EAL and the English standards

The relationship between the EAL standards and the English standards

The progress of an English as an Additional Language (EAL) student learning English should be reported against the stages of the EAL Standards rather than the levels of the English Standards.

Who is an EAL student?

An EAL student is generally considered to be one who:

  • is learning English as a second or additional language
  • is not as proficient in English as a student of the same age who has been learning only English
  • exhibits English language structures and features that are typical of those in the process of learning English
  • needs assistance in classroom activities because of their stage of English language development.

A student may exhibit EAL features in their production and understanding of oral and written English for a long time.

It has long been established through research by Cummins (1996) and others that an EAL student starting primary school with little or no English can take from 5–7 years to reach the same level of English as his or her age-equivalent peers. Adolescent students are generally able to make more rapid progress in language development in the initial stages than young children (see, e.g. Yates, de Courcy and Nicholas 2007) but their language will continue to exhibit EAL features and they will still benefit from EAL support for some time.

Cummins also writes about two types of competence:

  • Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills, which are usually quickly acquired, in the classroom and through interaction with peers
  • Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.

It is this latter competence which often needs to be the focus of EAL teaching at the more advanced stages, and especially in the secondary school. A student’s facility with everyday spoken English, and even their Australian accent, may lead teachers to believe they are no longer 'EAL', but this may not be the case, and the student may still need targeted teaching and support to reach the same level of academic proficiency as their peers.

Relationship to the English standards

Using the English Standards will not be an accurate reflection of an EAL student’s learning, and can indicate that there are problems in the student’s learning progress, when in fact the student is actually making adequate progress learning English as their second or subsequent language.

As EAL students learn more English, their learning begins to correspond to the English Standards. If an assessment of an EAL student on the English Standards is within acceptable year level parameters, then it is time to start using the English Standards for assessing and reporting progress. If not, then the EAL Standards should continue to be used.

Explaining the pathways

The EAL Standards acknowledge the diversity in EAL students’ backgrounds and their varying points of entry to school by describing stages of EAL learning within three broad bands of schooling.

These stages describe the development of students who are literate in their first language and who have had educational experiences similar to those that would be expected for their age group.

Two additional stages are also included, to describe the initial learning of students who commence school in Australia after normal starting age, and who have little or no literacy in any language.  These are:

  • BL for middle/upper primary students
  • SL for secondary students.

The section below describes the pathways that students are likely to take, according to the research base for the continuum.

Years P–2

Some EAL students commence school at usual starting age with minimal or no exposure to English, and may have been born overseas or in Australia to parents from language backgrounds other than English. Others come to Australia from overseas and commence their English learning after school starting age. Some students may have started their EAL learning before arrival in Australia and may therefore be assessed on arrival at any point in the A Stages.

When a student commences school in years P–2 with little or no English, the typical path of their English language development will be as follows:

  • A1 beginning
  • A1 progressing towards
  • A1 Standard
  • A2 beginning
  • A2 progressing towards
  • A2 Standard.

EAL students in Year 2 may not have achieved Stage A2 by the end of Year 2. Such students should continue to have their progress measured using the EAL Continuum, moving on to the appropriate stage on the B scale.

EAL students in Years P–2 who have little prior experience with literacy or formal education in their first language may take longer to move through the A Stages than students who have had such experiences. This is likely to be particularly the case in reading and writing.

Years 3–6

When a student commences school in years 3–6 with little or no English, their language development would typically follow one of two pathways. The first is for students who have had age-equivalent schooling in a language other than English (Stage B1), and have some knowledge of literacy in that language, the other is for students with little or no experience of literacy in any language (Stage BL).

Students who are new arrivals who have had some school experience will typically follow this pathway:

  • B1 beginning
  • B1 progressing towards
  • B1 Standard
  • B2 beginning
  • B2 progressing towards
  • B2 Standard
  • B3 beginning
  • B3 progressing towards
  • B3 Standard.

Some students who may have started their EAL learning before arrival in Australia (or who move from the A Stages as they enter Year 3) may be assessed on arrival at any point in the B Stages.

The other pathway (beginning at Stage BL) is for students who have had disrupted or no schooling and have low or no literacy in any language, even their first. When students have reached BL Standard, they will usually be assessed for some time at Stage B1 (particularly for Reading and Writing), in order to pick up the extra skills and understandings they will need, in order to be assessed as B1 Standard. Note that the indicators for BL and B1 Speaking and Listening are very similar, as BL students can make quite fast progress in acquiring oral English.

Note that students moving from Stage BL Listening and Speaking may move into Stage B2 Listening and Speaking rather than Stage B1. In Reading and Writing the pathway is likely to be into Stage B1.

Students who have not achieved Stage B3 by the time they enter Year 7 will need to continue being assessed using the EAL VELS at the S Stages.

If they do reach B3, and begin to be assessed against the year level-appropriate Victorian Curriculum F - 10 English standard, they are likely to continue to exhibit some EAL features, and they will need extra scaffolding and support to continue to develop in English.

Years 7–10

Secondary EAL students enter school in Australia with a diverse range of educational backgrounds and prior experience with English.  Many will be encountering English for the first time. Others will have studied English in their primary or secondary schooling in their country of origin. Some may have had no schooling in their first language. Such students may speak languages that do not have a written form. For others, it will be because they have fled their country of origin, and have spent many years in refugee camps or other countries where education was not available to them. These students first need to acquire oral English and basic literacy in English, and will be assessed in Stage SL before moving to Stage S1.  EAL teachers report that many of these students acquire oral English very quickly, because of the different aural and memory capacities they have developed through growing up without access to the written word.

Most secondary EAL students at the higher levels on the continuum, S2 to S4, will be found in mainstream secondary classrooms.

The pathways for secondary students may be similar to those for middle and upper primary, as follows.

Students with literacy in their first language:

  • S1 beginning
  • S1 progressing towards
  • S1 Standard
  • S2 beginning
  • S2 progressing towards
  • S2 Standard
  • S3 beginning
  • S3 progressing towards
  • S3 Standard
  • S4 beginning
  • S4 progressing towards
  • S4 Standard.

Note that students moving from Stage SL Listening and Speaking may move into Stage S2 Listening and Speaking, rather than Stage S1. In Reading and Writing the pathway is likely to be into Stage S1.


Cummins, J. (1996). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society. Ontario, CA : California Association for Bilingual Education.

Yates, L., de Courcy, M. and Nicholas, H. (2007, April) The complex mix of social and cognitive influences in the course of English language development among three age groups of Iraqi refugees. Paper presented at the conference, ‘Social and Cognitive Aspects of Second Language Learning and Teaching’, hosted by the University of Auckland, April 11-14, 2007.