UK Education: Shining A Light On Children In UK Primary Schools With English As Their Second Language

The UK is full of a diverse mixture of people from all different backgrounds, nationalities, cultures and languages. There’s a lot to celebrate, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some challenges to overcome to ensure that barriers like language don’t get in the way of accessibility.

In particular, language barriers can be problematic in education. There is so much language diversity in this area, and yet, support, facilities and awareness of the issue is still lacking. This is a huge issue because children of primary school age are being prevented from getting the rich education they deserve, all because of a language barrier that doesn’t need to prevent their access to learning. 

What Percentage Of UK Primary School Children Speak English As A Second Language? 

Over 300 different languages are spoken in British schools, with over 20% of primary school pupils using English as an additional language. Those children are likely to be in the process of learning English, but they use one or more languages at home as their first language. The term for these students is EAL or multilingual. It was previously ESL (English as a Second Language), but that is not as inclusive, as many children may be multilingual and not just bilingual. 

Despite these vast numbers, the amount of support and facilities in place for these children is truly lacking. This then creates a barrier for the children in how they get on at school in various ways, from their social life, to their education and ability to properly take exams. Their family may also struggle to support them in their education if they speak little English.

In particular, primary school children can suffer greatly with language barrier issues at school because these early years of learning are so formative, and create the foundation for academic subjects. Without the right support, they can get left behind and struggle to achieve their true potential at school. 

coat rack in primary school

How To Support EAL Primary School Children 

One of the best things to do if you don’t know where to start when you’re trying to support EAL children is to utilise a service with lots of resources and experience in this area, like the National Association For Language Development In The Curriculum. In addition, there are multiple avenues you can go down to ensure primary school children in your care have the ability to learn fully: 

  • Provide foreign language versions of all school websites, and check any linked resources have different language options
  • Add foreign language voiceovers and subtitles to any visual or audio media you offer for learning 
  • Any written texts in the form of leaflets, letters or booklets should be provided in alternative languages
  • Lesson transcriptions need to be offered in different languages
  • Supplement teacher training with training on how to support EAL students
  • Consider bilingual or multilingual teachers or teaching assistants as candidates 
  • Help families connect with resources and help learning English, and accessing resources so they can support their children’s education. 

Of course, no efforts will suddenly transform what you are offering to primary school EAL students, but over time, the more effort you can make, the more likely those students are to be able to thrive. With the amount of EAL students in the UK likely to increase over time, it is so important that all educational facilities begin to embrace providing accessible education to all pupils so that every single student has the chance to do well in school and hopefully achieve great grades. 

How Will You Support Your EAL Students Now, And In The Future? 

If you are currently not offering EAL students a wide range of resources to help them learn, it is never too late to make a start. Utilise tools, free resources, valuable paid language services and more, so that your students can achieve high grades in their education without having to fight the language barrier.