Why vocabulary is the backbone of all learning (PART 2)

Beth Southern, founder of EAL Hub

I set up EAL Hub to provide high quality literacy boosting resources when it was difficult for me to signpost those individuals who were asking for support tools, to the right resources.

We are passionate about helping pupils to continue learning in the mainstream classroom as much as possible and at the same time providing versatile and holistic EAL support for teachers in need of training.  Through the collaboration with Alliance for Learning (’ll be able to support a vast number of schools, delivering best practice learning across the North West with hundreds of resources available to boost vocabulary and to help pupils to access the curriculum more confidently.

Vocabulary is the backbone of all learning

By the age of three, there is a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. This gap is calculated by looking at the number of words that children from different socio-economic groups hear each hour and multiplying it over a set period. A study by Fernald et. al. (2013),1 highlights that the gap is evident even in toddlers as young as 18 months.  Vocabulary affects everything from speech and language to reading, writing and comprehension – essentially the backbone of all learning.

The wider the vocabulary a child has, the easier they will find writing and comprehension. It is not enough to assume that children will know and understand words.  If they don’t have many conversations, or access to books at home, then it is quite likely that they won’t understand words that you or I would consider to be ‘common’.

Vocabulary broken down

In 2002 Isabelle Beck and colleagues developed the idea of tiered words and concluded that vocabulary can be divided into three tiers:2

Tier 1 – Everyday high frequency oral language (e.g. baby, quickly, drive, unkind)

Tier 2 – High frequency words in written texts (e.g. analyse, significant, required)

Tier 3 – subject specific, academic language (e.g. osmosis, photosynthesis, onomatopoeia)

In general, EAL children will pick up Tier 1 words through general conversation and the immersive nature of being in an English-speaking country. Tier 3 words must be explicitly taught to all learners as specific topic-based language which is exclusive to that area

Tier 2 words are general academic words that feature across almost all subjects. These are the words often found in textbooks and tests and are essentially the glue that holds academic text together. Where there is a lack of understanding of these words, meaning can be misinterpreted or completely lost.  Clear teaching of Tier 2 words will build a confident learner and improve comprehension skills enormously.

When working with EAL pupils, here are my top tips to keep in mind:

  • The silent phase is a normal stage of early development. Despite not communicating in English the learner will still be absorbing new language – keep teaching vocabulary and conversing as much as possible. Use videos and picture books to immerse learners in language, use repetition to work on pronouncing the new sounds.
  • The language/culture needs of multi-lingual children can be vastly different. Activating prior knowledge is key because you don’t know what building blocks they will already have, whether there are language barriers or whether the child is connecting their previous experience with the current lesson. Using image activities, real objects or flashcards can help hook them in and make the connections real.
  • Group EAL learners in mid/top sets or top groups to ensure they are scaffolded by able peers, appropriately stretched academically and listening to good role models of English.
  • Use Knowledge of Language (KAL)3 to try and empathise with the different languages in your class. Word order in English may be completely different to that of the first language of your EAL children. New words may be physically hard to pronounce. Use activities to look at the root of words, e.g. hyper is a Greek/Latin word meaning ‘too much or excessive’, with this understanding the words hyperactive, hypercritical and hypersensitive become more easily understood and processed. Continue to build meaning through synonyms, antonyms, word families and word games.
  • Rehearse academic language in appropriate contexts and allow children lots of opportunities for speaking and listening prior to writing. This will enable ideas to consolidate and become ordered in a learner’s mind before they need to write them down.
  • Introduce Wait Time to your lessons. In an average classroom, this can be as little as one-second from asking the question. This is not enough time for some EAL learners to process language within the question, think of the answer and be able to offer it. One-minute partner talks are helpful because the question can be asked and the children can whisper their ideas with a partner before being asked for an answer. It builds confidence and enables more EAL children the opportunity to contribute.


1 Fernald A, Marchman VA, Weisleder A. SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental Science. 2013;16:234–248, PMC free article, PubMed

2 Beck, Isabel L. McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (2002). Choosing Words to Teach. In Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, New York, NY: Guilford Press.

