An investigation into the effect of the Skills for Life Strategy on assessment and classroom practices in ESOL teaching in England

Horak, Tania orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7461-8378 (2012) An investigation into the effect of the Skills for Life Strategy on assessment and classroom practices in ESOL teaching in England. Doctoral thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of PhD Thesis]
PDF (PhD Thesis) - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.


Official URL:


This study investigates the impact of the Skills for Life Strategy (2001) on assessment practices in ESOL teaching in England, and whether these assessments resulted in any washback. In this qualitative study, the Henrichsen (1989) model of the diffusion of innovation acted as the framework to explore the assessment of ESOL students in 3 further education colleges in the UK, using interviews and observations. The research found that due to the Strategy, assessment became considerably more standardised, with the focus falling on a range of external exams, although the effects of internal measures such as Independent Learning Plans was also noted. While washback was detected, mostly in the form of changes in staff-student relationships, the ‘double accounting’ of students preparing to sit the Skills for Life exams as well as other exams, and to some degree more of a focus on accuracy in classroom work, the washback was not particularly strong. This was attributed to the timing of the study, being relatively close to the introduction of the new range of exams. The washback was also noted to be differential, namely, that the washback was not uniform across the sites studied. Factors to explain this were investigated, including the variability of the stakes for various stakeholders, features of the teachers themselves, the quality and nature of the communication of the changes and finally other factors, as suggested by the Henrichsen model. The latter suggested some distortion of the aims of assessment cause by perceived pressure to reach targets to secure funding. The results suggested there was considerable variability, leading to the conclusion that washback studies, which are vital for monitoring exams, need to avoid being simplistic and thus missing key factors which illuminate contextual detail. The nature of washback can easily be masked by superficial investigation.

Repository Staff Only: item control page