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Getting Better and Better

21st February 2015

How do you know that your pupils are making progress? You would think this question is at the core of our profession, the very essence of teaching. But, sadly, it seems not. As the year creaks on and the targets set so cheerfully in September now look like mirages, as we realise that we have eight weeks until the SATs tests, we lose sight of any progress that isn’t easily pinned down and annotated.

The new curriculum promised a life beyond levels, but many of us we are still APP ing, and levelling against an outmoded set of criteria. The problem is levels and progress are so embedded that they run through our schools like writing on pink rock. We are used to evidencing progress and defending ourselves, within this framework. For EAL learners we use, probably, a local variant of "Language In Common". This is by no means an acclaimed or flawless system, but the exemplifications created by EAL practitioners from all areas and backgrounds mean we all have a varied menu to select from. I prefer the ones that give ideas on what you might do next, maybe because I am a great subscriber to the “so what?” school of assessment.¬†

Once upon a time we had a shared understanding of language development, we saw stages in English acquisition where pupils’ use of other languages was recognized, and where the complexities of developing bilingually were articulated. Language In Common replaced this with a simplified structure in an illusory attempt¬† to align with NC levels. Its introduction did not cause universal celebration, but at least there remained descriptors specific to EAL pupils.

But now, beyond levels, what shall we do? All learners are to be classed as at age expectation, below age expectation or exceeding age expectation, if we are lucky each strand may be subdivided into three. Our EAL beginners will be below age expectation, and may stay there for a while. No explanation of why, no raising expectation, just below expectation child therefore not a good enough teacher.

The battle to ensure that speaking another language is not regarded as a deficit in learning has been constant through my career, and it seems that the situation is about to get worse than it ever has been.

As a profession we need to fight the corner for our pupils, to argue for, design and disseminate a means of describing the journey through English acquisition that our pupils make. We need this in order to defend ourselves professionally, as well as to help our school leaders be proud of the achievements of this group. We need it or EAL beginners will find themselves unwanted and unwelcome in schools. We need it so we can help our pupils make that journey rapidly.