Birmingham is the largest and one of the most deprived local authorities in Europe. It has one the highest number of children with English as an Additional Language (EAL); some of the 400 schools in its territory have between 30 to 40 different languages spoken within the same institution. In this context, spotting special needs in children has proven even more difficult. Listen to Terri Cawser (Birmingham Council) share best practices and tips on how to assist schools in creating a truly inclusive environment.
📎 Identifying Children and Young People with EAL and SEN
- Key issues for schools when identifying and supporting children and young people with EAL who may also have SEN
- Clarifying misconceptions that can lead to misidentification of a learning need
- Establishing processes for accurate identification of need
💡 Terri Cawser, Assistant Service Lead - Pupil and School Support, Directorate for Education & Skills, Birmingham Council
🏫 This session was recorded live on 14th November 2019 in the SEND Theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.
Okay, hello, my name is Terri Cawser. I work for pupils school support in Birmingham. And we are a local authority SEN service who also support schools with meeting the needs of EAL learners and supporting particularly the coordinators in building that capacity to understand their setting and to support the children with those specific needs. The key session aims today are to look at the key issues of schools when you're trying to identify and support children and people have both EAL. So English is an additional language and special educational needs, we're going to look at a couple of the common misconceptions. And we're going to look at a process for identification for those children where you think perhaps English is their additional language but you also think there's some special educational needs as well. Before I carry on, let me just give you a tiny bit of background about who I am and where I've come from and how I've ended up on the stage. So I grew up in Birmingham, Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe. It's also one of the most deprived local authorities. And it's also one of the highest local authorities with the highest numbers of children with English as an additional language. So we have a whole mixture and over the years, we've seen that develop, so I went to school here. I then started to teach here. And I taught in a school that was 98% EAL, it was higher than the national average percent and we also had a resource base for children under the old code of practice who had behavioural difficulties. So we had whole mixture of different needs within our school. In the time I worked in that school, we moved from 90% to EAL that where the language that was the first language of the preferred language was predominantly the same language. So actually quite easy to deal with. Everybody sort of came from the same background, everyone sort of spoke the same language. And we had the same kind of progress measures. And we could look at the normal sort of trajectory those children travelled along. So we then it was quite easy to find a special need because she went well actually, this is what we'd expect. This is what it looks like now.
Since then, Birmingham schools have gone from having high numbers of EAL but all speaking the same language to having high numbers of EAL where we've got 30- 40 different languages in the school, which makes actually resource in that provision very difficult, but also spotting special needs quite difficult because of the differences in this way that children learn second language depending on their first language and which which route they've come to to get to Birmingham, Birmingham is a city of sanctuary. So we have a commitment to welcoming refugees and children who are unaccompanied children. So we have planes that land every couple of months full of children who were here with, with no parents, no family members. And with that comes a whole range of different needs as well as language as well as literacy as well as learning and, and all of that adds into our mixing parts. What are the key issues when we go into school so my service go into scoring every single mainstream maintain free school and Academy in Birmingham, so we cover nearly 400 schools, we go in the nice leafy suburb ones, and we go in and really in the city one so we see the range. And one of the things that we hear, we hear people saying, I'm not an expert in SEND, so I can't spot that I can't identify that I don't know what to do. What we say is, and this is a little controversial, standing up here as allegedly an expert is there is no such thing as an expert in SEND. There are people who have had more experience in meeting certain needs. There are people that are more researched in certain special needs, but actually, there are lots of different things that they won't have encountered and won't be experienced in and therefore will need to go and find somebody else. So what we say is, you're not the expert in SEND in your school, go and find somebody who is go and find somebody who's had more experience with the need that you're facing.
Okay. So what else do we hear? I'm not an expert in EAL, but exactly the same. You might not be an expert in EAL but somebody in your school somebody in your settings, somebody who comes to visit or setting will have some experience in meeting that need. So go and talk to them. It's too soon to tell. So this child has just arrived in my school and it's too soon to tell he's EAL. It's because of their EAL, whether they're SEND or not. Everybody in school is a professional, everybody in your setting is a professional and everybody will have that professional judgement. So actually, if that's child enters your school, and you think there's something here that I think, potentially could be a special need, then go with it, you're not gonna harm anybody by putting provision in place. You know, nobody's ever, you know, done worse because we've done something to support them quite early. Okay? So we might not go down the label routes and go, we're going to diagnose you with something, but that doesn't stop you looking at the needs from day one and putting provision in place. So the other thing we hear, should I be assessing in home language? Or should I be assessing English? Anybody got any suggestions on that one?
