IoE academic hosts international workshop to discuss challenges and benefits that face the million children in UK schools for whom English is not the first language

On 26th and 27th September, Dr Holly Joseph hosted a workshop funded by the British Academy at St John’s College in Oxford, entitled, “Language, literacy and learning in children who speak English as an additional language (EAL)”. The workshop brought together senior academic and early career researchers from across the UK and Europe, united in trying to find out more about the challenges and benefits that face the million children in UK schools for whom English is not their first language. The workshop was unique in bringing together researchers from very different backgrounds and perspectives, enabling discussion between academics whose paths seldom cross.

The President of St John’s College, Professor Maggie Snowling started the workshop, talking about her research on children with reading difficulties and its relevance to EAL children. Professor Victoria Murphy and Professor Steve Strand, both from University of Oxford’s Education department, gave wonderful talks on the importance of vocabulary development for EAL children (Prof. Murphy) and the attainment of EAL children and how focusing on language background and ethnicity can give further insights in to which children are most at risk of low achievement (Prof Strand). Our very own Dr Naomi Flynn gave our final keynote, talking about EAL children’s identities at school and at home, with fascinating interviews with children, their parents and their teachers. Alongside the four keynotes, were a number of shorter presentations from early career researchers which showcased the innovative and exciting new research taking place in the area.

There were some broad themes that came out of the workshop: 1) Is EAL a helpful term when it includes such a variety of children? 2) How can we best assess EAL children’s current English proficiency and their experience of English and other languages at home? 3) Quantitative and qualitative researchers need to work together to provide richer data sets and deeper understanding of the key issues; and 4) Contrary to common public perception, there is no detriment to monolingual English speaking children if there is a high proportion of EAL children in their classroom; indeed there is some evidence that EAL children actually progress faster than their peers!

A second workshop for teachers and other practitioners will take place at the Institute of Education, University of Reading on 21st March, 2018. Here we will discuss issues relating to assessment, policy, literacy and language. More information to follow soon – watch this space.

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