Policy Papers

Policy papers connect research with policy through focusing on a specific piece of research and explaining its relevance for policy. The link to policy can range from pointing out conclusions and lessons for practice through to discussion of existing policies and practices and formulation of policy recommendations. In all cases the emphasis is on providing research evidence for criticising, endorsing or proposing a policy.

Assessing young children from diverse backgrounds: novel ways to measure language abilities and meet the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage

  • This paper examines the communication, language and literacy assessment required by the 2017 Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and the challenges from this mandate in particular: ‘If a child does not have a strong grasp of English language, practitioners must explore the child’s skills in the home language with parents and/or carers, to establish whether there is cause for concern about language delay’ (p. 9). 
  • If there is cause for concern, practitioners face three challenges:
    • Challenge 1: Providing consistent and objective assessment when relying on parental reports;
    • Challenge 2: Assessing children’s skills in the 300-plus home languages of the one million children in English primary schools who do not have English as their first language (DfE, 2019);
    • Challenge 3: Determining whether low performance on English assessments is due to (a) limited English language exposure, likely to be resolved through additional exposure in primary school and not requiring specialist intervention, or (b) an underlying language disorder that cannot be resolved through additional exposure alone.
  • To address these challenges, we argue for a policy that utilises a small range of evidence-based and easily-administered tests that evaluate language-learning skills, focusing on skills needed to learn word forms (the sounds that make up a word) and word meanings. 
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Why and how to integrate non-standard linguistic varieties into education: Cypriot Greek in Cyprus and the UK

  • Greek Cypriot education remains largely oriented towards promoting standard language ideologies and only accepts Standard Greek as the language of teaching and learning.
  • Cypriot Greek, the pupils’ home variety, is still seen as an obstacle to academic achievement by teachers and educational authorities.
  • Cypriot Greek needs to be integrated into policies and practices of teaching and learning both in Cyprus and in the UK’s Greek Cypriot community.
    This will:
    • hone pupils’ awareness of different varieties;
    • foster the development of their critical literacy;
    • facilitate the acquisition of Standard Greek;
    • counter negative perceptions, stereotypes and feelings of inferiority associated with the use of Cypriot Greek; and,
    • aid in the maintenance and intergenerational transmission of Cypriot Greek as a heritage and community language in the UK

  • Teachers and learning activities should promote and cultivate: 
    • awareness and respect of the different varieties spoken in class, Cypriot Greek and Standard Greek; and,
    • awareness of vocabulary and grammar in the contexts of use of the two varieties and their social meanings.

  • This approach will ultimately change the way we view language and literacy learning.
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Scotland’s language communities and the 1+2 Language Strategy

  • The Scottish Government's ambitious 1+2 Language Strategy, launched in 2012, has refocused attention on language policy in education and the provision for language learning in Scotland.
  • The Language Strategy contains a commitment for schools to further develop links involving “language communities” and to teach “the community languages of pupils in schools”.
  • However, a review of the implementation of the policy reveals the languages on offer in mainstream schools remain dominated by a narrow range of European languages such as French and German.
  • The learning of community languages of an increasingly diverse population remains the preserve of complementary schools organised by language community members and operating in the evenings and the weekend.
  • Numerous studies in the UK and internationally have acknowledged the pivotal educational, social and cultural role of complementary schools. However, learners’ linguistic achievements gained at complementary schools often remain hidden from mainstream schools.
  • A national survey of complementary school providers highlights a desire to improve their language learning provision and to be involved more in 1+2 developments at a local authority level.
  • Developing meaningful partnerships between the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), local authorities, complementary schools and mainstream schools needs to be an integral part of the 1+2 Language Strategy.
  • Extending and enhancing language learning provision in and outside of mainstream schools will add much weight to the Scottish Government’s policy aspiration to develop a new generation of plurilingual citizens.
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Embedding languages policy in primary schools in England: summary of the RiPL White Paper proposing solutions

  • The statutory requirement to teach a modern or ancient language at Key Stage 2 (ages 7–11) took effect in September 2014; the first cohort of children made the transition to secondary school in September 2018 and are now in their fifth year of language learning.
  • The introduction of a modern or ancient language to the national curriculum at Key Stage 2 represents an exciting but challenging requirement for most schools.
  • No additional central or regional funding has been made available to support such major reform, and no formal monitoring or evaluation of children’s progress and attainment is in evidence.
  • In the absence of a nationally commissioned evaluation of the impact of the new policy, the Research in Primary Languages network (RiPL) undertook a research-informed analysis resulting in a White Paper.
  • Drawing on available research and published data, the White Paper outlines the context and nature of particular challenges in implementing policy and offers fresh insights into possible solutions to strengthen provision.
  • Analysis of available data found patchy provision in a number of key areas, with large variations between schools in the amount of time dedicated to languages, expectations of children’s progress, teachers’ subject knowledge and professional training, monitoring of pupils’ progress, and transition arrangements between primary and secondary.
  • Research evidence has demonstrated the importance of amount of input and age-appropriate activities, a sense of achievement, progress, and motivation. Research has also shown how foreign language learning is closely linked to the development of literacy in the first language.
  • Teaching time, teacher language proficiency and teaching approach have also been found to be closely linked to learning outcomes.
  • The RiPL White Paper makes ten recommendations, focussing on: time allocation; curriculum planning; transition arrangements; assessment and reporting; use of digital technology; school accountability; school leadership; the strategic role of research; and the setting up of a National Task-Force for Primary Languages (NTPL).
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Modern languages and mentoring: lessons from digital learning in Wales

