From the Margins to the Centre: Multilingual Teachers in a Monolingual System: Professional Identities, Skills and Knowledge

  • Jean Conteh


This chapter considers multilingualism in the education system in England from the perspectives of multilingual professionals working in mainstream primary and secondary schools. The main argument is that multilingualism must be regarded as a pedagogic resource for teachers as well as learners in order to promote academic achievement for learners, professional recognition for teachers and social justice for all. Despite the huge changes in British society over the recent years, which have led to the ever-increasing numbers of ‘EAL’ (English as an additional language) pupils in mainstream schools, language diversity is still largely regarded as a ‘problem’ in education (Safford and Drury 2013). ‘EAL’ is the term used in policy to categorise those pupils in state-funded schools in England whose first language is other than English. The latest statistics show that the number of such pupils now surpasses 1 million, with 18.7 per cent of pupils in primary schools and 14.3 per cent in secondary schools categorised as EAL. Despite this, teacher expertise and confidence related to language and cultural diversity is still very limited. Moreover, the numbers of qualified multilingual, minority ethnic teachers have not really changed over recent years. The latest available figures (DfE 2014), which indicate ethnicity using National Census categories rather than language, show that about 12.5 per cent of teachers are not from ‘White British’ backgrounds, which is a crude indication at best. Since 2004, many skilled and experienced education practitioners have moved to the UK from EU accession countries. Because many lack accredited qualifications to become teachers, they currently fill low-status posts in schools. They are often given responsibility for EAL learners, but, in most settings, they do not have the professional status, nor the development opportunities to use their expertise to the fullest.


