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group of students clustered round a teacher
Author: Jane Bryan, ESOL specialist

Moving to and joining a new school is daunting for any child. It is essential that schools have procedures in place to support new arrivals with this transition (discussed in detail in our article here). However, it is important to consider that their parents may also be experiencing a similar transition, without necessarily having a network of support. If support is not provided, there is the potential for parents to struggle to access education, find employment and be part of the school or wider community. This is acknowledged on the UK Government website, ‘Low English language skills are the main barrier to employment and integration’ (2023).

An effective way for schools to provide support and empower parents of learners with EAL (English as an Additional Language) is to run ESOL (English For Speakers of Other Languages) classes within the school for parents.  ESOL classes in schools can be a lifeline for parents; classes can cover language that is needed to be able to function well in an English-speaking context, or more powerfully, to navigate school as well as daily life, enabling them to feel part of the school and local community.  For more information about the difference between EAL and ESOL see this blog post.

A major challenge for parents of EAL learners is supporting their children with school work – this can be because they are ESOL learners themselves or they are unfamiliar with the English education system (or even education systems in general).  As identified by Evans et al (2016), ‘parents of pupils with EAL, especially those who have low levels of English and/or are new to the English school system, face a range of specific barriers including a lack of understanding of the English school system and, therefore, face difficulties in supporting children with things such as homework and assessment tasks.’

Providing parents of EAL learners with the opportunity to learn English within the school context (and therefore enabling them to support their children’s learning) is invaluable; classes that teach not just the functional and survival English that parents need in everyday life, but also the English they need for communication within schools and to support understanding of the curriculum is so important. The added support can give parents an understanding of the strategies and language needed to teach phonics, reading, maths and other curriculum content. This provides parents with not only the language but also the confidence they need to offer support to their children’s education.

Parent ESOL classes should not only aim to develop language skills, but also to build confidence in engaging within the community. Classes enable learners to foster relationships with other parents and the wider school, which in turn improves the integration of families in the local communities. When learners improve their English and gain skills to speak and write confidently, they can progress to further learning opportunities or finding work, and develop better social relationships. 

References

Evans et al: Language development and school achievement, Opportunities and challenges in the education of EAL students, 2016.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/english-for-speakers-of-other-languages-esol..., 2023

Further learning - Blog

Created: Thu 6th Aug 2015

On the last day of term I asked a student, who was leaving her school in London to return back to Italy, the best and worst things about moving. She said the worst thing was leaving friends and teachers and the best was going back to her old school to be with her old friends.

Boy cupping hand to ear listening
Created: Wed 12th Apr 2023

Despite legitimate claims that EAL students devote over half of their time to listening when functioning in English (Nunan, 1998), this is often not reflected in the time that we dedicate to the four main skills in the classroom. In fact, Nation (2009) states that listening is arguably the least understood and most overlooked of the four skills in language teaching.

Memory strategy
Created: Fri 4th Jun 2021

While learning new languages, a lot of information simply needs to be remembered, and we often have to combine new information with what we already know, using our working memory. For students with specific learning differences, such as dyslexia, retrieving information from the long-term memory can be slower or less effective, resulting in greater difficulties in learning. It is therefore vital to teach specific memory strategies.

Memory processes are complex, but in my experience, we remember better the things that we: