Language awareness in schools – Part of strengthening inclusive education

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Ensuring all learners can achieve their full potential, regardless of their socio-economic background or personal situation, is the backbone of inclusive education. The European Commission’s ‘Pathways to School Success’, under the European Education Area 2025, aims to address inequalities, improve educational outcomes for at-risk groups across Europe and increase attainment in secondary education. How does building ‘language awareness’ in schools relate to ‘Pathways to School Success’?

A key for equal opportunities 

The key objective of Pathways to School Success is to promote better educational outcomes for all young Europeans, irrespective of their personal characteristics, family, socio-economic and cultural background. Educational outcomes are traditionally measured in terms of ‘achievements’ (i.e., competences and skills developed) and ‘attainments’ (diplomas or certificate obtained after successfully completing a certain level of education). ‘Pathways’ also promotes a vision in which ‘success at school’ or ‘successful education’ is about learners’ reaching their full potential, whatever their personal story, situation and background.  

Linguistic diversity in schools across Europe continues to increase. Traditionally, language learning has focused on acquisition of the language of schooling, often neglecting the learner’s home language, an approach which can prove detrimental to students’ self-esteem and well-being, and ultimately their school success. 

Building school success on personal language skills 

Recognising students’ individual linguistic capital and using it as stepping-stones towards acquisition of better competences in the language of schooling is known to yield better academic results. This can be achieved by promoting the concept of ‘language awareness in schools and training institutions, which is about a multilingual and whole-school approach, engaging all teachers and school leaders, involving parents, other carers, and the wider local community. It includes understanding that learning in general is affected by the way school’s attitudes to languages interact with children’s use of language.  

Language awareness in schools was already a key concept set out in the Council Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages (2019). The new policy framework proposed by ‘Pathways to School Success’ further complements the Council recommendation by outlining some overarching conditions and proposes a set of policy measures to be implemented at system level and at school level to promote a whole-school approach.  

Specific actions for supporting language awareness in schools, as prevention or intervention measures, include:  

  • Ensure an early identification of development problems, language competences and special education needs, including social and emotional difficulties, as well as early detection of learners at risk of underachievement and drop out, whilst avoiding labelling and stigmatisation.  
  • Strengthen competence in the language(s) of schooling, while valuing and supporting the linguistic diversity of learners as a pedagogical resource for further learning and educational achievement. This may include, for example, assessment of prior language knowledge; strong support in the learner’s mother tongue and language of schooling; access to home language instruction; mechanisms to support transition between reception and mainstream classes at different levels of education.  
  • Support the acquisition of the language of schooling of refugees and newly arrived migrants through early immersion within mainstream classes and curricula, with additional one-to-one support provided at an appropriate level to accelerate social and academic learning. Continued access to linguistic and academic support and career guidance, along with parental engagement and intercultural education, can also play a key role. 
  • Encouraging learners to reflect on norms, values and attitudes towards language and cultural diversity, including by discovering all the languages spoken within the school community, involving parents and families, carers and the wider community in language education, creating libraries with resources in different languages or facilitate after-school language activities. 

Further information on the European Education Area website: 

Inspiring practices: