Parkfield School Logo

What does English as an additional language (EAL) mean?

SOURCE: Bell Foundation: Education Policy: Learners who Use EAL in England


The rich diversity of England’s culture, society and language, which has evolved over centuries, is reflected in schools. Many pupils arrive at school already speaking more than one language, with English being their second, third or fourth language. This linguistic diversity is accompanied by pupils’ diversity in prior exposure to English; prior experiences of schooling, their length of residence in England and their social circumstances. Official figures show a marked increase over the last two decades in the number of pupils who use English as an Additional Language (EAL). There are more than 1.6 million pupils who use EAL in maintained schools in England, a number which has more than doubled since 2006. This makes pupils who use EAL a key characteristic of student bodies in many schools.

National data on the numbers of pupils who use EAL in schools in England is gathered via the school census. The Department for Education (DfE) records a pupil as using EAL if ‘they are exposed to a language at home that is known or believed to be other than English.’ This means that if a pupil is identified as using EAL when they start school at 3-5 years old, they will continue be recorded as an EAL user throughout their education and their life.