How can we effectively accelerate EAL children’s progress in reading?



The standard of attainment and levels of children’s progress in the area of reading, was a concern for the schools Senior Leadership Team. To address this the school engaged in a year long piece of school to school support analysing current practice, co-constructing ways forward and implementing opportunities for sustained action research. This approach focused significantly on both the Early years and Year Six settings within the school.

Within the Early Years setting, actions aimed to improve young children’s skills, knowledge or understanding related to reading. Approaches included creating a structured and protected time for targeted children (those at risk of not achieving a Good Level of Development) to engage in storytelling and group reading with a teacher. Following this protected session; the children would then be encouraged to engage in activities that aimed to develop letter knowledge, knowledge of sounds and early phonics, or introductions to different/new words. This study and its actions were underpinned by a central focus on enhancing protected time for adults to develop Communication and language approaches which emphasised the importance of spoken language and verbal interaction. Based on the research evidence provided by the Education Endowment Foundation; that children’s language development benefits from approaches that explicitly support talking, verbal expression, modelling language and reasoning. Approaches used included reading aloud and discussing books with young children, explicitly extending children’s spoken vocabulary by introducing them to new words in context, and drawing attention to letters and sounds.

Context of the School

The school is an above average-sized primary school serving a residential area of outer London. The proportion of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals is above the national average. A very large majority of pupils come from minority ethnic groups, which is high compared with the national picture. The proportion who speak English as an additional language is also very high. The proportion of pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities is above the national average. These needs relate mainly to speech and language difficulties and behavioural difficulties. Early Years Foundation Stage children are taught in the Nursery and Reception classes. The school has a new Senior Leadership Team.



The central aim of ethnography is to provide rich, holistic insights into people’s views and actions, as well as the nature (that is, sights, sounds) of the location they inhabit, through the collection of detailed observations and interviews. As Hammersley states, “The task [of ethnographers] is to document the culture, the perspectives and practices, of the people in these settings. The aim is to ‘get inside’ the way each group of people sees the world.”

Key Features:

  • A strong emphasis on exploring the nature of a early years reading within this setting, rather than setting out to test hypotheses about it

  • A tendency to work primarily with “unstructured data” —not a closed set of analytical categories

  • Investigation of a small number of children;to see how we could accelerate their progress closing the gap in attainment between them and their peers

Action Research

The “Researchers” followed these cyclical stages: