(now evolved into Cambridge Primary Insight)

A flexible assessment that helps you monitor and support the progress of children aged 5 to 11

4 ways to support EAL learners in school
by Sue Holt

On entry to school, many bilingual or multi-lingual children face a considerable challenge: they must learn the curriculum, understand new concepts and develop their literacy skills – all in a new language.

If EAL learners are to receive appropriate and effective support, then schools need to ensure that they recognise the factors that will affect their achievement.

I have used the InCAS assessment in schools when working with EAL learners for over 20 years: InCAS gives you powerful diagnostic information about the strengths and weaknesses of EAL students without the need for time-consuming, and expensive assessment.


"The beauty of using the InCAS [now evolved into Cambridge Primary Insight] assessment at the beginning of the school year is that the teacher gets immediate insight into the nature of the class and the individuals in it, and can begin to work on strengths and weaknesses in literacy more quickly. "



InCAS can help you distinguish between EAL and specific reading difficulties.

In an EAL context the two most important InCAS scores to compare are:

  • Reading
  • Developed ability

EAL children’s developed ability scores are often significantly higher than their reading scores. Their developed ability score gives a more accurate picture of their academic aptitude.

The developed ability module comprises:

  • Picture vocabulary
  • Non-verbal assessment

A typical EAL profile would show a lower score on the picture vocabulary test than on the non-verbal test. For most EAL children the non-verbal test is the best measure of their ability.

If scores on both sections of the developed ability assessment are low, this may be an indication that the child has a generalised learning difficulty, making it more challenging to acquire a new language.


Recognise individual EAL needs

It is important to have an initial language assessment for pupils when they first arrive at the school to encourage quick integration. The beauty of using the InCAS assessment at the beginning of the school year is that the teacher gets immediate insight into the nature of the class and the individuals in it, and can begin to work on strengths and weaknesses in literacy more quickly.

Research shows that it takes around 5 – 7 years, on average, to become fully proficient in an additional language. Although many pupils will quickly develop surface competence in the language and may function quite well socially, their reading comprehension may lag behind significantly.

The InCAS Reading module scores (word recognition, word decoding and comprehension) help you to identify the specific area where support is needed.


Support reading across the curriculum

Ensuring lessons are planned to effectively meet the needs of EAL pupils means that more pupils are able to access the curriculum.

The age-equivalent InCAS scores for word recognition, word decoding, comprehension (and spelling) give you a direct comparison of scores and help you to see how your EAL students compare with other children of the same age.

In EAL children, you can expect to see lower comprehension scores. All EAL children struggle with comprehension in the early stages, as so much of their brain power is used in decoding and recognising words that they are understandably challenged when it comes to understanding what they have read.

Research indicates that daily half-hour interventions at the level of word reading, word decoding, fluency and vocabulary skills have an impact in supporting text comprehension.


Set targets and monitor progress

Able EAL students will typically make more than one year’s progress in reading in a year compared with native English speakers.

It is valuable to use InCAS to help triangulate information on pupils. InCAS scores, end of topic tests, writing assignments, and your choice of reading programmes can all help to plot progress in reading, comprehension and fluency.

Using the InCAS scores at the beginning of the year can help to drill down to specific areas of focus. InCAS can also help to set aspirational targets for every child and year group, and assessing children with InCAS in each year helps to give a consistent and ongoing measure of progress.