3 Deutscher, G. (2005) The Unfolding of Language. New Hampshire, William Heinemann



Why we have launched an EAL Hub at the Alliance for Learning (Part 1)

There are currently over a million children in UK schools for whom English is an additional language (EAL) and this number is rising.  Many teachers worry that they lack experience to support EAL children as many have only experienced a small amount of EAL preparation as part of their initial teacher training.   The reality is, with some knowledge of the theory behind language acquisition and an understanding of cultural differences between languages, many already have the skills required to support EAL learners because strategies are similar to those already being used in teaching. Effective EAL training brings this together and makes educators stop and think about the complexities of what they are teaching, from a language and cultural point of view.

Teaching schools play a vital role in working with trainees and other staff, offering SLE support and guidance across the consortium. I believe in collaborative learning and training. Where one school is doing something brilliantly then why not share that with other schools that are finding it a challenge?

EAL is an ever-growing area and although funding is often sparse, the challenge to find ways to ensure that these children can access the curriculum is ever present. WE will now be able to offer exceptional EAL training, reviews, support and resources that can be used across whole schools.

At our teaching school, we are advocates of inclusive EAL education, finding ways to enable EAL students to remain in the mainstream class and cover the same topics as their peers. Too many schools that our SLEs have visited group EAL students with low ability children, remove them for large amounts of intervention during ‘tricky’ lessons or ‘complicated’ whole class reads.  They may even have EAL children focussing on unrelated work.   The key is remembering that EAL learners are not low ability, they are just learning another language at the same time as processing the national curriculum.

If you were invited to join a class learning about something in Mauritian Creole, it is likely that you would understand very little on your own. However, this struggle to access the lesson doesn’t make you low ability, you are just new to the language. If you’d had additional support or resources such as flashcards, visuals, a glossary with first language links or a buddy to help you, then you’d have a much better chance of taking something away from it.  You’d feel a sense of achievement and consequently improved confidence, even if it was just a few new words in that language.

When planning for EAL learners, it is important to drip in a small amount of support alongside your planning to make their experience more comfortable and to enable them to remain in the lessons, surrounded by good role models of English, as much as possible. Small changes make all the difference and can enable rapid progress. Supporting EAL students should simply be another form of differentiation, enabling them to remain involved in the lesson, but with the scaffolding to achieve the best that they can.

We are so excited to be working in partnership with EAL Hub, founded by Beth Southern, former head of EAL in a large inner-city school with experience of working for numerous councils as an EAL consultant.  We’ll introduce Beth in our next blog where she’ll be offering some tips on great ways to teach vocabulary.

For more information about our primary and secondary taster sessions in the Autumn click here or contact us directly at 0161 912 5912.


Why I love SLE work


Blog by Komal Hirani, Heathfield Primary School

SLE work has allowed me to use the experiences I have gained leading literacy, parent partnership, maths, KS1 and assessment. I have successfully carried out a range of school-to-school support developing staff skills and quality of teaching across the schools. Being an SLE allows me to adopt a range of leadership styles and provide bespoke solutions to support the whole school priorities. I love getting out into different schools- it’s so interesting!

I have recently supported with a school-to-school project for a number of RI schools. Throughout the project I worked in partnership with maths leads to develop their leadership capacity impacting on maths across the schools. The impact of the work I carried out enabled the schools to move to Good and the maths leaders securing SLT positions. With the positive outcomes that have followed my deployment, it has empowered and provided me with confidence to continue to further school-to-school support.

I was recently seconded to a neighbouring school after conducting some bespoke SLE work. Using the wonderful experiences I had gained whilst deployed as a SLE, I confidently implemented a range of strategies and skills which enabled leadership capacity to grow and identify strengths within the team I worked with.

SLE work is an enriching experience that has allowed me to develop my leadership styles and exposed me to a range of different challenges. I wholeheartedly endorse the SLE programme as it has helped me develop into a better leader and provides me with the challenges I am ready for.

The SLE work has even given me the confidence to consider moving onto Headship! The sky is the limit! If you haven’t considered being an SLE with the Alliance for Learning I really recommend it. Lisa really supports and coaches you and you don’t feel on your own with any tricky issues. It is fun!


Body Image

Lisa Fathers, Director of Teaching School and Partnerships at Alliance for Learning, part of Bright Futures Educational Trust, offers tips on how to address the topic of body image with young people, for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May).

Body image is our perception of our appearance. It’s based on how we see ourselves and also how we think other people see us and the two things are often very different! Positive and negative experiences and relationships can affect body image.

How you see yourself, the world and your place in it affects the choices you make, the images.jpgconfidence you have to take risks and also who you choose to spend time with.  If you do not feel acceptance of your own body image, you may seek short-term friends or engage in risky behaviour, or even make bad choices.  Negative body image can also result in social anxiety about many more things.  Body image matters because it is tied to our self-worth.

