Steps for a Successful Transition for New Arrivals

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Steps for a Successful Transition for New Arrivals

It’s the beginning of a new academic year – you come in for your inset day, and find out that you have two new starters in your class. One is an English as an Additional Language (EAL) new arrival. What does this mean – for them and for you?

What is a new arrival?

“New arrivals can be described as:

  • International migrants – including refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from overseas or children of people working or studying in the UK.
  • Internal migrants – including pupils joining the school as a result of moving home within the UK, for example, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils.
  • Institutional movers – pupils who change schools without moving home, including exclusions and voluntary transfers.
  • Individual movers – pupils who move without their family, for example, looked-after children and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.”

(New Arrivals Excellence Programme, 2007)

Often, we use the term ‘new arrival’ to describe international migrants. Such new arrivals are the focus of this article.

Diverse backgrounds

Learners classed as ‘new arrivals’ arrive at schools from incredibly diverse backgrounds and with highly varied educational experiences. They will not necessarily be new-to-English: learners’ proficiency levels could range from absolute beginner to fluent. Some may have experienced a high level of education and full schooling; others may have had interrupted or no previous schooling at all – and may not even be literate in their home language.

Depending on their background, they may have moved schools within the same city or country, arrived from a very stable and secure country, or been forced to flee events in their home regions. It is important that all these factors are taken into account, to ensure that all learners are provided with the safety, security, opportunities and education that are their right. It is vital to remember that not only are some new arrivals starting a new school, but a new school in a new country, where the language, cultures and customs may be very different.

Preparing for new arrivals

To ensure a successful experience for new arrivals in a school, it is helpful if the process of induction starts before their first day. So that teachers can respond properly to learners’ individual needs, it is wise to be aware of the key points of their educational background. Collection of data on this should begin at enrolment/admissions.

Below are some essential steps you can take to ensure that new arrivals are properly welcomed and that their transitions and learning are successful.

Admissions/enrolment procedure

Where possible, the admissions procedure should include interviews and meetings with parents/carers to ask about and obtain an understanding of the learner’s past education and experiences, as indicated below. If needed, a translator should be present. Try to find out as much as you can about the learner’s:

  • development of mother tongue
  • proficiency in/exposure to other languages
  • reasons for transition
  • periods without school
  • life prior to arrival
  • cultural expectations of school life

Consider questions such as:

  • Has there been an opportunity, prior to the start date, for the learner and parents/carers to come into school to have a tour and meet the teachers and the EAL coordinator?
  • Has there been an opportunity for a home visit?
  • Do you have access to a translator?

At these meetings:

  • Agree a timetable, perhaps incorporating staggered starts.
  • Discuss language support opportunities at the school.
  • Go through all the relevant school information and ensure parents have access to school procedures and expectations (if needed, are these translated?).
  • Introduce a welcome booklet. We have prepared a customisable welcome booklet that you can download for free by clicking on the buttons at the top and bottom of this article.
  • Give parents/carers an opportunity to ask any questions they may have.

After these meetings:

  • Ensure the relevant information is passed to class teachers and key members of staff.
  • If extra language or pastoral support is needed in or out of class, work out who will be available to provide this and when – and inform the parents.
  • Prepare a welcome pack with visual resources to guide the new arrival in their first few days and week.

Considering the parents

It is important to remember that it is not just the learners who are new arrivals – their parents may also be experiencing a similar transition, but unlike the children, with little or no support.

“The learner’s family may be the only group of people who truly understand their transition. The parents may have very little understanding of what happens in an English-speaking school or the approach you have to education. Parental involvement will help you to understand more about the child’s life as well as build a valuable rapport and level of trust between all parties.”

(Scott, 2012)

Read our article Ideas to engage newly arrived parents for ideas on how to engage the parents of new arrivals and help them to become part of the school and local community.

