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Supporting the Wellbeing of EAL Learners

Pupils can struggle with their wellbeing in the best of situations but what if English isn’t your first language?

Joe Denny, EAL Educator, shares how he tries to help his EAL students.

Wellbeing is a hot topic in education at the moment, and it is easy to see why. Uncomfortably tight budgets (and trousers in my case – I’m still dealing with the effects of my festival cheese and chocolate indulgences), the threat of an inspection under the ‘new framework’ and the relatively unknown quantity that is a ‘deep dive’ add up to a potentially problematic environment, hazardous to the wellbeing of every member within a school community.

I cannot claim to have all of the answers, and I have certainly not taken every opportunity to seek help when times have been tough, but I know it helps to have dialogue.

So spare a thought for those who may lack the skills necessary to engage in a dialogue for the sake of their wellbeing. English Language Learners, English as an additional language pupils, English second language students, English foreign language (too many acronyms – welcome to education!) are losing out when it comes to wellbeing provision. 

We are simply not talking enough about the wellbeing of these young people, and it needs addressing. With this in mind, here are three tips to help you get started.

  1. Make better use of students’ language skills by making them “Young Interpreters”.

The Young Interpreter Scheme® provides peer support to pupils learning English as an additional language, to their families and to schools. Within each school community there is huge potential for pupils of all ages to use their skills and knowledge to support new learners of English so that they feel safe, settled and valued during every step of their educational journey.

Young Interpreters undergo specific training to prepare for this role and are selected on the basis of their unique personal qualities. The support they can offer to a newly-arrived pupil can be very reassuring from a parent or carer’s point of view at a time when their child may be adapting to substantial changes. It also supports school staff in a variety of ways at different points during the school day.

The Young Interpreter Scheme® can be used in a variety of settings – either where a number of pupils share the same language, or where there are isolated English as an additional language (EAL) learners.

Registration to the Young Interpreter Scheme costs £70 per school and includes unlimited access to either Primary or Secondary Moodle + one year’s access to subscription page (worth £25). A range of branded badges, stickers and other items are available to purchase.

For more information visit @YIscheme on twitter or search Young Interpreter Scheme across search engines and social media platforms.

  1. Celebrate your school community

You may feel too busy to take note of the incredible things your school achieves on a regular basis. If you have a diverse, multilingual community which produces successful, happy people then this is cause to celebrate. Recognising diversity and difference in a positive manner is so important, especially where this produces teaching points so that your young people learn to better understand and accept the things that make us unique, as well as those that make us similar.

Involving families in this process will bring members of your school community closer, and this may be something families with lower levels of English proficiency, or families who find themselves in the minority within the school community, desperately want for their peace of mind. It is unbelievably useful to establish communication with all families in a positive, collaborative dialogue with families from the very beginning.

For a short yet informative read that says everything else I want to say on this subject (much more eloquently than I could), visit

  1. Consider ways in which you can set accessible yet challenging tasks.

It is difficult to gauge students’ academic potential when they have low levels of English proficiency. It is even more difficult to include students in your class context when you do not know anything else about their level of ability.

Students will become complacent if they are not challenged appropriately. In some cases, students’ behavior will deteriorate, and progress will be undone. To avoid this scenario, try to gain a better understanding of students’ previous schooling and the knowledge they have gained from this. There may be very little students can tell you, but any information you garner is worthwhile. 

You may find that setting tasks in languages neither you nor any of your colleagues can speak pushes you too far beyond your comfort zone. I empathize with this position, and although it is a genuinely wonderful thing to be able to develop and celebrate students’ first languages, it could be beyond your skill set to provide this effectively and that is okay.

In this case, what we must aim to provide are cognitively challenging tasks which require low levels of English proficiency to access. You are already on a more positive pathway if you begin to meet students’ needs from the position of what they can do, rather than concentrating on what they cannot.

The best research to read on this subject is anything but new. Professor Jim Cummins, in his book Bilingualism and Special Education: Issues in Assessment and Pedagogy (1984), highlights the level of cognitive demand and contextual information to support understanding to two key variables in language learning. There is a wealth of supplementary research and activities derived from this model available for free online that will transform your thinking and help you meet students’ needs.

To summarise, allow yourself to view peers, families and students’ past academic experiences as resources. Multilingual peer mentors will grant your students access to meaningful dialogue. Ensure the diversity of your community is valued, celebrated and explored, and work to make all members of your community feel equally valued and included. Separate academic ability from English language proficiency, and gain a better understanding of what your students can achieve once they develop a greater knowledge of our remarkably complicated, inconsistent yet beautiful language. The impact on students’ wellbeing is far more important than the academic impact, but they do go hand in hand.
(Photograph used with permission from Flickr user Wonderwoman0731)

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The author

Joe is a KS2 teacher, English curriculum leader and EAL lead at a large primary school in Oldham, Greater Manchester. He is found on social media as @ealeducator. He is passionate about empowering educators to support the language and personal development of EAL learners, improving social mobility and creating more positive outcomes for all.

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