Safeguarding children in our schools is the number one priority. Every day is essential, not only for providing safe care in school but also transmitting this at home and within the community. However, how can we ensure our care is as effective for children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) who may struggle to communicate their needs?
The Children’s Commissioner’s 2019 report
revealed rates of childhood vulnerability to be estimated at 2.3 million. Put into perspective, six children across a typical class of 30 are growing up at risk due to family circumstances.
The report concludes that 829,000 are “invisible” to services. What we can’t determine from this figure, however, is the proportion of these children with EAL needs. Given the difficulty in identifying vulnerability within this group, it reinforces a concern that we may not be ensuring their safety as effectively as we think.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comprises a five-tier model of needs that make up human motivation. Teachers are ideally placed to understand when children’s needs aren’t being met, and to identify when unmet needs are creating a barrier to learning.
If those children have low levels or no English proficiency, they will find it difficult to communicate even the foundations of the hierarchy (basic physiological needs), catalysing vulnerability.
Communicating basic needs
We know the ‘silent’ period for new-to-English pupils is a natural part of second language acquisition. There shouldn’t be pressure for new arrivals to contribute in class; however, we absolutely need to encourage them to communicate survival language. This spans from physiological phrases like “I’m hungry” to emotional language “I’m sad” and “I don’t like…”.
Understanding develops before spoken language, so it’s crucial to visualise survival phrases with picture cards and posters of school locations and routines to help your pupil communicate their needs. Displaying these posters will promote a whole-class approach and help your new arrival feel as comfortable as possible.
Cultural expectations and young carers
The Barnardo’s Caring Alone 2019 report
, which looks at the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community, says young carers are 1.5 times more likely to be BAME and twice as likely not to have English as their first language. It also acknowledges that BAME young carers have additional issues such as cultural differences; for instance, in countries where languages like Punjabi, Bengali and Urdu are spoken, caring responsibilities often fall on younger members of the family.
Young carers with EAL are also often relied upon as interpreters, which is an additional pressure that exposes them to possible safeguarding risks where they’re expected to interpret sensitive information.
Access to services
Determining whether new arrivals are young carers or have other hidden needs is challenging. One barrier might be a reluctance from families to share such information due to a concern of interference from services where ‘strangers’ won’t understand their culture or situation. This pushes the emphasis onto teachers to ensure these pupils are ‘seen’ and their concerns aren’t missed.
In some cases, new arrivals will need pupil premium support, particularly if they are from asylum seeker families. Schools should encourage families to be aware of the services available, whether these are at school or within the NHS. Teachers can attempt to break down cultural barriers so that parents understand the term ‘young carer’ and the impact this has on children, and also be aware of the support available and how to access it.
More needs to be done to uncover these ‘hidden’ vulnerabilities, but unfortunately, funding for pastoral support is limited. However, teachers should ensure pupils are aware of what safeguarding issues are, what things are acceptable and unacceptable, especially if they differ culturally. For instance, taking EAL pupils out of PSHE or assembly time for intervention may do more harm than good, as they’re missing out on opportunities to share feelings or ask questions.
We need to work together to ensure EAL pupils are emotionally ready to learn by meeting their needs and having parents properly involved. Let’s work towards a collective understanding of cultural differences and support children effectively.
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