Guest blog by Kim Holland
“For children whose home language is not English, providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home.”(DfE, 2023c:16)
The DfE recently published its consultation response including the decision to change the wording from “must” to “may” in the above statement. It explains that the aim is to “alleviate what could be an unreasonable request of some providers” (DfE, 2023a:11) if there are multiple home languages in the setting, to allows settings to focus on the acquisition of English and to offer settings flexibility to support the needs of each child (DfE, 2023a).
“Altering the language to ‘may’ would mean we will no longer be requiring practitioners to do this, but instead encourage them to decide themselves how to best support children with English as an Additional Language.”(DfE, 2023a, p. 18)
However, with an increase in language diversity that has doubled since 2006 to over 20% (DfE, 2023b), it seems necessary to make sure that the inclusion of all languages are considered, not only to support all forms of communication and language but to help children feel they belong and provide them with a much-needed connection between home and setting.
Early Education responded that the change was deeply concerning as a fundamental issue of inclusion and diversity. If settings are not prepared to take reasonable steps to support children with EAL, they would almost by definition be acting unreasonably.
In response to this I am sharing a toolkit that supports settings to understand what steps they can take to address language inclusion in purposeful and valid ways. The Language Audit Toolkit (LAT) can be used by settings to reflect on current language provision and support for EAL families and to consider how languages could be further embedded within the setting; visually, through play resources and as part of the routine. Consequently, it should enable settings to explore how languages could co-exist and provide the steps needed to make changes for appropriate and valid language inclusion in their provision.
As part of undertaking the LAT I would encourage settings to create a safe space for critical and open conversation to discuss points such as:
- How does each practitioner perceive EAL children if they are currently in or would come into the setting?
- Is the perception of and engagement with EAL children different to those who come into the setting with English?
- What is my role regarding EAL children’s language use, whether English or their home language?
One way to make this less daunting is to allow practitioners to address these anonymously in written form prior to the discussion. The responses can create starting points for the discussion which can be done in smaller groups as well as the whole group. This should enable preconceptions, attitudes and practices with EAL families to be examined and when understood can improve or refine practice.
The first three pages of the LAT enable settings to reflect on their role as they engage with EAL families, the languages that exist, and the provision and systems currently in place. Following these reflections settings are asked to evaluate elements within the setting, visual displays and signage, physical resources and aspects of the routine.
Evaluation of visual displays and signage
The key part of this section is the evaluation box for each signage resource in the setting. For example, consider a high positioned sign with the word “toilet” in three different languages or a creative display celebrating the Hindu festival Holi. Sometimes there may be a need for change such as lowering a sign to a child’s eye level, or including the language of the culture being celebrated. However, it’s worth considering if there even needs to be a sign. Does it actually include children who have other languages or does it just represent inclusivity as a token and aimed at adults? This will be individual to each setting so there are no right or wrong answers.
Evaluation of play and learning resources
This section includes a table to list resources which depict different scripts, whether they are used regularly and what it would look like if they were included in the everyday provision.
- Cars and other vehicles which are provided could include vehicles with different languages on.
- A foreign language game should be as normal to get out as its English counterpart. Staff should find out how to play the games. Language shouldn’t be a barrier for staff not to engage with toys.
- Likewise with foreign language books, they are for monolingual children to engage with different scripts and for the child whose language it is, to recognise familiar stories they may have at home.
- Include signage and books in other languages for role-play to support the theme eg hospital role play may include stories or factual books as well as common signs in different scripts.
These are relatively small and easy ways to include other languages if you don’t currently do so.
Evaluation of the routine
The third section examines if languages play a part within different elements of the routine, including gatherings, songs, eating times etc. Where this is not the case consider how you could include additional languages. For example:
- Animals can make different sounds in other languages. In German a frog quacks, so when you sing or read books about frogs, you could include this along with the English animal sound.
- Many cultures say a phrase before eating, it could be worth including this with your children if it is the case for them.
Finally, parental engagement can be an overlooked tool to provide valid ways to include other languages within the setting. Remember these knowledge holders can be a much needed source for the types of games, books, toys and role play objects that are familiar to the child in your setting.
Kim Holland is studying for a professional doctorate in education (EdD) at the University of Portsmouth.
Accessing the Language Audit Toolkit
To access the tookit, email Kim requesting to use the LAT.
Additionally as part of her doctorate in Education (EdD), Kim is looking to work with settings to undertake primary research involving the implementation of it. If your setting is willing to work with her on this please state this in your message so that it can be discussed this further.
Department for Education. (2021). Development Matters. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1007446/6.7534_DfE_Development_Matters_Report_and_illustrations_web__2_.pdf
Department for Education. (2023a). Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): Regulatory Changes, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/653a7a0ee6c9680014aa9bc6/Early_years_foundation_stage_regulatory_changes_-_consultation_response.pdf
Department for Education. (2023b). Schools, Pupils and Their Characteristics.