The experiences of secondary school students with English as an additional language: perceptions, priorities and pedagogy

Hall, Graham (2019) The experiences of secondary school students with English as an additional language: perceptions, priorities and pedagogy. Project Report. British Council.

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Abstract

In an increasingly globalized and multilingual world, contemporary trends in migration have created challenges for the educational systems in destination countries, as children from a variety of linguistic and educational backgrounds join mainstream schools. In the UK, for example, over 1.17 million (1 in 6) current school students study through the medium of English as an Additional Language (EAL), a figure that has increased significantly in recent years.

Although the needs of EAL students are an increasing focus of research and practice, attention in the UK has until now been more directed towards primary rather than secondary-level pupils and schools. This paper therefore reports on the project 'The experiences of secondary school students with English as an Additional Language: perceptions, priorities and pedagogy', contributing to our knowledge of the less explored teenage age-group. The project uncovered the experiences of students living and studying in a reasonably typical urban setting in Britain – Tyneside, that is, the city of Newcastle and its neighbouring urban environment in the north east of England. Tyneside is becoming an increasingly an important centre for immigration and for the teaching of children with EAL, partly as a consequence of the UK government’s policy of dispersing asylum seekers around the country, and the challenges surrounding EAL, if not ‘new’, are often new in scale, while local experiences, perspectives and expertise remain under-researched and shared.

Taking a case-study approach, therefore, this project brought together the perspectives of secondary-level EAL students and their teachers in two Tyneside schools, by collecting qualitative focus group and interview data alongside classroom observation fieldnotes. It sought to answer the key research question ‘How do secondary-level school students with English as an Additional Language experience school in the UK?’, while additionally exploring whether the perspectives and school experiences of EAL students from differing geographical backgrounds, with differing migration and educational histories, and with differing skills and abilities varied. Consequently, the study aimed to consider the implications of these student experiences for pedagogic practice, practitioners and other stakeholders in the field, not only for those working in this project’s particular setting, but for those working with secondary-level EAL students elsewhere in the UK and also internationally, in EMI environments.

The findings offer clear evidence that, while students who speak English as an Additional Language may to some extent face ‘a commonality of issues’, they are individuals who experience school in differing ways. Coming from a diverse range of backgrounds, EAL students bring with them to school a range of prior experiences and abilities which overlap, inter-relate and combine in complex ways that underpin an individual pupil’s school life. Teacher (and institutional) awareness of individuals’ backgrounds, prior experiences, skills and repertoires is central to developing a fuller understanding of, and offering support for, any challenges particular students might face both in the classroom and in school more generally.

The study demonstrates that the relationship between language, access to the curriculum and identity is a central issue for EAL students. However, it also suggests that for many, perceived needs and priorities change over time. Students with less English proficiency, who in this study were often Immediate New Arrivals in school, are unsurprisingly very concerned with developing their immediate language and communication skills, in order to access the curriculum, participate more fully in class, and develop social networks in the classroom and beyond. Although their own language and home culture is a central part of their lives and identities, their key focus is the development of the English skills necessary to succeed at school. However, for students who are more proficient in English, perhaps those who have been in the UK for a longer period and who are more familiar with UK school culture(s), the need to maintain their own (i.e., home) identity is prioritised in contexts where differences between their home and the school environment are not widely recognised. From this perspective, therefore, it is possible to conceptualise EAL speakers not only as students who need supporting and resourcing, but also as students who are themselves a multilingual and multicultural resource from whom others can learn and through which schools might celebrate diversity.

Item Type: Report (Project Report)
Subjects: Q100 Linguistics
X900 Others in Education
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2019 16:09
Last Modified: 21 Jan 2019 16:09
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/37673

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