EAL CPD: what, where, when, who and how?

This article first appeared in a slightly shorter version in EAL Journal Autumn 2019.

How it works

This is how the best CPD works. A Senior Leadership Team invites you to spend the day helping them think about EAL. In the morning they tell you about the pupils and the teachers in their school, what they think the issues are in their school and you show them some possible strategies, things you have  done before and a range of approaches that might match their needs. Then they take to a very pleasant restaurant for lunch before spending the afternoon planning a two year CPD strategy that eventually included three training days for all staff and joint planning and teaching with selected staff. Before each training day the school responds promptly to your requests for samples of pupils’ writing and texts that pupils find difficult to access. After each training day you get honest feedback directly from senior leaders. You share your planning with senior leaders and make adjustments after talking to them. It goes so well you end up also delivering training sessions for the association of 40 similar institutions to which the school belongs and writing a handbook for it on academic literacy issues in history and geography.

Is this just a fantasy? If you are an effective and influential EAL Co-ordinator in a school with an effective and reflective SLT, it is probably a fair description of a chunk of your job. If you are an external provider, it may happen rarely, but it is more and more common and delivers fantastic results.  “That’s a game changer,” as the Head of History in the school I have described said after we had explained how theme and rheme affect the flow of a text at our third full day of training. If we had started with theme and rheme[i], the response might have been very different. More importantly, the features underlying this example of successful CPD are not rare in the current landscape, even if they do not always happen in the same institution at the same time.

What, when, where and who?

Let us briefly at the what, where, when and who of EAL CPD.

In terms of what and when, we have both training and coaching, (or co-teaching or partnership teaching, as we called it some years ago). EAL training varies in length and quality. It can be a one hour workshop, a 90 minute twilight at school, a half or whole day course at your own school, a Teaching School Alliance venue, an extended course three, four or five day course[ii]. Occasionally you can find a masters level course.[iii]

Which kinds of school is also an interesting question that straddles what and where. There is very little evidence about take up of EAL training, though anecdotally I can tell you that UK independent schools now are asking for more EAL training than they have before. The Teacher Development Trust have looked at expenditure patterns in English state schools.[iv] Their research tells us that primary schools spend a bigger share of their budget on CPD than secondary schools and schools rated Inadequate by Ofsted spend around 20% less on CPD than other schools, as a proportion of their total budget.

When we turn to where, my sense is that the overwhelming trend is towards school-based training. You also find delegate courses hosted by individual schools, Teaching School Alliances, delivered at hotels (generally by organisations that are not EAL specialists) or slightly cheaper venues. Academy Trusts often have trust wide conferences with an EAL element. Sometimes EAL teachers organise something together for themselves. The NALDIC RIGs are the best example and you also find groups of EAL teachers sorting out their own training. For example, earlier this year I spent a morning with EAL co-ordinators from ten independent schools that happen to be geographically very close. There is also online training.  Some of it involves working through materials on your own and sometimes it also has an interactive element other participants and Skype or WhatsApp tutorials.[v]

Who brings us to the many providers of EAL training. Experienced and able school EAL Co-ordinators often provide very effective training for their colleagues. It is always tightly focussed on the kind of EAL pupils the school has. Nonetheless, EAL Co-ordinators frequently value an outside voice reinforcing their message.  This support may come from the Local Authority (though there are very few LA teams left) or The Academy Trust (though they have very few EAL specialists in their central teams). It can come from a university. Mostly it seems to come from independent companies or consultants. I confess that I am old enough to remember the early 1990s when Stuart Scott seemed to be the only independent EAL consultant. I should say that I saw Stuart do an EYFS/EAL workshop at a conference two years ago and he is still very good. There are many generic training companies that claim to have EAL expertise. There are lots of effective individual EAL consultants. There are also former LA teams that have stuck together after being closed down, stuck to their principles and carried on developing high quality EAL CPD. I hesitate to make a judgement on the quality of their training because I happen to run The EAL Academy, which grew out of Islington LA team. I do think, nonetheless, that hanging onto experience and expertise in the way that Hounslow Language Service and CEMA Hub have is very important.

