Removal of the DfE Proficiency Scales: A missed opportunity

Naomi Flynn is Associate Professor of Primary English Education at the University of Reading. She recently conducted a study into teachers’ perceptions about policy and practice in EAL. One of the key findings was that policy enactment in practice may be divorced from policy makers’ intentions. As if by zemblanity the publication of Naomi’s paper coincided with the removal of the one piece of substantive EAL legislation enacted by government since 2010 – the requirement to assess and track the English proficiency of EAL learners. NALDIC’s official response to this retrograde step can be read here. Naomi provides her thoughts below.

Naomi Flynn

Naomi Flynn

When our recent article examining policy and practice for EAL (Flynn and Curdt-Christiansen, 2018) was published this summer I was staggered that it coincided with the removal of the mandatory requirement for schools to measure and report their EAL learners’ English proficiency. Outcomes from The EAL Teachers in England survey indicated that teachers who were positively disposed towards the DfE Proficiency Scales were also likely to use them as a planning and diagnostic tool to support effective practice for their EAL learners. Conversely, although perhaps unsurprising to many of us, there were a significant number of teachers who did not know about the proficiency scales in what was their first year of implementation. These findings suggest that there was clear potential for the proficiency scales to positively influence the teaching of EAL learners, but that they needed more time to bed down in practice. Ministers’ decision to remove them before they had been given a chance to effect change was a serious missed opportunity and an own goal.

In the items from the survey reported in our article we asked teachers to answer questions about their understanding and use of EAL-related policy pre and post 2010. At the same time we analysed the discourse of EAL policy documentation from the same time periods in order that we could build a picture of whether policymakers’ intentions are enacted in practice. What we found was a mixed picture of teachers who use documentation related to the teaching of EAL from either time period – in other words from governments of different political persuasion. Interestingly there was no relationship between how long teachers had been teaching and whether they drew on the limited guidance published since 2010 or on the substantial range of material printed between 2003 and 2009. That said, the majority of respondents said that they were much more likely to turn to experienced colleagues for help with their EAL teaching than to access EAL policy; indeed there were some who said they were unaware that there was any policy, as such, for EAL. So, although we found some loss of vision for a diverse and multilingual society in both the brevity and the discourse of EAL policy since 2010, we also concluded that teachers were not necessarily inclined to engage with policy regardless of its intentions.

But the DfE Proficiency Scales were different from the aspirations of any UK policymakers to date. They put forward for the first time a requirement for assessment of language proficiency that could have and would have been valuable for EAL learners and their teachers. Given the battering the current government has already received over its hostile migration policy, it is truly baffling that they would remove an opportunity to show that they care about the academic success of multilingual children. On a recent trip to some fabulous multilingual classrooms in the US I learned that all teachers in all states must annually assess and report on their students’ English language proficiency using WIDA’s, or other, assessment model. That we are now required to do less in monitoring the progress of our EAL learners than is mandated in Trump’s America is frankly disgraceful.

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