Teacher with EAL learners

There are currently over a million learners of English as an additional language in UK maintained schools and many more in independent schools. Nearly 19% of the primary population of England has EAL and over 14% of the secondary population. These proportions continue to grow year on year.

The numbers are lower in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but have grown rapidly in the last ten years. In 2013 there were 29,000 EAL learners in Scottish schools. In Wales in 2013 42,000 pupils were eligible for support from the Minority Ethnic Achievement Grant (MEAG). Northern Ireland now has over 10,000 ‘Newcomer’ pupils in its schools.

EAL learners in the UK are an extremely diverse group. These pages will introduce you to a range of different groups of EAL learners. We provide background information about some of the main countries the UK’s EAL learners originate from, such as those in the Indian subcontinent, Eastern and central Europe, and other countries from where refugees and asylum seekers have fled.

The following pages give additional details about specific groups of EAL learners such as those who have recently arrived in the UK or children who may have additional learning needs or be gifted and talented. There are pages which provide more details about the typical language profiles and teaching needs of EAL learners at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.


The government definition of an EAL learner includes anyone who has been exposed to a language other than English during early childhood ‘and continues to be exposed to this language in the home or in the community’.

Learners arriving into English schools from overseas come from many different countries. Children from the same country may have diverse ethnic, religious, political or social class backgrounds.

The term EAL is used to describe a diverse group of pupils for whom English is an additional language. What they have in common is that they use one or more language other than English at home or in their community.

The government definition of a bilingual learner is that it refers to ‘all pupils who use or have access to more than one language at home or at school – it does not necessarily imply full fluency in both or all languages’  (DfES 2003).