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Advocacy: Whose job is it?

This is my second in a series of four posts about the complexity of EAL. If you missed the first post, you can find it here.

In this post we will explore advocacy as a core function of provision for multilingual learners in schools, and for effective EAL provision. EAL coordinators and teachers are generally very strong advocates for their students. This may mean being 'just a little bit pushy' (heard from an EAL teacher at the EAL DIPS event at the International School of Delft last March!) in order to get resources, time, or support. While advocacy is a key attribute of EAL specialists, there is often an issue with how EAL specialists are situated in schools. In other words, the people responsible for advocacy are not in the right place to drive change. I rarely visit a school that has the EAL team lead on the leadership team. Some schools categorise this as a middle leader position, and in some schools it doesn't even carry that weight. Given that EAL is part of the core business of teaching and learning in diverse schools, the lack of specific EAL expertise and advocacy on the leadership team is problematic.

Supporting multilingual learners and students with EAL is often considered one area of expertise, but actually contains two separate specialisms. The first is understanding of the specific sociolinguistic and educational needs of multilingual students within an English language school. This touches on aspects of social justice, work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and cross-cultural awareness. Advocacy in this case is about ensuring all students (and staff!) feel welcome and supported in school as multilingual and multicultural learners, without pressure to conform to monolingual and monocultural norms or experiencing prejudice or discrimination. This type of advocacy should be visible in a school's DEI (or iDEA) statement, and taken on by the DEI lead if there is one. When the EAL team take on this type of advocacy, it sends a message that these things are important for students with EAL, but often those who are multilingual but not on the EAL roster are not considered, as they are seen as 'not needing support'.

Advocacy for students who are learning English as an additional language is about advocating for good programmes and a clear place in the school, literally and metaphorically. As I mentioned in a previous post, there is no 'off the shelf' EAL programme that schools can adopt effectively. This means that EAL teachers need to develop their own programme of work, and adapt it as they go for new students. The complexity of EAL intake makes this a huge challenge, as we need to provision for students arriving at any time of year, across many grades, with variable levels of English. To do this well takes a lot of time, something which is usually in short supply for EAL teams, who often work to schedules that are intensely focused on contact time. In practice, this means that the EAL team is often reactive in approach; developing content on the go for students, according to need. This is a great strategy for meeting the immediate needs of a student, but it is lacking in systematicity (this will be blog #4), which often means that others don't understand what happens in EAL and see it as either a 'fix it' programme or a mystery...

EAL Teachers are always (in my experience!) advocating for more time in order to do their jobs properly, but as they are rarely in a position of influence, advocacy needs to come from someone on the leadership team. With the right people in senior leadership, who understand and advocate for the unique needs of multilingual learners with EAL and how to provide best support, we have a chance at developing the right programmes. These together mean that EAL will be where it belongs; at the heart of the school in terms of programming and ethos, rather than down a corridor somewhere, doing mysterious things.


Staff room conversation points: Who is engaging in advocacy for your multilingual students at your school? Is linguistic diversity a feature of your DEI statement and initiatives (if you have one)? If you have a DEI lead, are they knowledgeable about the unique needs of multilingual students?


Stay tuned for post 3 on developing strong EAL programmes!


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