This project explores the reasons behind one of the findings of the English Impact project in Madrid (O’Sullivan, Dunn & Iwaniec, 2018), namely why the differences in English language proficiency and motivation between students from lower and higher socio-economic backgrounds are smaller in the context of bilingual schools than in non-bilingual schools.

To this end, a mixed-methods investigation was carried out with 348 fifteen-year-old students filling in a questionnaire and 77 further students participating in focus group interviews. Whereas the results of the questionnaire show that students in bilingual schools find their teachers less motivating than their peers in non-bilingual schools, the focus groups reveal that this characteristic of teachers is not so important for the former group, who instead value teacher professionalism.

Bilingual learners also appear to be more goal-driven and ambitious in their expectations of themselves. They appreciate that education in English requires more effort, but that it comes with a reward they value, as they see English as a door-opener for their future studies and careers.

In contrast, learners from non-bilingual schools not only tend to stop investing effort when they feel they achieve marks that are good enough, but they are also less confident with their performance and rely more on their teachers’ support.

The study shows that bilingual schooling creates a set condition that enables students to develop certain characteristics that allow them to thrive.