartPhones or tablets: where possible allow access in class so that new arrivals can use online translation software and learner dictionaries. This will enable those who are literate in their first language to translate key words, hear correct pronunciation of words they look up (using headphones), and build their own subject-specific glossaries.
  • Staff training: many secondary teachers feel ill-equipped to teach new arrivals who are also new to English. The EAL Nexus website offers advice, guidance and curriculum resources with detailed teaching notes explaining how they can be used in a way that is consistent with EAL good practice.
  • Additional support: those EAL learners who have limited literacy in their first language can benefit from one-to-one or small group intensive literacy support. This support should be linked to the curriculum as far as possible and focus on language that pupils already know in English. Lunchtime or after-school homework clubs can be very useful.

Tips for subject teachers

The Teachers’ Standards (2012) make it clear that it is the responsibility of all teachers, whatever their subject, to “adapt their teaching to the strengths and needs of all pupils’ including those with EAL”. At the same time, research suggests that the majority of teachers lack confidence and feel unprepared by their training to meet the needs of EAL learners (Brentnall 2015, Starbuck 2018). So, here are 10 tips on how to include new arrivals in your classroom:

  1. Positive and welcoming body language. A beginner new arrival will depend more than usual on reading your expression. If you appear relaxed, friendly and calm, pupils are likely to be reassured and more able to learn.
  2. Summarise the main aim of the lesson in one sentence and convey this to the new arrival.
  3. Use practical activities, visuals and real objects to demonstrate the context to the new arrival. For example, in a lesson about volcanoes show a picture of one right at the beginning so pupils can understand the context and start to build on prior knowledge.
  4. Place the student near you and with a group of supportive peers.
  5. Be conscious of your own language – try to avoid colloquialisms, speak clearly and give instructions one at a time.
  6. Ask peers who share a first language to translate for the new arrival where needed. Praise and reward students who help and tell them that explaining a point to someone else will also help them to understand it and remember it themselves.
  7. Look at the resources for beginners on the EAL Nexus website. The teaching notes show how to plan lessons integrating language and curriculum objectives. There are lots of visual resources, suggestions and examples of how to include new arrivals in mainstream classes.
  8. Encourage new arrivals to keep a bilingual glossary for your subject where they note down key words and phrases in English and make notes in their first language to help them remember subject content.
  9. If the class is writing an extended piece of text encourage new arrivals to draft it in their first language before trying to write in English. This will help them concentrate on what they want to say without limiting themselves to language they already know in English.
  10. Plan differentiated homework tasks where appropriate, e.g. give students a list of 10 key words to look up.


Supporting newly arrived EAL learners requires accurate initial assessment identifying the right level of support for each individual learner. Involving parents and providing a whole-school inclusive culture, a welcoming induction and an appropriate learning environment are also important.

This means ensuring that teaching staff have access to professional development that will empower them to feel confident to integrate language and learning objectives, use teaching strategies that promote language development and use EAL-sensitive assessment tools to help them recognise learners’ achievements, needs and progress.

  • Dr Ruth Wilson is a Bell Foundation Associate at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education by working with partners on innovation, research, training and practical interventions. Visit www.bell-foundation.org.uk

Resources, references & reading


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin