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Executive Summary

There is no set strategy for addressing the education of non-English speakers in schools across England; responsibility for education rests with a number of Local Education Authorities across the country. However, a national strategy is in place that focuses on the inclusion of non-English speakers into mainstream education and classrooms, with additional support being provided for them therein.


In schools across England the number of pupils recorded as having a language other than English has quickly risen from 653,800 in 2003 (representing 9.6 percent of the school population) to 789,790 in 2007 (representing 12 percent of the school population).[2]  More than 200 languages are spoken in the homes of school-age English children.[3

Right to Education

Education is funded by the government and the way in which it is provided is governed primarily by statute and a voluminous amount of secondary legislation, although some aspects of the common law continue to exist in the educational setting, such as the duty of care owed by education authorities and their employees regarding the care and supervision of students.[4]  This legislation provides the framework for the provision of nursery education for children that are not yet old enough for compulsory education, and primary and secondary education for children and teenagers, and covers issues such as funding, governance, staffing, admissions, and attendance. 

It is the duty of the Secretary of State to provide children with an education in England, regardless of the child’s immigration status.[5]  This duty is typically performed by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) for each county in England.[6]  There are three stages of public education in England comprised of the primary education stage, secondary education stage, and further education.[7]  Nursery education is also provided for children that are over two years of age but have not yet reached the compulsory school age.[8]  Compulsory education in England begins at the age of five years old and continues until the end of the school-leaving year in which the child is sixteen years old.[9]  When a child turns five years old the parents must ensure that their child receives “efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”[10]  Once a child has reached the age for compulsory education and is registered with a school in their area, it is an offense for the parent to fail to have them attend school regularly and they may be punished with a fine.[11]  The duty for children to obtain an education thus falls upon the parents to ensure that they attend school, and local education authorities, who are responsible for providing the schools.

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Language Instruction in English

The approach of teaching English to non-English speakers in school rests with each LEA.  An English as an additional language (EAL) program has been piloted across parts of England; however, individual LEAs retain responsibility for teaching English to non-English speakers.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in England[12] has provided guidance to teachers on how to teach EAL.  The guidance emphasizes inclusion, with teachers modifying and adapting the curriculum to support the inclusion of EAL.  It notes that:

this can be supported by the use of pupils’ first languages with peers and bilingual staff and by the provision of appropriate bilingual books and materials to support the learning.  At the same time pupils have to acquire English for both social and academic purposes.  Provision of support by EAL staff and ensuring the pupils’ engagement in active learning across the curriculum are effective ways of supporting the acquisition of English language skills.[13]

In certain instances, such as where students are still developing proficiency in English, the class materials are difficult; the QCA recommends that the pupils should be encouraged to use their first language.  It notes this can be achieved through several methods, such as visual cues or collaboration with other EALs that share the same language.[14]

The government launched a strategy in October 2003 to support children who speak EAL as part of the “Aiming High” initiative.[15]  The EAL program has been implemented “through the primary national strategy involving a package of professional development for mainstream staff … a secondary national strategy programme for EAL was launched in June 2006 which builds on from this work to promote awareness of best practice in EAL teaching in secondary schools.”[16]

Additional Measures

Additional funding to help support students whose second language is English is available to local authorities who fund schools from the ethnic minority achievement grant (EMAG).  This grant is “distributed to local authorities by formula which includes the number of EAL pupils in each [local authority], with locally determined formulae devolving at least 85 per cent to schools.  The grant is £179 million in 2007-08.”[17]  The grant “provides resources for schools to employ specialist EAL support teachers and teaching assistants and for local authorities to maintain a small advisory team.”[18]

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Prepared by Clare Feikert, Senior Foreign Law Specialist

April 2009

  1. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises four separate countries, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  While central rule at Westminster remains, various Acts have provided for the devolution of power back to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland in certain areas, one of these being education.  One notable item regarding the devolved powers can be seen in education in Wales.  The Welsh Assembly has stated that its ultimate aim is a bilingual Wales, where people can transition easily between English and Welsh. [Back to Text]
  2. Education Act 1996 c. 56, § 10; see also Department for Children, Schools and Families, New Arrivals Excellence Programme: Primary and Secondary National Strategies, (external link) (last visited Mar. 31, 2009). [Back to Text]
  3. Department for Children, Schools and Families, English as an Additional Language: Primary National Strategy EAL Programme, http://www.standards (external link)
    (last visited Apr. 1, 2009). [Back to Text]
  4. Williams v. Eady, (1893) 10 TLR 41 (CA). [Back to Text]
  5. Education Act 1996, c. 56, § 12.  The education of migrant children is also provided for in Directive 486/EEC, On the Education of the Children of Migrant Workers, 1977 O.J. (L199) 32.  The Race Relations Act 1976, c. 74 places an obligation on Local Authorities to promote equal opportunity as well as to avoid discrimination when providing education.  See also Home Office, UK Border Agency, Education, (external link) (last visited Apr. 13, 2009). [Back to Text]
  6. Education Act 1996 c. 56, § 12. [Back to Text]
  7. Id. 56; Further and Higher Education Act 1992 c. 13. [Back to Text]
  8. School Standards and Framework Act 1998 c. 30. [Back to Text]
  9. Education Act 1996, c. 56, § 8(3)(a). [Back to Text]
  10. 15(1) Halsbury’s Laws of England ¶ 15 (Lord MacKay of Clashfern ed., 4th ed. Reissue 2006); Education Act 1996, § 7. [Back to Text]
  11. Education Act 1996, c. 56, § 444. [Back to Text]
  12. Part of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s remit is to develop and review the national curriculum.  Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, What We Do, (external link) (last visited Apr. 13, 2009). [Back to Text]
  13. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, English as an Additional Language, (external link) (last visited Apr. 13, 2009). [Back to Text]
  14. Id. [Back to Text]
  15. DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION AND SKILLS, AIMING HIGH: RAISING THE ACHIEVEMENT OF ETHNIC MINORITY STUDENTS (March 2003), available at publications/AHConsultationdocmar03/aim_high2.doc (external link) (Word). [Back to Text]
  16. 461 Parl. Deb. (6th ser.) (HC) (2007) 1161W. [Back to Text]
  17. Id.  The stated amount (£179 million) is equivalent to about $US270 million. [Back to Text]
  18. Id. [Back to Text]

Last Updated: 06/06/2015