Home language, always you should always know what's going on in home language. Okay, so you should be able to find out. You should be looking to find out how proficient they are in the home language and finding out how well they've learned that first language and how well they've progressed and how they're able to follow instructions. But equally, you also do need to know how proficient they are. In English, so you do need some assessment in both. Okay, but one is no more important than the other. It's about looking at those joint skills because they need both of them to keep progressing and to keep making to keep learning. And also to access the curriculum that you're you're going to be teaching in England, should we be using diagnostic or standard standardised testing? So should we be using proper tests where we sit them down? And we, we do a spelling test and we mark and we see where they are in terms of age related, or should we be using something more diagnostic? There are standardised tests that will tell you there is an EAL factor in them. Be careful with those. Okay. I'm going to give you an example. I was working with a young lady. She was Polish. And we did what we call the BPVS. So a big British Picture Vocabulary Test. So for those of you who don't know what that looks like, you have four pictures, you say a word and the student points to the picture that they think that word is. Within the manual, it will tell you that it has an EAL factor in it and that, you know, you should be able to use it. There's no reading or writing involved. I did this test with this young lady looked at the score, she came out below the, the average. So she was below average based on it. So from that I could draw the conclusion that her language skills were below average, her vocabulary was below average, and then translated the words I was giving her into Polish. So I went through the same test, I couldn't mark it, I can score it, because that's not how you're supposed to administer that test. But I did it in Polish. And what was really interesting was she sat there and she went, Oh, last time I said this, and now it's I know it's this now I got that wrong. So from that, I could say actually, her vocabulary was fine. It just wasn't fine in English. But also she had problem solving skills. She had good memory because she could remember the answers that she'd given me and she was able to correct and comment on her learning. So actually, that diagnostic assessment was really really important.
So wherever possible look at what you can actually see the child doing the person doing, not just how they score on a test. What does normal look like? So very often when we go into a school and teachers are saying to us well, we don't know if they've you know if this child has a special need, because we're not quite sure what normal looks like it especially in terms of gaining a second language. Again, there is research out there that says, it takes two years to gain your conversational concrete language and five to seven years to gain your academic language. So BICS and CALP. Okay, if you're not familiar with those, maybe have a look at that. So there's those that general rule of thumb again, however, you have to look at that very carefully. If a child enters the English curriculum, English schooling system and they're having access to English at home, they're hearing good language models in the community. They're having an enriched environment and they're accessing the school curriculum and having well differentiated lessons with lots of language support. Then those timescales are about right. However, what actually happens, particularly in Birmingham, and there are other areas of the country as well is that these families move, and they tend to still live in a community in their new country, which means outside of school, they're accessing their home language, which is absolutely fine, we encourage that you need to develop your first language in order to develop your second one. However, what it means is they have less access to the English language models that we need. So that reduces the time that it will take to learn sorry, it doesn't reduce, it increases the time that it takes to learn that second language, because very often we find they have peers in the playground to be talking their home language. And we need that for them not to be socially isolated. And that is an absolutely brilliant model to be having. But you have to accept that that the only time though we're learning English is in the classroom. But quite often, the language is quite abstract, and quite academically focused.
So normal, there is no normal. You've got to look at actually how much language you're exposing To what you're specifically teaching, and then judge that on how well they're responding to the teaching that you're doing. I'm going to spend a couple of minutes just looking at some of the misconceptions that you might find. So we need to consider the type of bilingual learner because this impacts on their access to the curriculum, whether or not we sign this to a SEND need or an EAL need or a little bit of both. They're not a homogenous group. EAL learners and not in a homogenous group. We go oh, you have EAL. That doesn't tell us very much. Okay, it tells us that you're learning another language, so English as an additional language, but it doesn't tell us how proficient you are. It doesn't tell us which language you learnt first, it doesn't tell us how perfect how how developed your first language is or whether actually this is English as your additional language is actually a fifth language that you're learning. And you can draw on different cognitive skills that come along with that. We're going to look at the two main ones that you might find coming into a setting. We have a simultaneous language learners. So these are children. learn language more than one language from birth. Okay, so they're both up in a bilingual family from birth, they're learning two languages. We then have our sequential language learners. So these are children who learn an additional language after they've learned the first one. So these are typically your newly arrived children into England. But not always. Sometimes these learners have been born in England, brought up in a household that speaks a very dominant home language and they really start to access English on entry to school. So sometimes that they're simultaneous learners, even though they've been born in the UK, haven't read about saying it. So it was born in Manchester. her mom's from Turkey. Her dad's from the UK. And her parents are spoken to in both Turkish and English since she was born. She also has two older siblings who speak English to one another much of the time at home. So what kind of learner Do you think signup is simultaneous? Or, or sequential?
She's simultaneous. Yes, she's learned both Turkish and English from birth. Children who learn two languages from birth. Don't forget, when on entry to school sometimes will look like they have a lower vocabulary than your English speaking or your monolingual speaking children. So when you're doing those early years testing and you're looking at how many words they use, sometimes it can appear they have a smaller vocabulary, you must not forget they've got a vocabulary in a different language in a second language. And actually, if you add those two vocabularies together, they're probably at or above where you'd want them to be on those baseline measures. Okay. At some point, they will start to realise that those two words that have the same meaning in both languages and they'll start to really start to combine those vocabularies and that's when you'll see a really big bloom. But if you're only measuring in English to start with, it will look like it's reduced and that's one of the misconceptions we sometimes find that EAL children on entry to school classed as having a language difficulty because their vocabulary is low, when actually if we can look at what they can do in their first language, their home language, we can extend that and quite often we find they've actually got a slightly larger vocabulary than a monolingual learner.
Alexander, so he's lived in the UK since birth. But at home he's only been spoken to in Polish. Both parents were originally from Poland, they moved to the UK when mum was pregnant, doesn't have any siblings. The family have got several friends in the local area and again, all of those are Polish. He's had small amounts of English obviously, but really predominantly when he's out and about money's at home Polish is his first language. He's recently started nursery and that's when when he started to, to experience English on the wider scale. So he is a sequential learner. He's learnt Polish, and now he's learning English.
When you're dealing with a young person who has learned to language first that's different from English. There are some languages that do not start in the same way that we start with English. So we start with names, don't we with names in England and we teach this as a table and this is a bottle. Some languages don't start with names. So again, it's a must list knowing a little bit about the language that the first language child speaks in order to find the type of words they will have so again, that we don't say that there's a language difficulty when actually we're just looking at the wrong types of words. Very quickly then, but Bushuru moved to UK with a family from Somalia. When she lived in Somalia, she was using Somali and Arabic, she's been exposed to both of those languages from birth. When she arrived in the UK, she started school almost immediately. And this is where she first was properly submerged into the English language. This isn't uncommon in England, where actually you're a bilingual learner, and then you come to England and then you start to learn your third language. In this case, from birth. She was a simultaneous learner. She was from birth learning two languages, however, she's also in sequential learner, because she's now learning English after she's learnt those first two languages. So again, what I'm trying to show here is there's no simple answers to this. There's no one way of looking going EAL is this, EAL is lots of different things and that's really important that we keep that in our minds.
So another misconception, and this is one that I come across in Birmingham and lots, I go into schools, and I go, tell me about your EAL learners and they go, we haven't got any EAL learners in our school. And I go, really, EAL learners are not just your newly arrived pupils. They are EAL learners and if you look at the DfE guidance on this, EAL learners are any child or a young person who is exposed to a language other than English in the early years of development and community in their home or community and continue to be so. So any child entering the school system, where they've been exposed to a second language in their home, regardless of high proficiency. They are should be classed as EAL. Now, that's to help put the right provision in place. And I'll talk a little bit about that in a second. But just a heads up, it also attracts funding for the first three years of that child into school. So if you've got children starting in your reception classes, where actually there exposed to another language at home for the first three years, you will get funding under the National funding formula for those children. So it's important that you do look at that. And what we talk about when we talk to coordinators is think about the questions you're asking on your admission forms. If you say what is the child's first language, then often parents will feel quite obliged to put English down. And they'll do that because actually, the child speaks quite fluently in English, which is great, but also it feels a bit of a judgement. And some parents will say to us that they feel if they don't put English as child's first language that there'll be judged or they'll be put in a special group or there's something what we say is put down, what language is spoken in the home? So not what does your child speak, but what languages are spoken within the home that allows you to celebrate that there's bilingualism in the families that there's lots of languages in your community and it also allows us to make that judgement about whether or not you should be recording as having English as an additional language.
