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Expert comment: Axing English language assessment for multilingual schoolchildren ‘an unnecessary own goal’ – University of Reading

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Expert comment: Axing English language assessment for multilingual schoolchildren ‘an unnecessary own goal’

Release Date 03 July 2018

The decision to axe English language proficiency assessments for multilingual schoolchildren has been criticised

In guidance for schools issued last week, the Department for Education (DfE) announced the removal of mandatory reporting of English language proficiency for children who have English as an additional language (EAL).

The DfE proficiency scales were introduced in September 2016. Since they became policy, schools have for the first time been expected to collect meaningful data about their EAL learners’ proficiency in English – a move that was welcomed by many academics and experts in the field.

It is thought that the move to end these asessments was because collection of proficiency data was associated with highly contentious collection of data related to children’s nationalities and countries of birth, but there has been no statement to this effect.

Dr Naomi Flynn, Associate Professor of Primary English Education at the University of Reading, said: “This is a missed golden opportunity to make a big difference in migrant children’s educational outcomes. At a time when the Government is being attacked for its hostile migration policy, this feels like something of an unnecessary own goal."

Research has identified that proficiency in English is pivotal to pupils’ capacity to access the curriculum and therefore a vital aspect that teachers can take account of in their planning. The removal of this yet untested system of making judgements about proficiency is described by the highly-regarded EAL organisation, the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC), as ‘a retrograde step’ that it asks the government to reconsider.


Dr Flynn, with colleague Professor Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen of the University of Bath, tracked teachers’ understanding and application of these scales using the EAL Teachers in England Survey during 2017. Outcomes suggested that, although many teachers had yet to get their heads around how the proficiency scales could be applied, others saw their benefits and were using them to inform both teaching and assessment of their EAL learners.

Dr Flynn, who also serves on NALDIC’s executive committee, said: “The proficiency scales received mixed responses, but our survey indicated that policy takes time to become enacted and time has been called too quickly on these assessment scales.

“Given that 20% of the primary school and 16% of the secondary school population have English as an additional language, it is extraordinary that assessment targeted at knowing more about them, and maximising their opportunities, has been removed.”

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