WA making EAL/D courses more equitable

WA making EAL/D courses more equitable

A report commissioned by the WA School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) in 2021 has made entry criteria into Year 11 and 12 ATAR English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) courses more fair and equitable, putting them ahead of the game in Australia.

The report, written by Associate Professor Toni Dobinson from Curtin University, with assistance from Stephanie Dryden also from Curtin, has been a long time coming and is a big step forward for WA. It recommends that many more aspects of students’ backgrounds and experiences be considered when deciding who can gain entry into the course and who cannot.

Associate Professor Dobinson said that the criteria that was in place worked against EAL/D students entering the course and did not consider the complex nature of learning a language.

Previously, entry was decided by what they called the “seven-year rule” which stated that applicants:

  • could not have been a resident in Australia or another predominantly English-speaking country for a total period of more than seven years prior to 1 January of the year that he/she/they were a final year student.
  • had to declare that English had not been the main medium of course delivery for a total period of more than seven years prior to the year that he/she/they was a final-year student at the school/s attended.”

The new criteria for 2023 takes into account the complex nature of learning a language and the fact that students might have had serious disruptions and interruptions to their English language learning but still had seven years of learning in total. It also considers research which shows that it can take students up to ten years of learning English in educational settings to develop communicative academic language proficiency (CALP) with their being a chance that they may not develop it at all.  

Even if students have learned their subjects in English, the quality and extent of the learning might be questionable, especially if this occurred overseas with teachers whose English level was not much higher than that of the students.  

The age at which a student learned English might also have an impact on their rate of learning. Is learning a language for 7 years from age 2 as effective as learning from age 7 or age 10, for instance? Research has also shown that socio-economic class, poverty,  trauma and disability can have indirect influences on language learning so should low SES migrants, refugees and those with disabilities all be judged in the same way using the same “seven year rule”?

On the ground, SCSA were also struggling with many applications that did not fit neatly into the “seven year rule”. If a student takes a year away from schooling in Malaysia and spends a year in London, what are the estimates of how many years of English language they have had? Are they still eligible to take the EAL/D course?

Added to this was the growing numbers of students wanting to take the course both locally and internationally in countries where they use the Australian ATAR course as their entry into university. This put a lot of pressure on SCSA’s resources. Secondary schools have now been given a much bigger role in assessing their own students to ease this pressure and provide more informed judgements.

Changes to the rules for entry into EAL/D Year 11 and 12 ATAR courses have been welcomed by all concerned and promise to ensure more equitable, fair selection which will enable EAL/D students wishing to enter universities or workplaces either locally or internationally to achieve their dreams. 

This article was written by Associate Professor Toni Dobinson, Curtin University’s Coordinator of Post Graduate Programs in Applied Linguistics, including the MA Applied Linguistics, the MTESOL and the Graduate Certificate in TESOL. She is also the Discipline lead for Applied Linguistics/TESOL and Languages.