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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

What do key education documents say about English language learners?

The vision of New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is for all young people to be “confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners”. Particular curriculum principles that set the direction for a school’s support for English language learners are:

The curriculum is ... non-discriminatory; it ensures that students’ identities, languages, abilities and talents are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are met.

NZC p.9

The statement in the NZC that most clearly relates to the cross-curricular language learning needs of English language learners is from p. 16:  

Learning areas and language

Each learning area has its own language or languages. As students discover how to use them, they find they are able to think in different ways, access new areas of knowledge, and see their world from new perspectives.

For each area, students need specific help from their teachers as they learn:

  • the specialist vocabulary associated with that area
  • how to read and understand its texts
  • how to communicate knowledge and ideas in appropriate ways
  • how to listen and read critically, assessing the value of what they hear and read.

In addition to such help, students who are new learners of English or coming into an English-medium environment for the first time need explicit and extensive teaching of English vocabulary, word forms, sentence and text structures, and language uses.

As language is central to learning and English is the medium for most learning in the New Zealand Curriculum, the importance of literacy in English cannot be overstated. (NZC, p. 16)

Schools are accountable for English language learners through the National Administration Guidelines. For example, in  (NAG) 1: 

c) on the basis of good quality assessment information, identify students and groups of students:

i. who are not achieving;

ii. who are at risk of not achieving;

iii. who have special needs (including gifted and talented students); and

iv. aspects of the curriculum which require particular attention;

d) develop and implement teaching and learning strategies to address the needs 

of students and aspects of the curriculum identified in (c) above

Teachers are accountable for all ākonga. The interests of English language learners are highlighted in the  Practising Teacher Criteria Overarching Statement 3: 

In an increasingly multi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand, teachers need to be aware of and respect the languages, heritages and cultures of all ākonga.

What terminology is used when we talk about English language learners?

Students who are learning English as an additional language must be understood as being bilingual or multilingual, having rich heritages and often being able to read and write competently. By drawing on and strengthening students’ existing literacy, accelerated progress in developing English literacy can be expected.


Bi-lingual students

Acknowledges students’ (developing) languages strengths
ELLs English Language Learners (current common term)
BELLs/MELLs Bilingual/Multi-lingual English Language Learners 
NESB students Non-English Speaking Background students (out-dated term, only used in older documents)


A students’ status will impact on some of your decisions. Refer to Ministry of Education Circular 2012/01  Eligibility to enrol in New Zealand schools

Domestic students (permanent) Permanent Residents (PR) includes students with  Niuean, Tokelauan and Cook Island documentation as well as Australian passport holders
Domestic students (time-bound) Students who have valid study visas and other specified documentation associated with their parents’ work visa,  NZAid scholarship, military visa, asylum seeker or refugee status etc  (See  Eligibility to enrol in New Zealand schools  Appendix C)



For families on work permits the issue of gaining or not gaining residency or Citizenship (with a capital C) can be quite stressful. The word citizenship (with a small c) is often discussed in schools in quite general terms.


From a refugee background


Students who have New Zealand residency including those who have come as Quota Refugees (QR) should be understood as New Zealanders. These students are not refugees forever. A current preferred way of describing students is that they come from a refugee background. Asylum-seekers may have a letter saying that their residence is being considered.
FFP students International students The terms international students and foreign fee paying students are interchangeable.

Updated on: 15 Jul 2015