  • This article considers the role that mentoring, and in particular online mentoring, can play in tackling the decline in modern language learning at GCSE level in Wales.
  • It evaluates Digi-Languages, a blended learning experience that pairs university student linguists with secondary school learners of languages to improve MFL uptake at GCSE.
  • This article examines the conception, design and early outcomes of Digi-Languages.
  • The article evaluates the experiential learning of the mentees (Year 9 learners) and explores the ethos underpinning resource development and the project’s key messaging around culture and languages.
  • The article provides recommendations for the expansion of Digi-Languages to support broader language policy objectives in Wales, including the Welsh Government’s policy of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
  • The article concludes with suggestions for the extension of Digi-Languages to other regions of the UK and overseas and its potential as a model for stimulating inter-cultural conversations on the lifelong value of languages.
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Is it possible to differentiate multilingual children and children with DLD?

  • The language profiles of monolingual children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and typically developing multilingual children can overlap, presenting similar paths and delays in learning specific aspects of language in comparison with typically developing monolingual children of the same age.
  • In an increasingly multilingual society, it is essential to develop guidelines and tools for differentiating the two populations, avoiding both under- and over-diagnosis of language disorders in multilingual children.
  • Many multilingual children have a narrower vocabulary compared with monolinguals of the same age. Therefore, grammatical features are considered more reliable clinical markers of a possible disorder.
  • Clinical markers for children with DLD are language-specific. For example, in English-speaking children with DLD, verb endings may be omitted, as in “*Mary cook it”. For Italian or French children with DLD, a reliable marker is therealisation of certain pronouns, as in Mary lo cucina, “Mary it cooks”, with omissions or substitution of the pronoun lo depending on age. 
  • Despite similarities between multilingual children and children with DLD, it is possible to distinguish between the two groups after multilingual children have at least two years of exposure to their second language (L2).
  • Multilingual children can learn their L2 fully, while this is generally not the case for monolingual children with DLD; however, children’s success in learning their L2 depends onlength of exposure to the language, the type of multi-language experience, and the structural relatedness of the two languages.
  • Clinicians need to be aware of the type of language experience, the length of exposure to the L2, the linguistic characteristics of the child’s first language (L1) and the specific clinical markers of DLD in all languages. 
  • DLD will affect all the languages of a multilingual child, so assessment of all the child’s languages – wherever possible – is helpful in teasing apart developmental differences and disorders.
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Linguistic diversity in the classroom: the wise teacher’s dilemma

  • Urban schools in Belgium have become increasingly multilingual. This invites pedagogical challenges as pupils struggle with the instruction language, but it leads to ideological anxieties in Dutch-medium schools especially.
  • Recent studies show that Flemish teachers have negative attitudes towards the use of other languages than Dutch. These studies call for anti-bias training and for a teacher education that lives up to the current multilingual reality.
  • There are good reasons however for expecting that teachers will waver ambivalently between linguistic uniformity and diversity, because they associate both ideas with important, albeit competing, educational purposes.
  • Developing positive attitudes towards multilingualism is possible. But the effects of such an endeavor may be limited, and the expectations about what teachers are capable of unrealistic, if it is ignored that teachers will also attend to linguistic uniformity, at least in the present circumstances.
  • Policy debate needs to take into account that teachers have to strike a balance between competing pedagogical purposes and societal concerns. Advocates of multilingualism at school may be more effective if they associate linguistic diversity not just with attitudes of tolerance and respect, but also with knowledge, qualification, and assessment. 
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Language education in the era of Brexit: three challenges for the schools’ sector

This paper focuses on language learning at school level and identifies three policy challenges emerging from the 2016/17 Language Trends survey of primary and secondary schools in England, namely: 


  • Inequalities in access to, and participation in, language learning. The research shows that these are geographic, socio-economic and gender-related.
  • The need to reinvigorate language learning in primary schools and forge more coherent pathways between primary and secondary schools if the aspirations of the national curriculum and for the English Baccalaureate are to be fulfilled. 
  • The challenges posed by Brexit itself in terms of supply and retention of language teachers, motivation to study languages, and opportunities for pupils and teachers to learn through engagement with native speakers and their cultures.  
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