Harrow Council for Justice
a campaigning national organisation - promoting the principle of 'different but equal'

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  • people are not blind to colour in a colour conscious society
  • racism affects black and white people both but differently
  • racial harassment is anti human rights - more than hate crime
  • equal opportunity is to practise 'different but equal'
Politics of EAL

Reference to HANSARD:  1966/67:Volume 29

A problematic view of immigrants was legalised by the Local Government Act of 1966, stating a negative definition “immigration is the great social problem of this Century and of the next”. (p1308). Section 11 (the Local Government Act of 1966) funding to the authorities was a response to the perceived impact of immigration on education.

Sir David Renton referred to “Substantial numbers from the Commonwealth whose language and customs differ from those of the community”, and asked “Thus, where the language and customs of the immigrant differ, grants (Section 11) may be given but otherwise, apparently, they cannot be. Is this an indirect reference to the increased educational change due to immigration”: (p1308)

Roy Hattersley, a then senior Labour MP, was also worried “probably education in immigrant areas presents the biggest problem in constituencies like mine”: (p1336). He advocated assimilation by “providing small classes in which English can be adequately taught, as well as providing extra visitors to remind parents of their new obligations in Great Britain. It is essential to make provision to teach these children:  basic British customs - basic British habits": (p1337) i.e. a political consideration to achieve assimilation rather than an educational strategy for developing the English language.

The education supreme, the Department of Education and Science at the time, reinforced what the politicians were saying and argued for English as a Second Language (ESL) “to provide the key to ….. cultural and social assimilation” (Working Paper 13). The DES pointed out that “the feasibility of doing so varies from group to group – Western European non-English-speaking immigrants find this easier to accomplish than others, for obvious reasons”.

What is happening now: the politics of EAL has not really changed over the years with the obvious outcome that many early learners of the English language who are subjected to 'EAL teaching' at the age of 5, remain deficient in acquiring good English at the age of 16 and beyond!

The ESL (English as a secondary language) of the recent past is now EAL (English as an additional language) with apparently the same purpose i.e. to provide help and support for pupils who are learning English as an additional language and have gaps in their command of the English language. Sadly,  the term EAL is interpreted differently by educational establishments including schools, children services, OFSTED, government departments etc.

For the purpose of ‘educational inclusion', ‘EAL pupils' are referred to the group of pupils who need support to learn English as an additional language  but in evaluating or reporting the progress made by different groups of pupils and in compiling national data, the term EAL is in fact used as a blanket term to identify a sort of cultural group of pupils (irrespective of their command of the English language); the group is almost always non-European though there are European pupils who speak English as an additional language. This grouping is on the basis of the information supplied by schools (it is quite common for schools, including the high achieving schools, to report their whole ethnic minority pupil population as EAL whilst only a very small number of them are learning English as an additional language and it is these who should be really termed as the ‘EAL pupils'). It is this distortion that inflates the number of pupils speaking English as an additional language!

The number of the EAL pupils in the school is worked out on the basis of the language spoken at home rather than pupils' acquisition of the English language - the information is usually gathered through the admission process where parents are asked "what language is spoken at home” rather than  ‘what language the child  speaks at home'. Because of such a practice a vast majority of ethnic minority children born in the UK who do well in the national tests and examinations (the East African Asian community is a classic example in this respect) are not counted out of the EAL category.

This assumptive EAL information so gained becomes the key source for the accumulated data on ‘pupils speaking English as an additional language', used in formulating the statements like 'Percentage of pupils speaking English as an additional language in the school' or ‘120 languages are spoken in our schools’ which contribute towards the input indicators to justify possible under-achievement!


"No doubt there are children in the school whose housing, clothing and nutrition fall below standards considered minimal for a decent life in modern society.  But, so the argument runs, these children come from homes in communities where there is life of such cultural richness and energy that it is probably culturally equal or superior to life amongst the middle class.  On this view, the economically deprived can only be put at a cultural disadvantage by neglect of their culture in the schools which are essentially middle-class institutions": Class, Culture and Education: Harold Entwistle

Under-achievement by ‘ethnic minority pupils' in the UK has remained a matter of concern since the 1960s. Various reports, including the Rampton Interim Report, Swan Report and many leading educationalists have focussed on this issue.   They tend to identify the socio-cultural background of pupils as the key cause of the pupils' under-achievement.

Furthermore, professionals within the education services while ‘celebrating' diversity, argue that variety creates ‘anomalies'. Therefore, the strategies to tackle the ‘problem' have been based on assimilation, primarily through the structures of marginal support, like Section 11 support, and now the ethnic minority achievement grant, mentoring and same race outreach workers. The strategies have limited effectiveness since they have no brief or capacity to address the relationship between ‘cause and effects'.

It was for this reason that at least one education report (the Two Kingdoms re Brent) in the 80s forcefully located pupils' under-achievement in the education system, and posed serious questions about the relevance of the curriculum offered by schools and the context within which it is taught. Unfortunately, the educational value of the report was lost in the mist of the local and national politics of the era.

The report highlighted that there has been little emphasis on the need to ask not only the question of how but also that of what is taught and in what context it is taught, given that all that schools can really do effectively is to teach. Although theoretically, especially at primary school level, schools might have some choice in what they teach and how they teach it, in practice it appears quite differently. How and in what context teachers teach is determined just as much by their own education and social background as it is by them.

Many years on, the question of underachievement by ethnic minority pupils, most of who are now of the second and third generation in the UK , is still there where the socio-educational interpretation has not changed much. The pupils and their home environment remain the cause of underachievement and therefore need support.

For example, a Dr Tony Sewell of Leeds University is widely reported to point out that the under-achievement is “too deep-rooted” yet he argues for more resources to “support” ethnic minority pupils. One wonders who needs the support more, the ethnic minority pupils or the deficient education institutions.

The OFSTED report: "Education Inequality: mapping race, class and gender" showed glaring racial discrepancies.

"The report notes that all ethnic groups have shared in the national rise in standards .... but their rise has not been equal," OFSTED said in a statement. "African-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils have drawn least benefit from the rising levels of attainment: the gap between them and their white peers is larger now than a decade ago."

Therefore, 'narrowing the gap' remains a big issue for the education authorities.

David Gilborn of the University of London Institute of Education, one of the report's authors, said institutional racism was partly responsible for the discrepancies in performance.

The report was commissioned in 1999 in the wake of the publication of an inquiry into the 1993 murder of 18-year-old black student Stephen.