Some top tips to keep in mind when talking about body image with young people:

  • Positive self-talk and self-acceptance is key. Adopting this attitude yourself and encouraging others to do the same is really important.  This means not making comparisons to others and accepting who we are
  • Focus on personal qualities and efforts that have nothing to do with physical appearance. Every child has a gift, passion or a love of something. Nurture the thing they enjoy doing. Doing what you love creates a sense of self and is important to help develop positive self image-based values
  • Emphasising health over looks is so important. Don’t put a lot of emphasis on physical appearance and instead, talk about all the different aspects that make up a person e.g. personality, skills and outlook on life
  • When you witness negative body image messages, talk about them openly. Observe pop culture, media and sports and have conversations about messages conveyed around beauty, gender roles and health, recognising when images may have been altered or airbrushed.
  • A strong sense of identity and self-worth are vital for a child’s self-esteem. Encouraging them to be able to express their feelings and be individual while giving them opportunities to problem solve and come up with their own coping strategies for setbacks will help them to build their confidence, improve resilience and deal with challenges
  • If a child is affected by peer pressure, bullying, or is self-conscious about their body image talk to their school. Schools can be a positive environment for fostering healthy body image and self-esteem and should have number of policies in place to deal with these sorts of issues


There is no health without mental health.

There is no health without mental health or physical health.

Health is our wealth!

 If you could prevent loss of life would you?

First aid saves lives and knowing what to do in an emergency can make all the difference. We all understand our mandatory responsibility of looking after the physical health and wellbeing of young people in our care.  A sprained ankle, a scrape, cut or burn can all be recognised and given prompt attention when needed. We also understand when things are more serious and require specialist attention, a trip to the GP or A&E may be required.

However, despite its importance, not everyone has undergone professional training.  First aid is a set of simple skills that can have incredible impact and therefore everyone should have the opportunity to learn them because early intervention really can save a life.

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Mental ill health can strike at any time and can affect people from all walks of life.  As with physical first aid it is also recognised that you are as likely to use mental health first aid skills in your personal life with friends and family as you are in your professional role.

Although things are improving, stigma still exists around mental ill health. As a society, we don’t tend to know how to take care of our mental health like we do our physical health. Mental health first aid training can teach you the skills to support a friend, family member or colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue.  Prevention, swift recognition and early intervention can make all the difference.

Now, for the first time the Alliance for Learning Teaching School and SCITT can offer a comprehensive package putting physical first aid and mental health first aid in equal standing. Our courses have serious, potentially life-saving messages delivered by highly passionate and skilled instructors who will ensure a safe and positive learning environment with an appropriate amount of humour and fun. We are your one stop shop for all your training needs!


Why train with us?

Why train with us?

Because we ‘get it’ we know schools, our Director of Teaching School & Partnerships and co-facilitators are all MHFA England national trainers. Our Physical First Aid Lead is both a trainer for physical first aid and MHFA England. 

We have a joined up approach and our quality approach speaks for itself.  Our offer is the gold standard in first aid!

For more information on our suite of courses, please click the links below:


Mental Health

Youth MHFA

·       ½ day (Mental Health Aware)

·       1 day (Mental Health First Aid Champion)

·       2 day (Mental Health First Aider)

·       Advanced Mental Health with Early Trauma

Adult MHFA

·         ½ day (Mental Health Aware)

·         1 day (Mental Health First Aid Champion)

·         2 day (Mental Health First Aider)


Physical First Aid –

·      Early Years – TQUK Level 3 in paediatric first aid – 2 days

·      Primary – TQUK Level 3 in paediatric first aid – 1 day

·      Secondary – TQUK Level 3 emergency first aid at work – 1 day



Parents’ evening approaching?

Parents’ evening approaching?

How can a trainee teacher/NQT prepare for parents’ evening?


Teachers’ Standard 8, Fulfil wider professional responsibilities!pp

Is this the hardest part of the role? It is often one of the hardest standards for a trainee teacher to evidence. A hard one to get to grips with but less than one year later the trainee teacher is now a NQT and running their own parents’ evening with little, if any previous experience, how does the said NQT cope?  In the ‘sub –standard’ they have to ‘communicate effectively with parents with regards to pupils’ achievements and well-being’.  Well often for many schools this encompasses, school reports, parental meetings, phone calls home (both positive and cause for concern), in primary school there is the valuable playground drop off and/or pick up, technology permitting some schools have an app so parents have regular updates throughout the day/week, with some schools using it effectively  as a communication tool. Some trainee teachers may not have had the opportunity to attend a parents’ evening, and yet they will be expected to lead their own parents’ evening within their NQT year.

So, what do you need to know to help you run an effective parents’ evening?




Respect and relax


Noise level



P-Preparation. Parents’ evenings often take place afterschool. Whatever

prthe format you are going to be talking for a long time, so make sure you have plenty of fluids on hand. Also consider the time of the day, will this be in the sports hall after hours without heating? Parents’ evening is often held at the end of a school day, and hunger can start to creep up on you. Some schools offer a snack before a parents’ evening, but if this is not the case for your setting (ask and find out) remember to take food and refuel before your evening begins. Also take a little ‘you’ time before the parents’ evening, that book can be marked in the morning, it is more important at this time that you have some rest, some time to wind down. If you are comfortable, rested, refuelled and hydrated you are more likely to present yourself well and engage the parents. First impressions count-make sure you look smart.  .                                                                                                                                                       


A- Attainment: Know your children, this is so important, the parents need to feel you know their little cherub and that their child is not simply another name on a list. Primary schools do this well allowing parents to look at their children’s books, but in secondary this is not always possible. If you are not good at remembering names take a memory aid to assist you with name recall. A photographic register, (as often you know the child’s face if not their name), some key headlines about achievement (this can be data linked). Don’t over face the parents with complicated data sets used by senior leaders to track progress, use data, feedback and terminology that helps the parent to understand if their child is performing at expected, exceeding or below the expected standards. Avoid jargon, do not assume the parent has the educational understanding of the grading systems established within the school, even if the parent works in education assessment ‘without levels’ means that your data and your reporting system needs to be universal so everyone can understand the progress made. Ultimately parents want to know, if their child is on track to meet the expectations for their age phase and if not what you are doing

R – Respect and relax. Often when you work in education it is easy to forget that not respeveryone understands the current education system beyond what they may see in the media. Also be mindful that some parents may have no recent knowledge of the education system.  Coupled with this don’t assume a level of parental academic education, not all parents will have the language skills you might expect. Consider the cultural background of the children within your setting, dilemma, do you shake hands or not? best advice take this lead from the parent! Out of respect I would stand, welcome the parent, offer them a seat and if they offer a hand then I would kindly accept. If you have to consider EAL often the child might act as an interpreter, or an older sibling/other family member might play this role. However do not forget to engage with the parent, offer eye contact after all it is the parent you are updating regarding their child’s progress.

E-Engage the parent(s) by  starting with a positive, every parent needs to hear a reassuring comment first and this can help to set the tone for a productive meeting. However do be honest about the child’s progress, their attitude to learning and their behaviour for learning. Homework is often a topic for discussion with parents often not knowing when homework is set etc so share this.  Allow the parent time to ask questions, do not stick to your script, shift your mind set ‘I have five minutes and I need to say this!’ Whilst having a script is useful, this is “parents’ evening “and therefore parents should have a voice and time to ask questions.

N- Noise level. Beware of your surrounding audience,


as teachers we like to be heard, we have spent time developing our tonal range and ‘teacher voice’. However where possible try not to talk too loud, you are likely to be in a crowded room or classroom with the door propped open and as they saying goes ‘walls have ears’. Make sure the detail you share is not of a confidential nature, remember with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) it is important you do not stray off topic and refer to other children in the class. Other parents and children are likely to be within ear shot!

T- Timing. Stick to your time, yes easier said than done especially as some parents like to ask questions to fully understand how their child is progressing. From the start set out your stall, introduced yourself, don’t forget secondary teachers to remind the parent of the subject you teach, and then highlight they have a five minute appointment slot. 

“hello, it is lovely to meet you my name is [insert name] and I am [insert child’s name] teacher of [insert subject]. Thank you for taking the time tonight to meet with me, just to let you know each appointment is booked for a five minute appointment slot”.

Lastly, enjoy yourself, and enjoy the evening. Parents’ evening really is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the children that you teach. If there are any issues your Head of Department or SLT should be around to help! Good luck!




Interview Advice

Summer is coming , lighter nights, flowers are out, a bit of sunshine and student teachers everywhere are starting to apply for jobs!

