Supporting teachers to embrace linguistic diversity

Analysing teachers’ understanding of supporting pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL), researchers have promoted linguistic diversity in various educational contexts.

Photo of group of children looking a globe of the world

Research hub

Social Justice and Inclusion

Research expert

Dr Yvonne Foley

Research centre

Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES)


What was the problem? 

Scottish pupils are linguistically diverse, but Scotland’s teacher workforce demographics remains overwhelmingly monolingual. The number of languages spoken in Scotland in 2010 was 136 and this rose to 154 languages in 2019. The number of pupils whose main home language is not English also increased from 28,610 in 2010 to 61,818 in 2019. Dr Yvonne Foley’s research with CERES has worked to support teachers to meet the needs of increasingly linguistically diverse pupil cohorts.

What did we do?

Research from CERES consistently indicates that much more needs to be done to support racially and linguistically diverse learners. Foley’s work found that the needs of English as an additional language (EAL) learners across Scotland are not being met sufficiently, and it evidenced some teachers’ assumptions that those who do not speak English as a first language are less able, since these teachers erroneously conflate EAL and additional support needs.

Foley suggest that teachers are inadequately prepared with the vocabulary and strategies to meet the needs of increasingly racially and linguistically diverse pupil cohorts. In particular, the research calls for more consistent practices across Scottish schools to support and include children with varying English language abilities, and to move away from deficit models to instead value pupils’ diversity while integrating their cultural and linguistic resources into educational experiences.

What happened next? 

Research on EAL learners’ experience in Scottish education led the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) to invite Foley to chair the organisation between 2013 and 2015. As the UK’s only national subject association for EAL teaching and learning, NALDIC produces resources and organises practice-based development opportunities for teachers.

As Chair of NALDIC, Foley worked in partnership as a resources specialist with the British Council to design a website for English as an additional language which provides teachers with updated information and practical teaching strategies for supporting EAL learners, EAL Nexus.

Also in her previous role with NALDIC, Foley secured an agreement in which the organisation would become part of the training of Ofsted Inspectors to support the evaluation of schools’ support of linguistically diverse pupils.

This has a key role to play as schools, inspectors and teachers seek to provide inclusive teaching and learning environments for multilingual pupils

CitChair, NALDICation

During Foley’s leadership of NALDIC, the Bell Foundation charity asked her to develop training resources underpinning the “Language for Results” programme helping teachers across England better support EAL learners. Training sessions linked to this programme began in 2015 and continue to be delivered across the UK with over 130 training sessions reaching more than 10,000 learners. The Foundation’s Language for Results programme and associated training have had statistically significant evidence of impact on teacher practice.

In 2018, the Scottish Council of Deans of Education (SCDE) incorporated insights from Foley’s research into its National Languages Framework for all eight initial teacher education (ITE) university providers across Scotland. Foley transformed the framework from being one which focused only on the learning and teaching of foreign or modern languages into one that embraced the wider, multilingual, and multicultural world to include EAL and British Sign Language. This more inclusive conceptualisation of the role of language in education and society was underpinned by the values of equality and social justice.

Foley and colleagues continue to support teachers to promote linguistic diversity.

Webinar: Expert advice on supporting the learning of EAL pupils during and after school closures

Video: Video: Expert advice on supporting the learning of EAL pupils
Video: Expert advice on supporting the learning of EAL pupils during and after school closures - 30 April 2020

Related study programmes

Language and Intercultural Communication (MSc/PgDip/PgCert)

Language Education (MSc/PgDip)

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages - TESOL (MSc/PgDip/PgCert)

Education (MSc)

Transformative Learning and Teaching (MSc)