The changing demands of schools

One of the key shifts in my experience is away from standard packages to bespoke training that meets schools’ needs. That’s why expensive delegate course in ex hotels or even nicely appointed teaching school training rooms are going out of fashion and whole staff or key staff training is in vogue. Training that builds on schools’ self-awareness is far more effective than training that assumes high degrees of prior knowledge or the reverse. Our experience of this change is that it is all parts of the country and all types of schools, local authorities, academy trusts and other forms of school group. It is also our experience with local authorities and schools in Denmark and with the school in France described in the opening paragraph.

So what if the school knows what it wants, but you think what it wants will not work? To provide effective CPD you have to build a relationship of trust with the school, which means telling the truth, albeit as sensitively as possible. We do. We point them to schools succeeding with the sorts of approaches we believe in and which we celebrate on our blog[vi]. It generally helps to move the conversation on. However and hypothetically, if a school said that it wanted us to help develop a large scale phonics based withdrawal programme for East European Roma in Years 7 and 8 to ensure that they can access the curriculum by Year 9, we would, after drawing attention to Mark Penfold’s research showing that high quality  EAL provision is a pre-condition for any successful Roma specific strategy[vii], we would politely decline because it would not work and because principles matter.

Schools almost always want to follow upon training, but the resources and the logistics may not allow them to. It those cases it is possible to provide support in et form of EAL friendly checklists for learning walks after the training and phone conversations about the impact of training.

When I started providing EAL training in the late 1980s there was no powerpoint. Acetates were all the rage and writing and drawing on sugar paper common. A lot has changed, but all of us have to learn and keep learning. It never ends. However, for me the basics have not. Do with teachers the practical things that you believe work for EAL pupils. It is as simple as that. Practice what you preach.

The return of in class CPD

One very welcome and recent development is the re-emergence of in class CPD. It has many forms and names. I was delighted to read Jonathan Bifield’s piece in EAL Journal 9 about what he calls co-teaching.[viii] The EAL teacher plans, teaches and evaluates the lesson alongside the subject or class teacher. This approach has also been called partnership teaching. These days it is also sometimes called coaching. It differs significantly from in class support because of the joint plan/teach/evaluate model. We have recently been commissioned to run our coaching programme in Ipswich, Peterborough, Swindon and London from Key Stage 1 through to A level and GCSE resits in FE colleges.[ix]

How it used to work

To go back to how the best CPD works. We now live in an atomised world, where coming across other people who are interested in and have expertise in EAL can be quite hard.

Fortunately, there is another version of EAL CPD that works at scale. Find the best people in an area, resource them working together and unleash them. LA EAL teams from Islington, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea and Newham were at the heart of London Challenge’s work on EAL. From 2006 onwards specific pieces of training were commissioned for individual schools, ranging from twilights to the 25 hours LiLAC course. From 2007 a masters level accredited EAL course was available to all London teachers. From 2009-2011 the Pan London EAL Strategy (PLEALS) offered high quality CPD to all London schools. I suppose we should not be surprised that a project that was built on several hundred years of collective experience seemed to work well, but what was the impact on pupil outcomes?

Those days are unlikely to return, but the graph above shows clearly the difference a determined government can make when it recognises the importance of issues across the EAL spectrum and the breadth of CPD talent in the EAL world.

[i] https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/rheme is the best short version of theme and rheme that I can find. The point I am trying to make here is that you have to deliver a lot of  training on how texts in English work before you get to theme and rheme.

[ii] For example the 25 hour LiLAC course ((https://lexised.com/courses/teaching-esl-students-in-mainstream-classrooms/) or the four day Leading Primary EAL course (https://www.theealacademy.co.uk/course/leading-eal-primary-schools-copy/).

[iii] For example, https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/distance/edu/bilingualism-education.aspx. You can also find a link to a  course run by Winchester University and Hampshire EMTAS at https://www.hants.gov.uk/educationandlearning/emtas/training

[iv] https://tdtrust.org/benchmarking

[v] For example, https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/course/view.php?id=19 and https://www.theealacademy.co.uk/services/onlinecourse/.

[vi] For example, https://www.theealacademy.co.uk/suffolk-get-first-gold-eal-quality-mark/ describes Handford Hall Primary School in Ipswich.

[vii] https://ealresources.bell-foundation.org.uk/eal-specialists/research-roma-pupils

[viii] “Co-Teaching in the Mainstream”, EAL Journal,  Summer 2019

[ix] For details of the FE coaching see https://www.tes.com/news/how-we-transformed-gcse-english-results-eal-learners. A video example of the sixth form work  is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHqfi3Kq-uY&t=1673s.

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