Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, Please put a penny in the old man’s hat

The “goose” in ELT refers to the multi-headed hydra composed of publishers, examination boards, teacher training outfits and course providers who between them, according to Pearson’s Global Review (2016), generate a staggering $194 billion annual turnover.

The “old man” refers to the teachers, whose generally miserable pay and conditions can only be glimpsed from various sources, such as teachers’ own accounts in blogs, and outfits like ELT Advocacy Ireland, Teachers as Workers, and EL Gazette. (I should say that while I often disagree with opinions expressed in its pages, EL Gazette consistently fights for teachers’ rights and exposes abuses and malpractice. It is, without doubt, a progressive force in ELT. )

Any honest appraisal of current ELT will conclude that it’s run for profit, that commercial considerations outweigh educational principles, that the bosses are giving their workers a very bad deal, and that the consumers are often hoodwinked and mostly disappointed. Furthermore, teacher trainers and teachers organisations such as IATEFL and TESOL support the ELT establishment, defend coursebook-driven ELT, and do little to support teachers’ fight for better pay and conditions. In short, current ELT practice reflects the general trend towards the commodification of education, where the profit motive brutally stamps out educational principles, substitutes market values, and relies on an underpaid workforce to deliver its carefully packaged products.

Pearson leads the way

Pearson PLC exemplifies this trend. It’s the largest education company and the largest book publisher in the world. It generates total revenues of $10 billion. It’s a key player in the ELT world and is currently implementing its Global Scale of English (GSE). The GSE comprises four distinct parts to create “an overall English learning ecosystem”:

  • The scale itself – a granular, precise scale of proficiency aligned to the Common European Framework of Reference.
  • GSE Learning Objectives – over 1,800 “can-do” statements that provide context for teachers and learners across reading, writing, speaking and listening.
  • Course Materials – both digital and printed materials, aligned to the selection of learning objectives relevant for a course/level.
  • Assessments – Placement, Progress and Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) tests, which are placement, formative/ summative assessments and high stakes tests aligned to the GSE.

Pearson explain that the global ELT industry will be a much better place once everybody in it is using their Global Scale of English ecosystem. The GSE reinforces the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) as a tool for standards-based assessment, and is the world’s first truly global English language standard, allowing educators, employers and learners to measure progress accurately, easily, and in context.


In this way the language learning process is finally and definitively reified: the abstract concepts of  “granular descriptors” are converted into real entities, and it’s then assumed that these entities represent language learning and the communicative competence that results from it. The complex, dynamic process of SLA is flattened out, granularised and turned into a guided process of accumulating a stock of measurable entities. In this reified vision of SLA, learners move unidimensionally along a line from 10 to 90, making steady, linear progress along a list of can-do statements laid out in an easy-to-difficult sequence, leading inexorably, triumphantly, to the ability to use the L2 successfully for whatever communicative purpose you care to mention. It’s the marketing division’s dream, but it’s contradicted by 60 years of SLA research, and it’s every liberal, free thinking  teacher’s nightmare.

Fighting back

The only way we teachers will get any real say in how we teach, and get better pay and conditions, is for us to first recognise what’s going on, and then to organise. We must free ourselves from the crap we’re told by teacher trainers who have a vested interest in coursebooks, and reaffirm our commitment to the principles of learning by doing, and to our roles as mentors who scaffold learners’ own development towards communicative competence. At the same time, we should form local cooperatives where we work together to  educate ourselves and to establish minimum pay and conditions. These local organisations need to be coordinated at national and international levels. This, of course, smacks of anarcho-syndicalism, which is the political view that I ascribe to, and that I recommend to you all.

Happy Christmas.


Pearson. (2016) GSE Global Report. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s