I'm going to wizz through those hopefully, you'll all have heard. So a couple of years ago, the DfE in their census was asking you to assess the child's proficiency in English. So any child where English was not their first language, where they were exposed to languages other than English in the home in those early years of development, etc. You were asked to identify at what stage they were in terms of their English proficiency. Now, they had that in there for two years, and then they took it away. And those of us who were working with EAL students really thought that was actually a really sad thing, because those schools where they said, I haven't got any EAL children in my school suddenly realised that they got some at these higher levels, the C and D. I don't know why I felt need to point at C and D, you can read C and D. And but what they said was we've got children, yes, we've got them new to English, those who are new to learning English, they've got very little language skills, they might be in that silent period, we've got some who are early acquisition. So they've got that conversational language. And if you're very concrete in your examples, they can access English, but they're not competent yet. They're not able to access the language of the curriculum without a lot of support, developing confidence. So actually, they need a little bit of language support within the classroom to access new concepts and to embed concepts but they're still quite competent and can access the curriculum. Competence is when you're starting a new subject, and you're introducing some new vocabulary you need to go back to that concrete stage. But it once they've had that initial reinforcement, they can manage within the classroom and then it fluence. So they use language as well as their monolingual peers.
Now what I would say is check your monolingual peers language levels, because some schools in Birmingham have very deprived language and you go from I'm not sure that's a good model to be aiming at. So what we're solving there is actually you're fluent, you can speak English, you don't need any support, other than any other age equivalent support. Quite often, when we talk about EAL in schools, people focus on those A and B levels, then we suddenly find that C and D children have got SEND because their writing doesn't match their speech, or their grammatical structures that they're recording aren't as sophisticated as we expect them to be. But because we're not considering the fact that we haven't got language input to support those, we suddenly start finding that there's children being classed as SEND instead of EAL, so it's worth checking that proficiency in English. Using assessment, there's loads of systems out there Bell Foundation to a free one that's downloadable, that's split up into primary secondary, so it's easy to use and in many subjects, but it will allow you to look at what the language proficiency of a second language learner is. And also make sure that teachers understand the difference between learning your first language and a second language. Because it's not just a case of think about what I did with my toddler at home and use the same language structure, learning a second language is different. So make sure that there's a bit of CPD around that.
So the process of identification, it's not much different to the process of just looking for a SEND need. But there are things that we need to consider and the thing that I would say the most, is this collecting background information. How do you know that the child's need is send and EAL and isn't EAL being mass. So, for example, I'm really sorry I like to put little stories in I was working with some twins who a year started the schooling year four I was asked to go and see them because the school said they're in year five now and we think they're SEND they're not making the progress we expected them to make, we're really worried about them. We went in and I said, right, tell me about their backgrounds. And so when they went to an international school and we were taught English, they came from Malaysia. And so, you know, they, their mum, their mum did pass away. So they have had an adverse childhood experience. But, you know, they're with dad and they've got siblings and they're living in England now and they're still in the family unit. And but, you know, they're really struggling. So, okay, so they learn English from an early age, okay. They've been in education, and they're in a secure family unit. Okay. Started talking about it a little bit more, got the dad back in. So a year after they started school, got the dad back in and said, tell us a little bit more about the schooling they had in Malaysia. He said, Well, yeah, they went to an international school, but it wasn't very good. And they didn't really they told us they spoke English, but they didn't actually they just did a few lessons in English. Right. So these children didn't actually learn English from an early age. They've got some exposure to it. That's slightly changes what we're looking at. And then also yet there was a hole in the fence. And we did hear stories that the girls used to just get their registration mark and then escaped, and then come back at the end of the day to be picked up. Right? So they haven't actually access the curriculum necessarily. We don't know what their actual teaching of skills was. So we're not sure about their language. Now, we're not sure about their teaching skills. Tell us about their mum. What happened with that, well she was ill for two years, I can't really tell you very much because I left when the girls were 2 and came to live in England with my new wife and so the girls were with an older brother and mom at home and obviously mum passed away after a long illness. So what happened after the mum passed away? Well, I went and picked the girls up and brought them back to England. So they were separated from their brother. They had this traumatic event and then they were brought to a different country to live with a parent that they'd had a little bit of phone contact with during the time. straightaway we're going whoa, hang on a minute. There might be some special needs here. But these aren't because of the fact that they've had this great life experience to start with, we've got to unpick all of these other needs as well, if we hadn't done that piece of information and looked at that background information in more detail, those children would have an education health care plan now, they'd probably be in special school. And what actually happened is we address those emotional needs, we've put in some support to actually help them to deal with all those factors. We put in some really focus language support, we looked at where they gaps in the curriculum where, and actually, by the end of year six, they were doing really well. So it's a nice happy ending to that story. They went on to secondary school, they're all great. But if we've missed that, collecting that background information really carefully, we'd have missed that and we'd have we'd have been judging them as SEND and not all the other issues.
So be careful not to just use paper when you're collecting background information. Wherever possible, spend some time getting to know the families and the and what's happened before they get to your school. Okay, wherever possible, have a face to face meeting. I appreciate If you've got 30 odd languages in your school that's quite hard to translate. But think about ways we can make that easier. Think about how you could collect that information in a way that isn't just a case of giving a piece of paper and getting them to answer questions. Be careful using family and friends to translate. Because some parents in some some communities weren't sharing information around special needs, because it's not seen as something that is socially acceptable. So again, look at the background, look at the culture. Collect your evidence. So assess the children's language needs so get those proficiency in English, go to the Bell Foundation, look at your local authority and what they offer and assess that proficiency in English. Assess the gaps in the curriculum, assess what actually what skills can that child demonstrate what can they do, what's missing, okay? And put some things in place to address those needs, just like you would for any other child, assessing needs, plan, what you're going to do put something in place and look at what that impacts but don't forget, you have to do it for both elements, you have to assess their language needs in terms of proficiency in English and development of a second language. And you have to assess the years of special needs that you're looking at.
Don't presume things like they'll have had a hearing test at birth, as they do in the UK, because that isn't common across the rest of all, you know, the world. don't presume that they will have been to a GP and had their early years checks. Don't presume that they will have been to an optician at eyesight test. So do all those basics think about those sensory needs as well? Once you've collected the evidence, so you've you've assessed both those levels, you've put interventions in place or supporting place to address both things language development and curriculum or special needs that the need that you're identifying, spend some time analysing that evidence. Is the child making progress in line with the support you've put in place? It are they making greater levels of support in the gaining of English than they are in the addressing the gaps that they've got all the special needs that you find identified, or is it the other way around? Okay, how are they responding to intervention? How are they responding to provision? And then think about identifying the need? Where does it sit in the code of practice? Okay, actually, is this a second language issue? And it's about that language support and building the staff knowledge and skills in in developing a second language? Or does it fit into one of the four broad areas of need? And then what would you do to support those children normally, what would your norm provision look like? But when you're considering that think about how that second language, or I keep saying second language, in some cases, third and fourth language? How is that going to impact on their access to that support that you're giving? So for example, if you identify a gap in phonics, have you considered the vocabulary that they need to access the phonics because good phonics teaching is based on good vocabulary, if you're looking at a child who actually has social, emotional mental health needs, have you considered what their early life experiences are? And what's the best type of support. So for some children, talking to an adult, actually from the communities they're from, is quite intimidating and accessing some support from a adult peer could actually prevent them from from expressing those emotional needs. Whereas having somebody who is a peer maybe, or a peer mentor, or somebody who's within the same sort of age range, they may be more open to expressing those needs. Obviously, that takes some training, but it's about that consideration about what's going to be different for this child from where they've been from, where they've come from, where they've been through and what they need to address those needs.
Think about your whole learning environment. Does everybody in your learning environment understand the key things that you need to, so do they understand that development a second language? Do they know that having introducing you to some environment is not just about having posters with hello in a different language written, okay. It's more than having a photo of a child in a wheelchair. Think about that whole environment that you're in. And just make sure that staff are aware of those misconceptions so that you are confident but as I said at the start, if you're worried about a child if you think they've got additional, so they've got English as an additional language, but you think actually, I think there's a need here, you're not gonna do any harm by putting some provision in place. Thank you for listening.
Don't forget to register for your free place at our upcoming show on www.schoolsandacademiesshow.co.uk.