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  • Writer's pictureShelley Purchon

How we help schools

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

How is a school supposed to cope if 91% of their pupils have EAL? (English as an Additional Language.) Westgate Hill Primary in the heart of the West End of Newcastle is one such school and the staff there work with energy and enthusiasm to engage EAL parents. Find out how communication training is helping the school to improve their EAL inclusion.

Westgate Hill have been one of the first schools in Newcastle to adopt this training and we began back in November when I trained the receptionists and admin staff.

Some of the admin team are bi-lingual but who can speak every language? No one. That's why an ability to speak slowly, enunciate clearly and exaggerate word boundaries is so helpful. Parents and children with Limited English Proficiency will love you if you bring these changes into your conversations with them. We also looked at how the front desk team could use gestures and props to engage EAL parents. In their job role they find themselves having the same conversations again and again, so why not plan in advance how to handle them? I provided them with a bank of photos they could use as a resource.

Training the teaching staff

Over the next few months I went back to Westgate Hill three times to train the teaching staff. My training session always includes some fast Spanish to illustrate how it feels for bewildered non-Anglophones when they are listening to us, but I do usually give attendees some warning and ask for a volunteer. It was different this time because Susan O'Hagan had asked me to squash the 90 minute training session into just one hour. To meet this challenge I launched into Spanish with no warning at all and you should have seen their poor faces. I must admit that it amused me greatly and I think I made my point. Namely that a foreign language is just a stream of noise until you’ve learnt it properly, and so many of the children (and parents) who staff are speaking to haven’t managed that yet.

An a-ha moment

To be honest I had feared that it would devalue my training to squash it into one hour, because even when it lasts 90 minutes the comments on the feedback forms often tell me it should have been longer. There is such a lot to take in. To my enormous relief the training was still very warmly received. I guess even though there wasn’t time to cover everything, there were still two very powerful a-ha moments. The first comes when I speak Spanish at natural speed, and the second comes when I slow it right down. (We pretended that one of the attendees had moved to Spain and was at a parents' evening. I role played the teacher, speaking in slow Spanish.)

Fact sheets

What I had to miss out was some of the tips and most of the practice. I hope that those busy teachers take the time to read the fact sheets they took away with them because that’s where they will find a few extra tips which we didn’t get chance to cover.

The right length

All three of the schools I have worked for so far have wanted my training to squeeze into their ‘twilight’ training slot which is once a week just after the kids go home. It was the same at Grange First School and Archibald First School. If it means getting these skills out there to some of the people who need them most then it is something I am prepared to do, but it isn’t my first preference.

Phrasal verbs

I did make sure that I made time at the very end for phrasal verbs, because that bit always blows everyone’s mind. Teachers in particular love finding out that despite their academic background and (in many cases) an in depth knowledge of the English language, there is something going on in our native tongue which most of them had no name for and had never even noticed. Phrasal verbs are everywhere and they often trip up non-native English speakers, parents and children alike. (There was one right there in that sentence, did you spot it? No? Then maybe you need to come along to an English Unlocked training session to satisfy your curiosity.)

Numbers are growing.

Numbers of EAL children in our schools are growing all the time. Figures for Newcastle from 2017 show that while among older children 17% have EAL, among reception children that figure is far higher (25%.) Educators in schools across the country are learning how to adapt their speech to better meet the needs of uncomprehending EAL families, but each of them is working it out for themselves on the job. At the time of writing and so far as I am aware, not even EAL specialists receive training on how to adapt their speech for an EAL child. They do receive some guidance on how differentiate their teaching, but nobody has thought to address the more pressing matter – how do you speak so that they understand?

Me Tarzan you Jane

How do you give a clear instruction without going all ‘Me Tarzan You Jane’? The question of how to simplify your English without dumbing it down is something we discuss in the training. It is especially important when engaging EAL parents, because while a child may not notice when they're being patronised, and adult certainly will. (I've written more broadly here on how not to patronise.)

I can help

If you are a school and would like to find out how I can help your staff to communicate better with EAL families, please give me a ring or send me an email. I am keen to get this training out to the people who need it, and I think that school staff are among those who benefit most. I am based in Newcastle Upon Tyne but am happy to travel further afield if that’s where you are. In the mean time, why not share this useful article with your teachers? It gives tips on how to manage at a parents evening with EAL families.

Other training by English Unlocked

Interpreters are an expensive resource. How to work effectively with an interpreter is a half day course which will show your staff how to make the most of interpreters, recognise competence in interpreters, and work in harmony with them.

English Unlocked is based in the North East of England, but both courses are available as a webinar.

Please get in touch.

I'd be very happy to speak to you and answer any questions. You can contact me by phone (07786003429) or send an email to

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