Supporting trainee teachers to teach EAL pupils

Written by: Sheila Hopkins | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As multilingualism and English as an additional language become an integral feature of school life, how can school-based initial teacher training programmes prepare student teachers to work within linguistically and culturally diverse settings? Sheila Hopkins advises


Britain has always been multicultural and multilingual; greatly benefitting from diversity over the centuries. Today is no exception. In fact, many British cities are what we now call superdiverse communities where people with vastly different languages, cultures and backgrounds live side by side enhancing our schools and neighbourhoods.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) January 2021 School Census provides us with the current EAL landscape in the UK. Almost 1 in 5 pupils (19.4%) in the UK school system, nursery through secondary, are learners who use English as an additional language (EAL).

This number rises to nearly one third of pupils in nurseries (28.9%), most of whom were born in the UK. These numbers reflect the multilinguistic landscape which our current student teachers will enter.

In an effort to determine the extent to which EAL is taught in initial teacher training (ITT) programmes, and how well student teachers are prepared to work within multilinguistic settings, The Bell Foundation commissioned a study on EAL in ITE with the University of Edinburgh (Foley et al, 2018).

Key findings show that while prevailing policy (National Curriculum, 2013) has prioritised integration and inclusion, little attention has been given to expanding the knowledge-base of trainee teachers to enable them to address the English language and literacy needs within linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms.

The report provides evidence showing many trainee teachers and teacher educators feel that they lack confidence and experience as they work to address the learning needs of pupils using EAL.

Significantly, one-third of trainee teachers felt they had “little” or “little to no” understanding of the English language and literacy needs of multilingual learners.

This scenario is particularly concerning as Standard 5 in the DfE’s 2011 Teachers’ Standards specifies that teachers must “have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including … those with English as an additional language”, and that they must “be able to use and evaluate teaching approaches to engage and support them”. In this regard, methodologies that are based solely on monolingual English speakers are no longer fit-for-purpose (Leung, 2014).

For school-based ITT programmes, this means that teachers with key mentoring and training responsibilities will need to have or develop the necessary expertise for guiding and supporting trainee teachers in working with multilingual learners.

In identifying further learning opportunities, such teachers should be mindful of discourse and practices that perpetuate an orientation of seeing bilingualism as an obstacle or problem (and English as a solution) rather than multilingualism as a valuable resource and key marker of a learner’s identity – making the use of all pupils’ languages something to promote in schools.

The Bell Foundation has developed training modules specifically for ITT providers. This article describes the modules’ connection to the ITT Core Content Framework (DfE, 2019), their content and design features and recommendations for their infusion into existing ITT programming.


Support for EAL content in teacher education

Although the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) defines the minimum entitlement of training for all trainee teachers, it is highly and deliberately general in its approach. This means that responsibility for adequate and appropriate curricula development lies with individual ITT providers.

The Bell Foundation has a guidance document in line with the CCF which offers evidence-informed EAL content recommendations for inclusion in ITT curricula as well as a series of three, free-to-access, EAL modules and materials for teacher educators to use within ITT programming (see further information).

  • Module one: Understanding EAL; contexts, policies and pedagogy
  • Module two: Language for learning
  • Module three: Assessment and EAL

Each module is designed to build upon trainee teachers’ personal experiences as they make links to new evidence-informed content through meaningful activities and through application to their practice.

As ITT programmes differ around the UK, the modules have design features that enable tutors to adapt materials, making them relevant to their training context and the learning needs of their student teachers.

These include duration options (60 or 180 minutes), phase-specific options, and content options (core and supplementary content).


Incorporating EAL into ITT programming

The ITT modules aim to provide trainee teachers with a grounding in EAL knowledge and strategies. However, the bulk of EAL-related pedagogical principles and practices should ideally be infused throughout an ITT programme.

In principle, such a dual approach ensures that EAL is given a central focus across all core concerns and individual subjects of a teacher education programme, rather than being treated as a “bolt-on” addition to existing programmes (Foley, 2018).

In this way, language development is incorporated into the teaching of all subjects and into areas such as scaffolding, feedback, assessment and group work.

To achieve this, ITT programmes may need to consider matters that involve curriculum mapping, CPD for key mentoring and training staff, and/or partnership building with EAL experts in their schools or from other schools and local authorities.

Finally, the chart below provides further suggestions for how learning from the aforementioned ITT modules can be built upon and infused throughout an ITT programme.


Further information & resources

  • Bell Foundation: Initial Teacher Training (guidance document & EAL modules and materials): https://bit.ly/3NRXKYD
  • DfE: Initial teacher training (ITT): core content framework, November 2019: https://bit.ly/36keCmC
  • Foley et al: English as an additional language and initial teacher education, University of Edinburgh, The Bell Foundation, October 2018: https://bit.ly/3NS9eLW
  • Leung: Researching language and communication in schooling, Research Portal, King’s College London, 2014.


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