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Top Tips for Educational Leaders to Support English Language Learners in Primary Schools

Hi everyone

I have been pondering what good leadership for ELLs in a school would look like so today I am sharing my own tips for School leaders.

However I am a little hesitant as I know that the advice I provide may not be appropriate for all schools depending upon the size of the school and the number of ELLs that they have, geographical location etc. I am also hesitant as schools may think that these are the only things that need to be done. No list will ever be exhaustive there is always more we can do. I would like to think that leaders and teachers continue to observe, implement an intervention and measure its’ success on student outcomes. I also believe however that if you implement these tips you will enable most ELLs at your school to flourish in their learning and well-being.

If your school is not yet managing to do everything on the list I would encourage you to make a start and begin to implement at least one of the tips.

I would appreciate your feedback and thoughts, have I got it right or have I overlooked something? Does it strike an accord with you or have I missed the mark? Please share your comments so we can collaborate and create something we can all be reasonably happy with. (You will notice I have not put a number on the number of tips this time!)

 Top Tips for Educational Leaders to Support English Language Learners in Primary Schools Please note these tips are in no particular order.

 1.         Develop an ESOL policy and review it regularly.

This document will set the direction and tone for the school wide provision of support for English language learners (ELLs). Gaylene Price wrote a document which provides an outline of the sorts of considerations that a school might consider as they go about writing a policy or procedure document for ESOL. It is intended to be used as a model or starting point only. A school policy is the means by which a school indicates an intention to act in certain ways. It is based on the beliefs and values that are important to the community of the school. By agreeing on a policy and documenting it, a school indicates a willingness to identify certain needs and allocate certain resources to ensure that those needs are met. You can download her document from this page http://esolonline.tki.org.nz/ESOL-Online/Teacher-needs/Teacher-resource-exchange/ESOL/Years-1-4/An-example-of-a-School-Procedure-document

 2.         Have specific, measurable goals and achievement targets for ELLs in your annual school plan.

 3.         Track and report student English Language learning progress on The English Language Learning Progressions, as well as in relation to the reading, writing and mathematics national standards.

This information should be reported on to the Board of Trustees and to the MOE. Schools should also differentiate where possible, progress for different ethnic groups to ensure that all ELLs in your school are experiencing success. (You could also consider for migrant, refugee or international student sub-groups). Progress should be monitored regularly each six months. Ensure the same assessments are repeated to track progress over time. The data collected should be analysed and summarized. The information, as well as observations of the student should be used to make an ‘overall teacher judgment’ and record the student’s ‘best fit’ stage of English language on The English Language Learning Progressions. A Record of Progress should be kept which outlines the cumulative data across the student’s time at school as an ESOL funded student.  The aim is to ensure that every student is making accelerated language progress and is on track to catch-up with their cohort peers. Students should be continued to be monitored once they no-longer receive ESOL funding to ensure that they continue to make progress.

If an ELL is not making expected progress then investigate whether there is also another learning need. A first language assessment may be required. See http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/EnglishForSpeakersOfOtherLanguages/FundingSupportInitiatives/BAS.aspx .

Repot to parents regularly on the student’s language progress as well as in each curriculum learning area.

 4.         Develop ESOL support programmes as necessary to ensure student achievement which are linked as closely as possible to the mainstream classroom programmes.

An appropriate ESOL support programme will be developed by the ESOL leader in consultation with classroom teachers. See the MOE Guidelines http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/EnglishForSpeakersOfOtherLanguages/FundingSupportInitiatives/UseOfFunding.aspx and the MOE ESOL Information for Schools folder (green).

 5.         Whenever possible, employ TESOL qualified, fully trained teachers to provide the specialist support programmes for English language learners who qualify for MOE ESOL funding. If this is not possible then provide ESOL training for teacher aides working with ELLs.

I believe students who need to make progress to catch-up whether that is language support or learning support in reading, maths, etc. deserve the best teachers available to teach them. There is a wide range of qualifications available so do the research when interviewing candidates and know the difference. Or encourage the teacher employed to apply for a TESSOL scholarship to gain additional qualifications. You will find all the necessary information on this page http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/EnglishForSpeakersOfOtherLanguages/ProfessionalDevelopment/TESSOL.aspx

If you do not have sufficient funding to support a fully qualified teacher and make the decision to use teacher aides then help them to receive appropriate ESOL training. The Ministry provides several teacher aide training programmes please go to this page to find out more http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/EnglishForSpeakersOfOtherLanguages/ProfessionalDevelopment/WorkingWithEnglishLanguageLearners.aspx.

Value these teachers and provide sufficient resourcing and a suitable teaching environment.

 6.         Set an expectation that all classroom teachers will identify and state the key vocabulary and language structures to scaffold the teaching of all students, including new learners of English across all curriculum learning areas.

