The following article comes from Anna Czebiolko, EAL/ED Consultant at Leeds City Council.

New arrival multicultural pupils must be assessed upon their admission to a new school. It is almost impossible to facilitate effective support if there is little known about the pupil. Taking into consideration the fact, that children with English as an additional language are a strikingly diverse group: from unschooled to well-educated, from vulnerable financially to economically successful or from academically inclined to those with minimal interest in the field of education – understanding learners’ needs is unquestionable.

Assessing the language of instructions

In the secondary school where I worked, initial assessments were organised prior to the official starting date, which helped us allocate the right classes and prepare for the new pupil. It is important to consider every child individually and thoroughly understand their social and learning needs. During admission interviews, prospect pupils were offered as much time as they needed to complete a series of assessments. This included: checking English proficiency level against The Bell Foundation Assessment Framework*. In fact, I have encountered advanced speakers with limited or none literacy skills; readers with an ability to easily decode words but who presented no comprehension of what they have just read; quiet children with highly advanced writing skills; pronunciation masters with a very narrow range of vocabulary. This means that skilfully assessing the four components of language is key. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening should be all assessed separately in order to build a realistic picture of the learning needs of each child.

It is important to consider every child individually and thoroughly understand their social and learning needs.

Identifying the curricular knowledge

The language barrier refers to the capacity to communicate in the instructional language but it does not represent any specific subject knowledge. The equally significant part of the initial assessment should be checking pupils’ understanding of age appropriate lesson contents. This should consist of Maths, Science and curricular English tests. Having prepared two types of tests such as mental calculations and more wordy instructions can help to identify strengths and weaknesses of each learner. Even if these tests do not indicate advanced levels of comprehension in curricular subjects, learners require to be monitored more closely when they join in regular lessons. It is not rare that gifted and talented pupils are not offered classes appropriate to their levels firstly, due to the language barrier itself. Secondly, without the adequate level of challenge they may not present the adequate progress. This scenario can be only avoided if there is a clear understanding of child’s potential and skills behind the linguistic outcome.

Measuring the linguistic capital

Finally, gaining the awareness of the child’s first language level is simultaneously beneficial. Not only it is uncomplicated to find the correlation between the developments of literacy and oracy in first language and later in English, but also it is information for us about what linguistic capital the learner has.  It can be assumed that if learner does not regularly exercise academic vocabulary in their native tongue, providing translations of for instance of Tier 3 words may be less effective. On the contrary, someone who is an advanced reader on their language may have an easier task while scanning new texts in English. Knowing languages of school multilingual cohort is advantageous in numerous ways: while planning heritage languages exams, when matching language buddies, for specialist bilingual events such as translation workshops. On the other hand, pupils who are illiterate in their first language may feel discouraged if they are offered translations or writing tasks and they cannot respond to them successfully. Assessing pupils’ first language does not always require the knowledge of it. If a familiar script is used, many patterns can be recognised by sight – the use of punctuation marks, length, repetitive or varied vocabulary. Social media allow exchange of support and there is always a fellow practitioner who can write a comment about pupils’ writing/speaking sample. If the test has been written electronically, then computer translators can be also in favour.

Getting to know the pupil

In addition, the awareness of pupils’ hobbies, aspirations, talents and their background stories should not be omitted. Thanks to those, it is trouble-free to rely on professional judgement and construct a complete socio-educational portrait of a newly-admitted person. This knowledge should be presented in the form of Pupil Profile, including writing samples, information about the first language and all the gathered pieces of knowledge about the learner. Such document should be shared across the school to enable every staff member to know the pupil’s needs prior to the initial meeting. Based on this consciousness, smart individual support can be put in place and further the monitoring of progress is enabled. Whole-school assessments should be organised termly. Nevertheless, regular observations and formative assessments during lessons are strategically significant and should take place daily.