Assessment, Teaching and Learning in MFL: investigating and developing practice at Key Stage 3


The assessment framework for Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) at Key Stage 3 prescribed by the previous National Curriculum became deeply embedded in schools’ practice, yet was widely criticized for the questionable model of progression it enshrined.  This arguably resulted in a powerful negative washback effect on classroom teaching, promoting pedagogical approaches which were inconsistent with – or indeed ran counter to – evidence from research into Second Language Acquisition.  In turn, these pedagogical approaches may have contributed to the widely-reported problems of low student motivation, low uptake and poor outcomes in MFL nationally.

Responding to these issues, a consortium of local researchers and teachers developed an alternative ‘Pedagogical Assessment Framework’ (PAF) as part of a wider knowledge exchange project, funded by the ESRC.  A key aim of the new framework was to facilitate more research-informed approaches to MFL teaching.  The PAF is innovative in assessing both students’ overall proficiency in each skill (e.g. reading) and the knowledge, sub-skills and behaviours which underpin it (e.g. vocabulary knowledge, strategic behaviour), with the latter strand of assessment providing a basis for formative feedback to students.

Subsequently, the lack of any prescribed assessment framework within the new National Curriculum (launched 2013) has led to a diversification of practice in schools, with some continuing to use the old National Curriculum framework whilst others use modified versions of it or alternative frameworks.  This poses problems in terms of both (a) understanding and benchmarking MFL students’ progress nationally and (b) the professional learning of beginning teachers, who may develop expertise in school-specific assessment frameworks with limited transferability to other contexts.  Discussions with MFL mentors working within the OUDE partnership indicated that there was widespread concern and dissatisfaction over the assessment practices in use in their schools.

Addressing some of these issues, a project is being conducted in which student teachers in MFL, working collaboratively with university tutors and school-based mentors, are piloting the PAF in two skill areas (reading and speaking) in a range of partnership schools.  The project thus exemplifies how Initial Teacher Education partnerships between schools and universities can be extended beyond their original focus on the professional learning of beginning teachers, to encompass the development of pedagogy and the advancement of research


  • Interviews
  • Questionnaires – Surveymonkey
  • Review of pupil work, lesson plans and other intern notes.
  • Data is being gathered from a range of sources, including students’ assessment outcomes, samples of their work, observations of student teachers’ lessons and interviews with mentors and interns.


Findings are pending – Study currently still underway. It is hoped that the findings will inform work on assessment within the PGCE course, but also that they will be useful to schools at this time of considerable change in their assessment practices. It is intended to stimulate debate about the purposes and nature of assessment in MFL, and the effects of assessment on classroom pedagogy


The study is exploring how the PAF is used in practice, what teachers and interns think of the framework, and what (if any) the washback effects are on their everyday teaching. In a second strand of the study, the research will investigate interns’ and mentors’ experiences of the project itself, focussing in particular on what they perceive to be the benefits and drawbacks of their involvement and what facilitators and barriers they encountered to using the PAF. Finally, we are also seeking to obtain an overview of assessment practise in MFL across the partnership.


Robert Woore, Trevor Mutton, Laura Molway, Ernesto Macaro, Clare Savory (Department of Education)

Contact information

Research Role

Department of Education and School Collaboration


Oxford University John Fell Fund

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