  1. Blackledge, A., & Creese, A. (2010). Multilingualism: A critical perspective. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  2. Bourne, J. (2001). Doing “what comes naturally”: How the discourses and routines of teachers’ practice constrain opportunities for bilingual support in UK primary schools. Language and Education, 15(4), 250–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Braine, G. (Ed.). (1999). Non-native educators in English language teaching. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  4. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cajkler, W., & Hall, B. (2012). Multilingual primary classrooms: An investigation of first year teachers’ learning and responsive teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 35(2), 213–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Callender, C. (1997). Education for empowerment: The practice and philosophies of black teachers. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.Google Scholar
  7. Cameron, D. (2011, February 5). Speech at Munich Security Conference. Date Accessed 5 Jan 2016.
  8. Carrington, B., Bonnett, A., Nayak, A., Skelton, C., Smith, F., Tomlin, R., Short, G., & Demaine, J. (2000). The recruitment of new teachers from minority ethnic groups. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 10(1), 3–22.Google Scholar
  9. Conteh, J. (2007a). Opening doors to success in multilingual classrooms: Bilingualism, codeswitching and the professional identities of “ethnic minority” primary teachers. Language and Education, 21(6), 457–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Conteh, J. (2007b). Bilingualism in mainstream primary classrooms in England. In Z. Hua, P. Seedhouse, L. Wei, & V. Cook (Eds.), Language learning and teaching as social interaction (pp. 185–198). London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Conteh, J. (2010). Making links across complementary and mainstream classrooms for primary children and their teachers. In V. Lytra & P. Martin (Eds.), Sites of multilingualism: Complementary schools in Britain today (pp. 149–160). Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.Google Scholar
  12. Conteh, J. (2015). “Funds of knowledge” for achievement and success: Multilingual pedagogies for mainstream primary classrooms in England. In P. Seedhouse & C. Jenks (Eds.), International perspectives on ELT classroom interaction (pp. 49–63). London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Conteh, J., & Meier, G. (Eds.). (2014). The multilingual turn in languages education: Opportunities and challenges. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  14. Conteh, J., & Riasat, S. (2014). A multilingual learning community: Researching funds of knowledge with children, families and teachers. Multilingua Special Double Issue, 33(5–6), 601–622.Google Scholar
  15. Conteh, J., & Toyoshima, S. (2005). Researching teaching and learning: Roles, identities and interview processes. English Teaching Practice and Critique, 4(2), 23–34.
  16. Conteh, J., Copland, F., & Creese, A. (2014). Multilingual teachers’ resources in three different contexts: Empowering learning. In J. Conteh & G. Meier (Eds.), The multilingual turn in languages education: Opportunities and challenges (pp. 158–178). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  17. Creese, A. (2004). Bilingual teachers in mainstream secondary school classrooms: Using Turkish for curriculum teaching. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 7(2–3), 189–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cunningham, M., & Hargreaves, L. (2007). Minority ethnic teachers’ professional experiences: Evidence from the teacher status project (DfES Research Report RR 853). London.Google Scholar
  19. Department for Education (DfE). (2014). School workforce in England: November 2014.
  20. Department of Education and Science (DES). (1975). A language for life (The Bullock Report). London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.Google Scholar
  21. Department of Education and Science (DES). (1985). Education for all – The report of the committee of inquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups (The Swann Report). London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.Google Scholar
  22. Ghuman, P. A. S. (1995). Asian teachers in British schools: A study of two generations. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  23. Gonzalez, N., Moll, L., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities and classrooms. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Hobson, A. J., Malderez, A., Tracey, L., Homer, M., et al. (2009). Becoming a teacher: Teachers’ experiences of initial teacher training, induction, and early professional development. Department for Children, Schools and Families Research Report DCSF-RR115.Google Scholar
  25. Holliday, A. (2006). Key concepts in ELT: Native-speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jenkins, J. (2006). Points of view and blind spots: ELF and SLA. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 16(2), 137–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. (1988). Education Reform Act 1988.
  28. Leung, C., Harris, R., & Rampton, B. (1997). The idealized native speaker, reified ethnicities and classroom realities. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 543–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Martin-Jones, M. (2007). Bilingualism, education and the regulation of access to language resources. In M. Heller (Ed.), Bilingualism: A social approach (pp. 161–181). London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Martin-Jones, M., & Saxena, M. (1995). Supporting or containing bilingualism? Policies, power asymmetries and pedagogic practices in mainstream primary classrooms. In J. Tollefson (Ed.), Power and inequality in language education (pp. 73–90). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Martin-Jones, M., & Saxena, M. (1996). Turn-taking, power asymmetries, and the positioning of bilingual participants in classroom discourse. Linguistics and Education, 8(1), 105–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martin-Jones, M., & Saxena, M. (2003). Bilingual resources and “funds of knowledge” for teaching and learning in multi-ethnic classrooms in Britain. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 6(3–4), 267–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. May, S. (Ed.). (2014). The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and bilingual education. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC). (2013). EAL and the initial training of teachers. Date Accessed 5 Jan 2016.
  35. Ortega, L. (2014). Ways forward for a bi-multilingual turn in SLA. In S. May (Ed.), The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and bilingual education (pp. 147–166). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Osborne, A. B. (1996). Practice into theory into practice: Culturally relevant pedagogy for students we have marginalized and normalized. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 27(3), 285–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Osler, A. (1997). The education and careers of black teachers: Changing identities, changing lives. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Pearce, S. (2012). Confronting dominant whiteness in the primary classroom: Progressive student teachers’ dilemmas and constraints. Oxford Review of Education, 38(4), 455–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Robertson, L., Drury, R., & Cable, C. (2014). Silencing bilingualism: A day in the life of a bilingual practitioner. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 17(5), 610–623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Safford, K., & Drury, R. (2013). The “problem” of bilingual children in education settings: Policy and research in England. Language and Education, 27(1), 70–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Safford, K., & Kelly, A. (2010). Linguistic capital of trainee teachers: Knowledge worth having? Language and Education, 24(5), 401–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Varghese, M., Morgan, B., Johnston, B., & Johnson, K. A. (2005). Theorizing language teacher identity: Three perspectives and beyond. Journal of Language, Identity and Education, 4(1), 21–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wallace, C., & Mallows, D. (2009). English as an Additional Language (EAL) provision in schools – Ten case studies. London: Institute of Education under contract from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).Google Scholar
  44. Woods, D. (1996). Teacher cognition in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean Conteh
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations