Claudia Civinini looks at ELL outcomes in primary schools in England
According to 2016 figures from the Department of Education, 18 per cent of 11 year-olds in England did not have English as their first language (L1). How are they doing and where are they achieving their potential? The achievement gap between English as an additional language (EAL) speakers and native-English-speakers is narrow. Gender and, more especially, socio-economic status and special education needs show a stronger effect. On average, 53 per cent of all pupils achieved the required standard in reading, writing and maths – the achievement for EALs was 50 per cent.
Good news first: English language learners (ELLs) make more progress at Key Stage 2 (end of primary school) than L1 students. This is particularly evident in mathematics and writing – but less true of reading where, and here comes the bad news, the achievement gap between ELLs and other pupils is 10 percentage points (58 and 68, respectively). ELLs achieve higher scores than L1 students in mathematics, are just a percentage point below in writing – though, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are a percentage point ahead in grammar, punctuation and spelling.
How about high achievers? According to the department’s figures, 5 per cent of pupils achieve above standard for all three subjects. Fewer ELLs achieve above standard in reading (14 per cent as opposed to 20 per cent) and writing (14 to 15). However, ELLs turn the figures around for maths and spelling, where they score 20 and 25 per cent of above standard compared to 16 and 20 for L1s. To gain further insight into the performance of ELLs, we ran two different analyses of the data. First we focussed on seventeen schools where 100 per cent of eligible pupils are ELLs, and then we tracked down schools with the highest percentage of ELLs above standard.
Analysis of the seventeen schools that reported 100 per cent ELLs seems to show that their students are more likely to achieve to standard than the national average: 56 per cent, compared to 50, according to the data. Five per cent achieved above average, in line with the national average. As a group, these schools display the same average progress score as for ELLs nationally, though in writing and mathematics they score half a point higher. Compared to the national average for L1 and L2 (or Lx) combined, seven schools display a higher-than-national-average progress in mathematics, five in writing and two in all three subject. Only one school has a lower-than-average progress score in the three skills. With reading, however, these schools have on average 64 per cent of pupils at standard and 12 per cent above standard, so a slightly lower percentage of pupils are above standard. One school, St Stephen’s Primary School in London, stands out with 93 per cent of pupils at standard and 38 above standard.
As a general rule, do ELLS do best in schools where they predominate? The graph on this page doesn’t show any statistically significant correlation. However, it is a valid visual aid to spot in what context ELLs achieve above standard, and it shows that they are most likely to outperform the standard in schools where they make up less than 50 per cent of the intake. In the graph, the horizontal axis shows the percentage of ELLs in a school, while the vertical axis shows the percentage achieving above standard. Most high-achieving schools are found in the group with 0-20 ELLs above. The outlier on the right hand side, with 100 per cent ELLs and 38 per cent of them above standard, is St Stephen’s, the school mentioned above.
To find where ELLs experience the most success, we need to go to the other end of the graph. The school with the highest percentage of ELLs above standard has 40 per cent eligible ELLs. We find other schools with a 50 per cent of ELLs above standard – but they all have lower percentages of such students. Further analysis reveals that, in 45 schools 35 to 52 per cent of ELLs achieve above standard and they make up an average of 25 per cent of enrolments. The 77 schools where 100 per cent ELLs are at standard have an average of 23 per cent. Both groups of schools have high average percentages of all students achieving to standard and above, so ELLs’ success in these schools may just depend on the overall effectiveness of the institution.
A 2015 study carried out by the University of Oxford and funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (see November 2016 Gazette), Unbound Philanthropy and the Bell Foundation highlighted the fact that average figures hide a massive variation of educational achievement among ELLs. While most of such students catch up with (and some overtake) their peers by age sixteen, some still lag behind at the end of secondary school. The report found that three factors in particular were connected to lower results for ELLs: belonging to a specific ethnic group (in particular ‘White Other’, ‘Black African’ and ‘Pakistani’), arriving in England in the middle of primary, and interestingly attending a school outside of London. Last year, the funders agreed a further £2 million to investigate strategies to boost EALs’ achievement in the light of these findings.
Another programme was launched late last year by the Education Endowment Foundation with the aim to train teachers with skills and expertise to keep ELLs in the mainstream classroom. A pilot project tested new training modules developed by a partnership of Challenge Partners, Lampton School and Hounslow Language Service with 58 schools. Results, which included teachers’ and pupils’ surveys, were encouraging – now the programme will be tested more widely with a randomised control trial on 100 schools. The University of York – Institute for Effective Education will conduct the evaluation, and the results will be published in spring 2020.