Classroom programmes will be modified to cater for the language needs of the ESOL learner as necessary. Students from diverse language backgrounds need many and varied opportunities to use their new language (English) and link to their prior knowledge in small groups and in meaningful situations according to their needs. The use of collaborative learning tasks should be encouraged and appropriate scaffolding be put in place so all students can access the curriculum. Teachers should be very familiar with the ESOL principles and appropriate ESOL learning strategies see http://esolonline.tki.org.nz/ESOL-Online/Teacher-needs/Pedagogy and also with MOE ESOL resources such as Supporting English Language Learners in Primary Schools (SELLIPS), English language Intensive programme (ELIP) and the Making Language and Learning Work DVDs. The Supporting English Language Learners: Resources and Programmes PowerPoint is regularly updated to show all the resources available you can download it from this page http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/EnglishForSpeakersOfOtherLanguages/MaterialsResources/ESOLResourcesPowerpoint.aspx.   


Provide opportunities for regular ESOL Professional Development for all staff as required. 

 7.         The school will place equal importance on each child's home languages and cultural backgrounds so that children have a supportive and effective environment in which to learn.

Teachers should plan to teach using a culturally responsive approach so students can build upon what they already know and bring to the classroom. This way everyone can contribute their own ideas and experiences to the learning and benefit from learning from others.  

The school physical environment should reflect a wide variety of cultures (bilingual labelling of displays, art displays from different cultures, children's own publications, resources, bilingual books in the school library etc.)

 ELLs need to be secure in using their first language(s) (L1) as it provides the pegs to hang the second language onto. Research has also shown the benefits of being bilingual. In any school situation the use of a student’s home language should be encouraged and fostered within classrooms and across the school.  Support should also be provided to help students to continue to develop their first language literacy. Consider the provision of bilingual teacher aides and access to L1 tuition being available at school. (Even if it is in an after school programme.)

 Whenever possible the school will provide interpreters for parents (and children) especially at critical times such as enrolment, parent interviews etc.

 8.         Develop robust enrolment procedures

Develop enrolment procedures which are clear about what information is required for each of these categories of students.

(i)                The enrolment process for students with permanent residence

(ii)               The enrolment process for students who have refugee status

(iii)              The enrolment process for students whose parents have work permits

(iv)              The enrolment process for non-resident fee-paying students (Refer to Code of Practice for international students.)

Ensure that the enrolment form has noted the ethnicity and languages spoken at home. Encourage the family to bring their own interpreter if necessary or arrange for an interpreter to be present. Gaylene Price has provided clear information on the type of procedures and information required in this document   http://esolonline.tki.org.nz/ESOL-Online/Teacher-needs/Teacher-resource-exchange/ESOL/Years-1-4/An-example-of-a-School-Procedure-document

For children who are eligible, progress and achievement will be reported to parents using the English Language Learning Progressions as a pathway to expectations.

 9.         Develop Home-school-partnerships (HSP) with your diverse community groups and ensure that two-way learning is taking place.

The research is clear that HSPs make a difference to student learning. The MOE Home School partnership page has a lot of information for schools thinking about developing an HSP see http://home-schoolpartnerships.tki.org.nz/ .

Connecting with school is often more difficult for parents and families who speak a language other than English as their first language. Also when the culture of school in New Zealand can also be very different from what they are familiar with. Schools need to reach out and help them to build connections and to know how they can best support their child at home. Schools also need to learn from parents about the students home literacy practices, culture and way of doing things.

There are translated booklets and leaflets that can be helpful see Supporting your child’s learning and How well is my child doing? These can be found on


 10.       Encourage and support students and their families to access continuous learning via the use of technology /ICT and community resources.

Often new migrants are highly motivated to learn English and parents want their children to succeed and do well. Leverage from this by assisting them to access good English language and literacy material online.  Make recommendations of useful sites, suggest material and follow up what they are doing. There are many worthwhile programmes such as Studyladder where students can continue their own learning of English from home. This can increase acceleration of learning and reduce the summer learning loss.

If there is no access to a computer then libraries can be a great resource and often have free use of computers. Or send home reading material in both their first language and in English etc. Suggest other ways that parents can assist their child to participate in using English such as TV, movies, signs, a playdate etc.



a)     In light of these tips is there anything new that my school should think about implementing? If there is more than one which would be the highest priority?

b)    What actions do I need to take in order to implement this?

c)     Who can I get advice or help from? Does my staff need additional professional learning and development in teaching ELLs? (This can be provided through the Literacy and English language learning PLD contracts to access this contact your regional MOE see http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/SpecialEducation/PublicationsAndResources/ResourcesForEducators/AQuickGuideToExtraSupport/LiteracySupport/LiteracyTeaching.aspx )