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School and College Closures: Supporting vulnerable pupils with EAL 

Schools and colleges remain closed for the foreseeable future, with the exception for children of key workers and vulnerable children. But where does this leave pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL)? 

There are now fewer opportunities for pupils to engage with work in English. They no longer have the physical support of the teacher or TA, and as distance learning becomes the new normal, educators are ‘starting from scratch’. The Department for Education recently listed recommended education providers, and yet there nothing is listed specific to English learners. These children risk being left behind the most, especially the most vulnerable.

In our previous guest blog post, Effective Safeguarding for EAL, we looked at how the number of children “invisible” to services, estimated by the Children’s Commissioner Report, does not determine those who have EAL needs. 

Under the current COVID-19 government guidance, vulnerable children are defined as those who have a social worker and/or EHC plans. Yet, the Children’s Commissioner has a much wider criteria when defining vulnerable children and young people (CYP). For instance, refugees; Gypsy/Roma children; CYP outside mainstream education; CYP at risk in relation to activity outside the home e.g. bullying; and young carers. These are just a few examples of pupils who may not come under the COVID-19 definition yet are still vulnerable and possibly have EAL needs.

We return to some of the points raised in our previous article. These may be significant challenges to bear in mind when supporting EAL pupils, especially those with ‘hidden’ vulnerabilities, during school closure.

Communicating needs
It is extremely difficult to know how to support the mental and physical health needs of pupils who you do not see, and this is especially challenging when language barriers can mean reduced ability to communicate with parents and when the non-verbal communication cues that are so important for EAL pupils are greatly reduced. 
However, what we can do at this time is continue to educate ourselves about the experiences of the pupils we work with so that we are prepared to support them on their return to school and can try to gain more understanding about the extended time they have spent at home with their families. 

Supporting parents
We should consider the language we use to talk about health, especially when talking to parents of EAL children. In the world of education, we are used to using official terms and jargon which EAL parents may be unfamiliar with. 

These can mean little to parents and be overwhelming rather than helpful if you are trying to address a concern. Differing cultural perspectives on health can also have an impact on the way people talk about physical and mental health, and lack of awareness or understanding of these differences can make it difficult to communicate effectively with EAL families.

Young carers
As we know, EAL pupils are twice as likely to be young carers than children with English as a first language. Yet many are ‘hidden’ to services, due to reluctance to engage with authorities or different cultural perceptions of what is deemed to be appropriate care. Therefore, EAL pupils with ‘hidden’ vulnerabilities may not fall under the current COVID-19 definition of ‘vulnerable’. They may be at a greater risk of being affected by the health of their families. 

School and college staff should ensure pupils remain connected with one another, helping them to know they are not alone through this. If staff are concerned their pupil may be a young carer, then it is crucial to approach the matter sensitively and with a view to educating families on UK law and the support that is available to them. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 will make a lot more children young carers – some temporary, but others for the long term. Bereavement can severely affect mental health, meaning children may become young carers for those people also. Carers UK and Carers Trust have released a joint statement for  COVID-19 which school and college staff can use for advice and guidance.

However, at such an unprecedented time, there needs to be more awareness for young carers and ‘hidden’ vulnerabilities. These are the children who are becoming more prevalent, but less visible. 


FlashAcademy® is ASCL’s preferred supplier for EAL. Members receive an exclusive 5% discount towards a FlashAcademy® school licence, when quoting promo code: ASCL. For a school demo, please contact hello@flashacademy.com or call 0121 724 0854

ASCL has also produced guidance which sets out some principles and priorities for supporting children and young people with hidden vulnerabilities and their families, and includes good practice examples and links to some organisations that may be able to help. Download the guidance:
Posted: 29/04/2020 11:20:49