Welcoming new arrivals

As much as possible, try to ease new arrivals into life at school gently. New arrivals come to our schools for a range of reasons and from a variety of educational backgrounds – but in most cases, it’s not necessary to immediately conduct an assessment of their abilities. In fact, this can be counterproductive. Assessment will be far more successful if it is done once a learner is more settled in the school and ready to learn. Once you have succeeded with this transition, you – and they – will be ready for the next steps.

Preparing your classroom

Make your classroom a welcoming place for your learners. Consider the following to help your learners feel welcome:

  • Make welcome posters in all the languages spoken in the classroom.
  • Label key items around the school and classroom with an image and the word in the learner’s home language and English (this can be a good activity for new arrivals and their buddies to do together, but having a few labels in place prior to them starting will offer a welcome).
  • If a new arrival has mentioned a favourite book in their language profile, try to have this in place in the book area.
  • Make sure the new arrival’s name is added to any name lists you have displayed around the room – for example, a birthday list.
  • Ensure the new arrival’s drawer, books and bilingual dictionaries are ready.
  • Ensure they are set up with usernames and passwords for education software.

Preparing your class

You should also let your class know that there will be a new person starting in the class. Talk to the class about the learner’s home country and language. With sensitivity, discuss how they would feel if they were in the shoes of the new arrival, and how they can help the newcomer feel settled.

Arrange for one, two or even three members of the class to take on a buddy role. This is an important job and it is essential that students know what it entails. Discuss with the students how to support them in their role. Think about activities and places they can go to with the new arrival at lunch and break times if the playground is too overwhelming. If possible, choose one buddy who speaks the same language.

Finally, aim to create an environment where multilingualism is celebrated – starting by recognising and celebrating the languages spoken in your classroom.

Ongoing support

You will, of course, need to provide your new arrivals with ongoing support. Encourage your EAL learners to use their home languages to support their learning. Thinking about concepts in their home language ahead of time can support their understanding before they access these concepts in English.

If your new arrival comes to school with little or no English, it is useful to provide a scheme of work that supports them with functional English language learning alongside the curriculum lessons that you teach.

EAL Assessment

Once settled at the school, an initial EAL Assessment can be completed and plans for next steps made.

In order to successfully access the curriculum and feel motivated and engaged, learners will require curriculum support. This can be delivered outside the classroom by pre-teaching key vocabulary and language structures, or provided inside the classroom through differentiated, scaffolded support.


Think about opportunities and strategies to pre-teach key vocabulary and give opportunities for learners to access and rehearse texts prior to meeting them in class.

  • “Introduce key language and content that students need to read and understand before they read the text
  • model reading strategies, and scaffolds using vocabulary organizers, questions or text manipulation activities to decode texts and develop comprehension
  • support learners to review key learning after reading and viewing. Reviewing or after-reading activities can include recasting elements of the text into new genres, contexts, or with new content.”

(Gibbons, 2002)

On a regular basis:

  • Review the progress EAL learners are making, and adapt and adjust support when a need is identified.
  • Reflect on the quality of the provision you have put in place.

Finally, spread the word! A whole-school approach to teaching EAL will ensure the effective EAL strategies noted here are used across the school, in every lesson.

Toolkit for new arrivals

We have prepared a useful toolkit with resources providing classroom instructions, lists of useful vocabulary and translations, a note of basic verbs, a diary template, and more.

School language profile

EAL scheme of work

Effective EAL support poster

Parent introduction card

Review and reflect document

Welcome booklet

Feelings flashcards

New arrival diary template

Survival language helpers (primary)

Survival language helpers (secondary)

Bilingual vocabulary sheet



Cummins, J. (2001). Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education? Sprogforum, 7(19), 15-20.

Department for Education (2007). New Arrivals Excellence Programme Guidance Primary and Secondary National Strategies. Available at naep.pdf (

García, O. (2009). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Basil/Blackwell.

Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Scott, C. (2012). Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File. London: Routledge.

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