EAL in the Early Career Framework

Written by: Silvana Richardson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Early Career Framework makes no mention of teaching pupils who use English as an additional language, despite the fact that nearly half of teachers teach in diverse classrooms. Silvana Richardson advises

From September, it will become a statutory requirement for all schools to offer, and for all early career teachers (ECTs) to undertake, a two-year professional development support and training programme based on the Early Career Framework (ECF).

The national roll-out of this programme is to take place at a particularly challenging time, as virtually all ECTs starting this autumn will have had a disrupted initial teacher training (ITT) experience. This makes it all the more important that those teachers receive the support they need.

The ECF has been designed “around how to support all pupils to succeed and seeks to widen access for all” (DfE, 2019), and does not detail approaches specific to particular groups or additional needs – a deliberate design move to emphasise the importance of high-quality teaching.

The invisibility of EAL within the ECF

The generic design of the ECF can be seen in that if you do a search of the text for “English as an Additional Language” or “EAL”, the results are precisely 0.

Similarly, a cursory look at the references section reveals that one in 130 sources – Tsiplakides and Keramida’s 11-year old article – includes the words “English” and “language” in the title. However, the English as a foreign language context to which this article alludes is vastly different from that of mainstream classrooms where pupils using EAL develop their proficiency in English alongside curriculum learning.

This absence of EAL from the ECF may do both pupils using EAL and their teachers a disservice, as 27 per cent of teachers in England work in classrooms where at least 10 per cent of the pupils have a first language which is different from the language of instruction. Nearly half of all teachers teach in diverse classrooms – the share of teachers working in multilingual settings has increased from 28 per cent in 2013 to 41 per cent in 2018 (OECD, 2019).

Therefore, a generic focus on quality learning for all may lead to the distinctive approaches needed for supporting the most disadvantaged EAL learners being overlooked and excluded from early career induction programmes.

In fact, research has found that ECTs are aware that they need a broader knowledge base that would allow them to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners more effectively, and that the increasing responsibility they face in meeting such needs impacts on their confidence as professionals. They also report feelings of being deskilled, as they apply pedagogies for working in monolingual English-speaking classrooms to multilingual and multicultural classrooms (Foley et al, 2018).

Therefore, ensuring that ECTs learn to meet the needs of pupils using EAL from diverse backgrounds during their ECF-based induction programme is essential, as their teaching practices will need to be fully reflective of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Pupils using EAL and language learning loss

The disruption caused by the pandemic has not only impacted ITT trainees’ experiences, but has also adversely affected the very learners they were trained to teach. Recent evidence suggests that over the last year many learners using EAL have been particularly affected, as in addition to learning loss, they have also experienced language learning loss.

Ofsted notes that “literacy-related learning losses had affected some pupils who speak English as an additional language the most because they had not been speaking English during the first national lockdown” (Ofsted, 2020).

Similarly, findings from forthcoming Bell Foundation research (due out in June and based on the NFER's 2021 Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey) also indicate that of those teachers who felt able to comment on the impact on pupils who speak EAL, 74 per cent of primary school and 59 per cent of secondary school staff report a negative impact in one or more of the four English language skill areas (writing, speaking, listening and reading).

Our anecdotal evidence, meanwhile, reveals that many pupils at the early stages of English language acquisition did not have opportunities to hear, speak or read in English during school closures. This limited exposure to English may account for their current difficulties comprehending what they are being asked to do and following lessons, their reticence to participate in discussions and loss of confidence when speaking in front of the class.

Teachers report that it has been hard to scaffold the learning of these pupils and provide support in lessons while having to adapt their responses to remote and socially distanced learning for all classes and every learner.

Schools have also found it difficult to communicate effectively with parents of EAL learners, which means that some children have not always been able to access the work set.

Moreover, the return to schools with social distancing arrangements has created further challenges, particularly around modelling pronunciation, and social distancing precluding teachers and teaching assistants from working in close proximity to learners to check work and give them feedback.

