Sarah Neary, English Additional Language Teacher, Edinburgh City Council

sarah pic copySarah Neary, English Additional Language Teacher (EALT) and acting Additional Support for Learning Service Leader explains the role of an EAL teacher with Edinburgh City Council

What does your role involve? 

The role of the EAL teacher is to work in partnership with schools and other agencies to help them to meet the needs of bilingual and minority ethnic learners in ways that are socially and educationally inclusive. However, this can look very different, depending on factors such as the school and setting.  As well as direct teaching, we offer advice and consultation for colleagues, through collaboration in school or via email or telephone. We also provide training for teachers, pupil support assistants and other practitioners and work closely with families and other agencies to ensure children are best supported.

The best outcome we achieve is where a setting (e.g. school, Early Years Centre, Nursery) is empowered to support most bilingual children and their families through consultancy visits.  We then work with the setting to identify strengths and areas for development – often linked in with their Improvement Plan. Typical areas would be assessment, working with parents and a culturally inclusive curriculum.

There can be misconceptions about the role of the EAL teacher, for example that we are all multi-lingual or that children should be withdrawn from class to be taught English.  In fact, while many EAL Teachers do acquire survival language in the most common languages spoken in Edinburgh schools (there are over 110 languages spoken), children who are new to English do best learning alongside their peers in class and where schools and settings follow the strategies advised on our website at www.edinburgh/   As the EAL Service is part of the Additional Support for Learning Service, EAL teachers work collaboratively with ASL colleagues offering multi disciplinary support in teams across Edinburgh.

What’s  involved in a typical day in your job?

Boy from a ethnic minorityFor me a typical day will involve working directly with children who attend nursery or primary school, and finding liaison time to catch up and plan with teachers, parents and other professionals. I particularly enjoy getting involved in team teaching to model strategies which are effective for enabling EAL learners to better access the curriculum and achieve targets suitable for their cognitive ability – ensuring the children I support can celebrate diversity, use their home language to support their language acquisition in English, and checking that they are working alongside peers who are good role models.  Often my day involves travel at some point – either to another school, a Child Planning Meeting, or to attend or provide training.

In what ways does your work make a direct difference to the lives of young people, and their families?

My work can be very rewarding as a lot of the families and children I work with seem very enthusiastic about my support!  With rising numbers of new-to-English families in Edinburgh, it is important that schools make use of the use of the Interpretation and Translation Services. Some parents I have worked with are so grateful to be able to have an open conversation about: their child’s abilities in their first language; their life or educational experiences before coming to Edinburgh; their progress at school; and the Scottish Education system, that it inspires me to get more involved with other families.

We often work with school or Family Learning colleagues to run workshops for new families – providing interpreted school information, ways to support children in learning English and succeeding at school, and offering leaflets and resources from local services, e.g. libraries, English for Speakers of Other Languages, community centres, the Multicultural Family Base or The Yard. This can open doors for new families to begin to develop their social network, offering them opportunities to establish friendships and begin to really settle into life in Edinburgh.

What led you to your current role?

I began my teaching career in 2000 working in schools in areas of multiple socio-economic deprivation in Central London, and was lucky enough to work with some inspiring head-teachers and colleagues who really guided and supported me, not least in postgraduate study of Autism, and moving into promoted posts in Special Needs and mainstream schools. By the time I started teaching in Edinburgh in 2011 I had two young children of my own and had a passion for getting it right for learners with additional support needs which led me to working as part of the EAL team supporting Edinburgh’s education establishments.  I have now completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Additional Support for Learning, and since having my third child have returned to work as part of the Language Learning and Communication team. This has really broadened my understanding of the different supports provided by the ASL Service, and reminded me of the importance of effective communication and of colleagues having a multi disciplinary streamlined approach.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

Dad playing with his two boysThe most rewarding part of the job, for me, is to see a child or family who have been struggling begin to fulfil their potential and start really enjoying life in Edinburgh. Another example would be seeing a professional or setting which have lacked confidence in their ability to support EAL learners ,or identify a learner’s needs, recognise both how effective they are and how they can incorporate new approaches, strategies and resources to meet bilingual learners’ needs in an inclusive way.

What do you think are the main challenges of the job?

There can be many challenges, ranging from structural issues such as time and resources to interpersonal barriers which can arise from multi-partnership working. However, all of these challenges can be overcome through effective communication and sensitive and considerate approaches as we all work together towards a shared goal. The main priority is placing the child and their family at the centre of support and really listening to the voices of those involved. The Getting it Right framework gives us a common language and means that everyone involved with a child can feed in their own views and any concerns in an open and supportive environment.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your job?

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that the most important things a teacher can do are often the simplest.  For example, to support a child new to English, the main things to remember are to ensure that they:

  • are recognised as an individual with a full set of abilities in their first language (whichis celebrated and shared in class)
  • are welcomed into a supportive environment with a class buddy
  • have a full induction meeting with (at least) the teacher, parent and interpreter to discover the child’s journey before they arrived in the Edinburgh classroom
  • and the real basics – to have their name correctly pronounced and to have their own chair anda place to put their belongings

Another very valuable lesson I’ve learnt is to always look beyond a child’s behaviour to try to find the root cause! Primary needs such as hunger, sleep or needing the loo must be met, alongside supporting frustration caused by lack of understanding or feeling excluded. We always spend time observing children to understand the context of what is happening for them. Really – the most important thing to remember is that all children have the right to be happy and listened to at school, and that all needs can be met.



0345 123 2303
Enquire Visit our site for
children and young people

Helpline: 0345 123 2303

Visit our website for children and young people