EAL pupils’ academic performance depends on where they live, research finds

The more pupils there are speaking English as an additional language in an area, the more successful those children are likely to be at school, study suggests

The academic performance of children who speak English as an additional language depends on where they live, new research shows.

Which languages pupils speak also matters: speakers of Indian languages tend to perform significantly better at school in the UK than those who are brought up speaking Eastern European languages.

Feyisa Demie, head of research for Lambeth local authority, examined the key stage 2 results of more than 540,000 pupils.

Born in the UK

Dr Demie pointed out that the number of pupils speaking English as an additional language (EAL) has increased dramatically over the past 18 years. About 16 per cent of pupils in England and Wales are not native English speakers. Most of these children, however, were born in the UK.

Nationally, key stage 2 EAL pupils achieved lower test scores in reading, writing and maths than those with English as a first language. Some 71 per cent of EAL pupils reached the expected level 4, compared with 75 per cent of their monoglot peers.

EAL pupils living in Yorkshire and Humber were the lowest achieving, with only 62.9 per cent reaching level 4. This was 7.7 percentage points lower than the national average.

EAL children in inner London, which has the highest proportion of EAL pupils in England, outperformed their EAL counterparts in all other parts of the country. The gap between EAL and native-speaking children in inner London was only 3.5 percentage points. And London EAL pupils’ test scores were in line with the national average.

“Regions with the highest proportions of EAL pupils…appeared to have a higher percentage of their EAL pupils achieving expected levels than, for example, the East, North East and South West, where EAL numbers were much lower,” the study says.

Far from homogeneous

But Dr Demie also highlighted the fact that EAL pupils are far from a homogeneous group. In 2012, there were 208 languages spoken by key stage 2 pupils. Of these, 94 were spoken by 20 or more children.

Speakers of the Indian languages of Telugu and Marathi scored nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average, including native English speakers. The lowest-achieving groups were Czech, Slovak and Romany speakers. On average, children speaking Indian languages were among the highest achieving, and those speaking Eastern European languages were among the lowest performers.

But Dr Demie noted that pupils who initially spoke English as an additional language, but eventually became fluent, went on to outperform their monoglot English-speaking peers.

“This finding offers much encouragement for policymakers and school practitioners,” he said. “It demonstrates that, once the disadvantage of language is overcome, it is possible to attain high levels of achievement.”

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