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English as an Additional Language (EAL) and SEND

‘Difficulties related solely to learning English as an additional language are not SEN’

SEND Code of Practice

Although some children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) will also have SEND, the great majority will not. Data shows that pupils with EAL often make rapid progress and it should not be assumed that an EAL learner has SEND unless their progress is notably slower or markedly different than for similar pupils.

Lack fluency in English should not therefore be automatically thought of as a SEND in learning and cognition. As a rough guide, the percentage of pupils with EAL identified as having SEND should be similar to the overall percentage of pupils identified as having SEND.

Recognise that for children with EAL who do not have SEND, their difficulties may be a normal part of the process of acquiring another language, e.g. it is not unusual to go through a ‘silent phase’ where they do not speak at all in school, and this can last for months.

Assessments must therefore take into account the child’s achievement in all areas, and their particular individual strengths and needs. Also, and as in most circumstances, assessments should not be based on a ‘one off’ test or situation, but built up over time to give the most accurate picture of the child’s needs.

It is essential to get as much background information about the child as possible – e.g. previous school experience, literacy in their home language, rate of initial language development in their home language (development in the home language may be a key indicator of whether a child has SEND).

Assessing the child’s subject knowledge in their home language will only be valuable if they have used the language regularly for learning in the past and in the subject area being assessed.

When assessing reading ability, it is important to remember that children with EAL may often develop decoding skills, but still have limited comprehension of what they are reading. Therefore, the gap between an EAL child and peers whose first language is English is often greater in comprehension than in reading accuracy.

Points to remember

  • Bilingual learners have recognisable patterns of development that are different from learners whose first language is English
  • They may take up to two years to develop basic communication skills (street and playground survival language)
  • Some pupils may take a time before they feel confident enough to actively take part in lessons and use the English they have learnt. A ‘silent’ period is natural and should not be seen as the child having learning difficulties
  • Lack of progress may be due to the linguistic challenge presented by tasks rather than underlying learning difficulties. If the same task is supported with artefacts, pictures and photographs, the child may do well
  • When trying to identify whether a pupil with EAL also has SEND, there are therefore two issues to guard against; diagnosing a learning difficulty that does not exist, or overlooking a learning difficulty.