EAL or SEN?
Language Needs or
How Can You Tell?
Caroline Cowell Language Support Teacher, Dartford REMA
Cathie Kitley Specialist SpLD Teacher
Raise awareness of differences
between EAL and SEN.
Increase confidence in recognising
when pupils for whom English is an
Additional Language have learning
Language Needs or Special
Needs: How Can You Tell?
‘A child must not be regarded as
having a learning difficulty
because the language or form
of language of the home is
different from the language in
which he or she is or will be
From the revised Code of Practice (2001)
Definition of EAL
All pupils who use or have access to
more than one language at home or
at school – pupils who are living
and learning in more than one
language. It does not necessarily
imply full fluency in all languages,
or that they are competent and
literate in more than one language.
Aiming High April 2005
Definition of SEN
Children have a learning difficulty if they:
a) have a significantly greater difficulty in
learning than the majority of children of
the same age; or
b) have a disability which prevents or
hinders them from making use of
educational facilities of a kind generally
provided for children of the same age.
EAL and SLCN
Given the right conditions most children
are able to acquire more than one
It is important that learning EAL is not
confused with speech, language and
communication needs (SLCN).
Look out for:
Over-identification – attributing EAL to SLCN
Not identifying SLCN of children with EAL
The Education of Asylum Seeker Pupils
‘There were a few examples of
teachers placing asylum-seeker
pupils in inappropriate ability
groups or sets.’
This resulted in a poor match
between pupils’ ability and the
demands of the learning task.
Evidence of bilingual children with
specific language impairment not
being identified and therefore, not
Incorrect identification of a child
with EAL as having SEN leads to
that child receiving inappropriate
support and therapy.
How can this be avoided?
Language(s) spoken at home
Religion and diet
Periods of residence or schooling outside the
Changes of school within the UK
Experience of classroom work in first language
Experience of teaching outside of school in first
More background information:
Is the learner’s first language shared by
other pupils or staff?
Is there a whole-school language policy
that covers bilingual pupils?
What resources and teachers are available
to meet the unique and flexible needs of
Is cultural diversity valued by the staff?
Is there an explicit and effective school
policy on racism?
Is information provided to parents in
accessible formats? Are their views actively
Language Needs or Special
There may be many reasons why a
bilingual learner is not making progress
but checking out their ability to deal with
the linguistic demands of the curriculum
before making assumptions about a
special need can be a useful starting
It is good practice to carry out a first
language assessment prior to other
Identification and Assessment
Filter questions for diagnosing EAL/SEN can
be useful (see handout).
Poor performance in all languages suggests
an impairment. Poor performance in only
one suggests problems with second
Observing a student writing a short piece in
their mother tongue can be very
JCQ allow 25% extra time if pupils
have been resident in UK less than
2 years at time of exam.
Use of bi-lingual dictionaries –
should reflect pupils’ normal way of
KS 2 National Curriculum Tests.
It is usually best to wait until an EAL pupil
has had at least six months exposure to
the English language and culture before
investigating whether they have SEN.
When to access support
Use your own professional judgement