Therefore, as stipulated in the Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2011), knowing when and how to differentiate appropriately and being able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support pupils using EAL has become even more crucial in the current context of long-term recovery within which ECTs will begin their professional lives next September.

Implications for ECF-based induction programmes

The fact that EAL is conspicuous by its absence in the ECF means that you will need to supplement it, adding content and opportunities for reflection, discussion and action regarding how ECTs can support the learning of pupils using EAL at risk of underachieving in the current circumstances.

This will require a sustained effort to identify opportunities to apply an “EAL lens” as you plan ECF sessions and select, adapt and create materials based on the generic content. This may mean:

Keeping EAL learner in mind

Interrogate the ECF statements with EAL learners in mind and permeating the content with an “EAL lens”. When planning content and materials for ECTs, you should go beyond the obvious place for EAL in the ECF – Standard 5 “Adapt teaching” – by asking yourself, “So, what does this mean for learners using EAL at risk of underachieving?”, in all eight standard sections as appropriate. Here are a few examples:

  • ECF statement (2a): Taking into account pupils’ prior knowledge when planning how much new information to introduce.
  • What it means for learners using EAL: Prior knowledge to be taken into account includes both knowledge of subject-specific content and of the language that pupils need to demonstrate learning.
  • ECF statement (4.4): Guides, scaffolds and worked examples can help pupils apply new ideas, but should be gradually removed as pupil expertise increases.
  • What it means for learners using EAL: Guides, scaffolds and worked examples help pupils using EAL to learn and use the language they need to demonstrate learning (e.g. guided discovery tasks to explore models and worked examples, the use of substitution tables, speaking and writing frames, word mats and fans can help pupils notice and use new language), but should be gradually removed as pupils’ proficiency in English increases.
  • ECF statement (6.1): Effective assessment is critical to teaching because it provides teachers with information about pupils’ understanding and needs.
  • What it means for learners using EAL: Consider how students at different levels of proficiency in English can evidence learning in ways that do not disadvantage them, as some may have secure knowledge of what is being assessed but may not yet be able to demonstrate this in English. For pupils who are new to English and at the early stage of language acquisition, assessment methods should elicit knowledge in ways that do not draw heavily on the production of extended texts (e.g. labelling graphs, matching, sorting).
  • ECF statement (7c): Giving manageable, specific and sequential instructions.
  • What it means for learners using EAL: For pupils who are new to English or at the early acquisition stage, instructions might need to be adapted (e.g. by using simple grammar and vocabulary, and short sentences, speaking a little more slowly and clearly than usual, pausing after each instruction to allow processing time, writing key words on the board to help listening, using gestures, facial expressions and visuals to support instructions). For pupils who are competent and fluent, the language of instruction can deliberately introduce some elements of natural and spontaneous speech (e.g. sentence headers “What I want you to do is…” and vague language and fillers – “sort of”, “uh, erm”).

Sourcing and/or writing supplementary materials

It might be necessary to include session materials with a specific focus on EAL, by adding a handout (e.g. of levels of proficiency in English), a worksheet, further reading material, etc. Rather than starting from scratch, check the websites of specialist organisations such as The Bell Foundation or NALDIC, which have a wealth of resources and materials to download.

EAL specialists

You might seek input from internal and external EAL specialists. The school’s EAL co-ordinator may be a great source of expertise. For example, you could invite them to:

  • Interrogate the ECF together with you (as suggested above).
  • Provide materials, guidance and resources for specific sessions.
  • Provide recommendations for further reading.
  • Attend specific mentoring sessions.
  • Refer you to external experts, such as the local authority’s EMAS EAL specialist or EAL organisations.


The national roll-out of the ECF can be a great enabler of post-pandemic recovery for pupils using EAL if it adequately equips ECTs to work effectively in multilingual settings. It can also build a solid foundation for a successful career in diverse schools. However, mentors and materials cannot rely solely on generic statements and an agnostic pedagogy to achieve this. Critical examination of the ECF standards and appropriate supplementation that infuses core content with EAL will be required.

Further information & research


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