It’s the culmination of all that hard work……….Hang on a minute – no its not! You are still on your course trying frantically to keep your head above water whist at the same time look for jobs and write the sparkiest application letter you possibly can!

A few student teachers have been contacting me on twitter asking advice and a few years ago @missrobertsuom (one of my former English GCSE students) who is now well into her brilliant teaching career contacted me at this time of year saying she was busy with applications. At that point I reflected that all our Alliance for Learning SCITT trainees had lots of support with the application process but we need to help our lovely young teachers think about the actual interview too! We have now got mock interviews as part of our course.

Don’t panic

A job interview invite shouldn’t be cause for panic, you have been a student teacher for a year now and no doubt your social media presence will be entirely appropriate. As a teacher, this is your chance to show that your personality lives up to your brilliant application. Like it or not, first impressions count, and they begin much earlier than you think. You are on interview from the moment you arrive on the school car park. If your sense of direction and parking is anything like mine you might want to think about a stress free arrival – drive the route beforehand! Be friendly to the receptionist and to the other candidates remember you are all in the same boat! Be bold, @WomenED have a great motto ‘be 10% braver’ this is manageable!

Don’t over-prepare your lesson

Keep your lesson simple, have a clear objective in mind and don’t try to cover everything. The 5 minute lesson plan @TeacherToolkit is a good place to start. Try to focus on an interesting part of the topic that you can be enthusiastic about. I once taught a terrible lesson on a Deputy Headteacher interview: I tried to do too much and with 5 observers at the back of the classroom I just couldn’t relax! I still got the job though because actually nothing is ‘make or break’ so stay calm and collected. Experienced interviewers can tell what kind of person/teacher you are, if you know your subject and if you are passionate. Think about timing- if it’s a short lesson- say 30 mins or so – you really are not going to be able to demonstrate lots of progress but you can show off your personality, relationship with children and love of your subject. Move around the room- this is not the time to hide!

Dress smartly

You are entering an eminent and highly regarded profession – wear a suit or at least a tailored jacket. I’m a shopping lover and a great believer in retail therapy so if you can afford it then splash out on a new interview item! If not borrow something. It matters how you feel so ensure whatever you wear is comfortable and don’t be afraid to wear something bright (but not garish). Think about foot wear; I love high heels but my feet don’t. Wear something you can walk in!


The actual interview

Your interviewers will almost certainly have formed part of their judgment on you before you have answered their first question, body language is important. Put the interviewers at ease by smiling and by pretending to be relaxed. This is not life or death. Make eye contact with the whole panel, it’s hard to define ‘presence’ but we talk about it a lot in the classroom and as well as about leadership. Be in the room, talk about your positives, don’t waffle and speak clearly. Imagine yourself working at the school- think positively! Humour is really important and, hard as it is, you have to try and build a relationship with the interview panel so a two way dialogue is better than just answering questions- try and make it feel like a conversation. Don’t be flippant though, this is an important role.

Interview questions

We want to know you are resilient because this is a tough job. So if you get chance to talk about yourself discuss how you balance work and life, what you do to keep yourself healthy, how you relax. One of the most important questions will be asking you how you thought your lesson went; be honest, say what you would do differently, and compliment the school on the children.

Safeguarding is a question you must get right! You may be asked about your understanding of safeguarding best practice, your involvement in safeguarding or your own motivation in working with children. For example: What training have you undertaken on safeguarding children in the last year? If you have a safeguarding concern about a child in your class, what action would you take? Safeguarding and the well-being of children is central to the ethos of a school. How would you contribute to making the organisation a safer environment for children?

In terms of your classroom experience, if you get asked how you would deal with something like a student not engaging then try to  talk using examples, this will make you sound more credible and experienced.

The final question apart from ‘are you still a firm candidate’ (which means do you still want the job if offered it) will no doubt be inviting you to ask a question. Be prepared to ask an interesting question, you could ask something topical or something philosophical. You could also compliment the Headteacher on something. Be memorable but be ‘teacher like’.

And finally – if you do get offered the job, seriously consider if it is the right role in the right school in the right location for you. If you can afford the luxury of choice – then choose wisely!

Good luck!

Lisa Fathers

Director of Teaching School and Partnerships

Director of Teaching School & Partnerships

BFET Executive Team

Mental Health First Aid National Trainer (MHFA England)

Twitter: @lisafathersAFL /  @AFLTeachingSch

Website: The Alliance for Learning