Assessing Language Skills at Secondary School

What is the problem?

Language proficiency is a major determinant of academic success, life chances and wellbeing. At secondary school, language can create even more of a barrier, as it becomes more challenging: vocabulary is more specialised, and texts are increasingly complex. At the same time, independent reading becomes essential to access the curriculum. Yet, one in six adolescents experience difficulties with reading, and one in five experience difficulties with language in general. The proportion is higher still in deprived areas.

Very little research exists on the language abilities of secondary school pupils. There is also no standardised language assessment tool for children who have English as an additional language (EAL). As a result, there is a lack of resources for schools to identify and support those struggling with language.

What did we do?

We have developed a new, online and automated reading task to identify struggling readers at KS3 and to identify the source of their difficulties. We have integrated it in a battery of tests which is currently being rolled out in secondary schools in Bradford, alongside a language background questionnaire for EAL pupils. This will allow us to investigate the impact of deprivation and EAL on language outcomes, as a first step towards providing a benchmark to inform schools’ language assessment at KS3.

What are the implications for policy / practice?

Free, automated assessment will enable large-scale testing to investigate the links between language skills and other aspects of performance, health and well-being at KS3. It will also help schools draw up language profiles to better target support for their pupils.

Stage of Research

All CAER research follows an ‘education translation pipeline’  to ensure that promising scientific research is translated rapidly but safely into policy, identifying important contextual factors for effective implementation, and allowing the best possible evidence to underpin decision-making.

Meet the Team

Dr Lydia Gunning

Professor Cécile De Cat

Dr Ekaterini Klepousniotou