23rd January 2023
EAL teaching & assessment is changing in UK Schools & Universities
By Patricia Moores

EAL teaching & assessment is changing in UK Schools & Universities

It would seem the teaching of EAL has never been more important. As Duncan Murphy, CEO, Kingswood House School points out, “statistics published in August 2022 show that approximately 29% of UK live births were to mothers who were not born in the UK themselves. This indicates a potential increase in numbers of pupils with EAL by the time these children reach statutory school age in approximately four years’ time.” So, reviewing how EAL teaching and assessment is changing to meet the needs of both international and domestic students is timely.


Companies like Duolingo are changing the face of English competency testing by offering a 100% online testing option. In the US, the Duolingo English test has now been accepted by many prestigious Universities, including John Hopkins and Yale. Globally, the company reports, its test is now accepted by over 4,000 institutions. The uptake in the UK is very limited currently but obviously Duolingo is hoping to change that. The cost is also important, the cost of the Duolingo test is $49 while most other certification tests cost over $200.


What changes do UK Boarding schools envisage for the teaching and assessment of EAL in such a dynamic environment?


Whilst few UK Universities are currently accepting the online Duolingo test, schools are facing up to the fact that Universities are increasingly demanding more ‘proof’ of English competency from international students, even those that can prove they have been studying in the UK for some time already.

Sally Phillips, Head of EAL at Taunton School, has certainly noticed the change;

“In the past, UK Universities were happy to accept proof that the student had been studying in an English speaking environment for 2 years or that they had a 4/5 GCSE in English Language. With competition for places so high in some of the more elite universities (which many of our EAL students aim for) the GCSE 1st language English can be as high as a grade 6. Another potential fly in the ointment is that some GCSEs do not include a speaking component, which many universities demand.”


Certainly, the technology landscape is changing quickly too and directly impacting on how EAL is both taught and assessed in UK schools and Universities.


Elyse Conlon, Head of EAL at Moreton Hall School agrees that technology can play a role too in terms of EAL teaching, but takes issue with the idea that education for EAL students can be delivered on a phone


in a way that is better than or as good as a human tutor. She acknowledges that; “there is some fantastic online educational provision’, but argues that face to face provides unique opportunities that cannot be replicated online or via a mobile device:

“ What about the spontaneity of class discussions inspired by the real life relationships formed between classmates where both social and academic language acquisition merge?” she argues.

John Dalton, Principal of David Game College agrees that it is hard to envisage a  replacement for face to face EAL teaching; ‘whilst encouraging our international students to use a raft of online learning resources, we continue to believe that face to face teaching of EAL enables us to develop personalised study plans for each student which integrate with their specific course choices and learning requirements, enabling them to make the most of their time with us at the college.”


However, there is no doubt that understanding how international students studying in the UK are already accessing language apps is important, not least to guide them as to what is legal and what isn’t?


Kait Conway is a Teacher of English at Taunton School’s International Middle School, which is a school for young international learners who need further support in EAL:

“I have noticed in particular the use of applications, which more accurately translate English texts and websites into myriad other languages. The use of these increasingly accurate translations applications for students with EAL must not be seen as ‘cheating’ but as another way to aid learning,” she says.


“Of course, as it stands, students cannot use these technological supports in examinations. Therefore, we, as their teachers, must get to know the applications so that we can guide our students to their effective use. The students have already adapted: we must too,” she adds.


Sally Phillips, Head of EAL at Taunton School also agrees that there needs to be a reset in understanding how technology impacts learning, generally; “online testing is not going away and computer-based exams are becoming the norm.” This has profound implications for rethinking generally what is cheating and what isn’t?

Open book exams are increasingly being used in UK Universities with free access to spellcheck and grammar checking functions, so what is the difference between this and using translation apps in schools?


There is no doubt that both Schools and Universities need to think carefully about how to guide their students in terms of embracing online EAL learning and assessment. The pandemic has shown the value of online learning and assessment and this genie will never be put back in the bottle. However, the growth of online learning also brings with it greater charges of plagiarism and cheating in online EAL assessments and exams. The introduction of Open AI’s new app ChatGPT only makes this conversation more challenging and so educators need to try to keep up to date with technology to ensure their students are always aware of what is legal and what isn’t? That may well be a defining characteristic of all teaching and assessment, not just EAL, in the years ahead…

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