Nurturing language

The experience of EAL acquisition at a UK boarding school

The growing number of students learning in English is a global phenomenon. At this UK boarding school, the EAL provision is led by the school’s International Student Counsellor, Debbie Taylor, who looks at how Giggleswick School has developed a successful programme of support.

Linguistic equality

Our international students make up 19% of our student body, and are currently from 14 different countries across  the world. Their presence is a stimulus throughout the school: our learner profile, which defines the character we encourage in our pupils, includes being ‘aware’ because, amongst other things, we want to encourage the awareness of different cultures. With ‘respect’ as a core value, bilingualism and multilingualism are also valued in all students which puts everyone on an equal footing as language learners. This helps!

Make every lesson a language lesson

Developing independence and self-confidence is central to the school’s mission of preparing young people for the challenge of the adult world. For the EAL department, this means students acquiring and using language confidently. They have a right to access all parts of the curriculum without disadvantage, and their teachers therefore have a responsibility for teaching English as well as other subject content. There’s an unexpected spin off! With a focus on language and its meaning, all students benefit – not just those with EAL needs.

International counselling: listen and monitor

As an International Student Counsellor I have a particular responsibility for the welfare of EAL pupils, which gives the position a particular depth. My interest is not just academic. I regularly meet with our International Student Council to discuss any issues, arrange trips and social occasions throughout the school year. Like all students – and particularly when they are new – our international students need to feel secure and listened to in their new learning environment.

Value the mother tongue and culture

Every opportunity is taken to acquire and use English. By dividing our EAL students among the seven boarding houses, they are encouraged to interact with English-speaking students and to integrate fully into school life. However, their “mother tongue” is also central to identity and cognitive development. Students are therefore encouraged to maintain their home language and use it in the school environment wherever possible.

We regularly hold international evenings and show films in different languages. Cultural identity is equally important: we encourage our Chinese students to celebrate their culture by visiting local primary schools, helping them celebrate Chinese New Year in a very direct way. Our catering department also arrange for international students to cook some of their own food in the school kitchens – something our Chinese students particularly appreciate!

Personalise the learning

Our EAL pupils have had a variety of experience of learning in English before they arrive. Many come in order to prepare for study in English-speaking universities, but whatever their needs, they are addressed in a personalised way. We have an induction programme for all new international students at the beginning of the school year to help them prepare for their studies and they sit an Oxford Placement Test to ascertain their level of English, so their support can be planned.

Where necessary, sixth formers (students in Years 12 & 13) are given time to prepare for the IELTS qualification and the school arranges for them to be entered for the examination. Year 10 and Year 11 students on the other hand are prepared for the IGCSE English as a second language examination over a two-year course, whereas the younger students are integrated into mainstream English lessons. These EAL lessons in Years 10 and 11 are the only time international students are taught on their own as a group, giving them the chance to gain confidence in both their written and spoken English, as well as provide a scaffolding for language learning. Should SEND or Gifted & Talented needs be identified, then EAL pupils have equal access to the school’s provision.

Monitor and report – regularly!

Once international students are settled, their progress is closely monitored by the EAL coordinator, their tutors and housemaster or mistress. They are given help and advice to resolve any problems they may have. Staff also like to encourage parental involvement by welcoming visits to school and providing regular updates on their child’s progress with a monthly progress report which parents can access on the parent’s portal.

Making us the school that we are

Although many pupils acquire the ability to communicate on a day to day basis in English quite quickly, the level of language needed for academic study is much deeper and can require continuing support for many years. If this is set in a wider context of care and mutual cultural respect, we have found that success follows. Ours is a thoughtful community, which values its cultural diversity. Without our international students, we would not be the school that we are.


Debbie Taylor

International Student Counsellor

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