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EAL: Together or separate?

I get asked quite often "What is the best programme structure for EAL?", usually by administrators looking for a quick fix. Unfortunately, as with anything to do with schools and language, there is no one correct answer. The best EAL programme for any individual school is the one that is the best fit between student needs, teacher capacity, and, it must be acknowledged, budget. In an ideal world, schools would provide maximum support for students for the whole window of potential need (see my previous post on BICS and CALP). Realistically, very few schools have the means to provide formal EAL to the extent that would be desirable. This means that the best programme for each school must be carefully crafted to maximise resources and maximise impact for students. In the graphic below I have illustrated the main options available to schools looking to implement a new EAL programme or restructure an existing programme.

EAL Structures in Schools

The first level of choice is whether to offer a stand-alone programme (often called withdrawal or pull-out) or a co-teaching model (often called push-in). From this first decision comes a series of other options linked to the type of support offered, and implementation model. Again, a good programme will offer differentiated support for students at different year groups and levels in English; it's isn't an "either-or" choice most of the time.

Ideally, these are the key questions a school should ask when considering their EAL programming:

- Who are our students (language background, level of English, spread across the school, desired end-point, etc.)

- What are our teaching resources? (EAL specialists, other trained specialists, language experts, teaching assistants, etc.)?

- What is the goal of our school (short-term support for transient students, long-term support for stable student population, developing bilingual learners, etc.)?

The answers to these questions will act as a guide in determining the best EAL provisions for your unique school community. Schools that import and implement a one-size fits all EAL programme run the risk of not meeting the needs of their own students, due to differences between the point of origin and the point of delivery. On the flip side, schools the take a rather ad-hoc approach to EAL, with decisions being made reactively and across levels of management have a hard time tracking and supporting EAL students overall, due to internal inconsistencies in approach. Not taking the time to audit your school carefully, and design a well-structured, well-resourced EAL programme creates a real risk of wasting valuable resources due to lack of structure and planning, and not providing quality EAL programming for anyone. Like anything else in education, and especially in international schools, creating the best EAL programme for your school takes time and effort, but pays dividends in the end.

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