1 Background and overview
The European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) was a survey of
foreign language proficiency organised by the European Commission. A total
of fourteen European countries participated in the survey. (Belgium tested its
French, Flemish and German communities separately, so there are results for
In England, ESLC was carried out on behalf of the Department for Education
by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
The ESLC was run by an international consortium, SurveyLang. The
consortium is responsible for all aspects of the survey.
Strict standards are applied to all the survey procedures to ensure
equivalence in sampling procedures, translation and adaptation of
questionnaires and manuals, and survey administration.
The ESLC assesses pupils’ ability to understand spoken or written texts and
express themselves in writing. The ESLC tests cover three language skills:
listening, reading and writing. Each pupil is tested in two of the three skills
The languages included in ESLC are the five most widely taught languages in
Europe: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Each jurisdiction
tested their pupils in two of these languages. In England, pupils were tested in
French and German.
Participating jurisdictions tested pupils either in the last year of lower
secondary education (International Standard Classification of Education
(ISCED) 2) or the second year of upper secondary education (ISCED 3). In
England, pupils were tested in Year 11 (ISCED 3).
In England, the main testing period took place between October and
The ESLC tests are levelled against the Common European Framework of
Reference (CEFR). The consortium defined the testable abilities for each of
the proficiency levels A1 to B2. Results for each skill are shown as the
proportion of pupils in each jurisdiction achieving each of the CEFR
As well as tests for pupils, the ESLC includes questionnaires for participating
pupils, teachers and schools. These contain general background questions,
questions on attitudes towards foreign language learning and aspects of the
teaching and learning of foreign languages.
This report presents the achievement data for England alongside the
contextual information provided by the survey questionnaires. The report also explores the relationship between a number of contextual factors and
2 The ESLC in England
Foreign language learning is not compulsory at Key Stage 4. Therefore the
pupil sample was a random sample of those pupils who have chosen to
continue learning the target language (French or German) in Key Stage
4. This differs from the situation in most of other jurisdictions where foreign
language learning is compulsory and therefore the pupil sample is likely to be
drawn from the whole cohort.
Fifty-three schools and 1444 pupils participated in the French assessment.
This represented 72 per cent of the sampled schools and a pupil participation
rate of over 90 per cent.
Fifty-five schools and 1428 pupils participated in the German assessment.
This represented 71 per cent of the sampled schools and a pupil participation
rate of over 90 per cent.
3 Language proficiency in England
Across skills and languages, England’s performance did not compare well
with the global average. In the first target language, England had significantly
more pupils at the lower levels (A1 and Pre-A1) and significantly fewer at the
highest levels (B1 and B2). This trend was also evident in the second target
language, although the differences were less pronounced, especially in
writing. Globally, pupils performed relatively less well in the second target
language, compared with the first. However, in England, performance was
very similar in both languages.
In most jurisdictions (13 out of 16), the first target language was English. The
remaining three, including England, tested in French. Performance varied
widely by jurisdiction. The highest performers across all three skills were
Sweden, Malta and the Netherlands. England and France were among the
lowest performers in all skills.
The range of second target languages covered all five of the most widely
taught languages in Europe. Again, pupils in the Netherlands performed well
across all skills, as did pupils in the German and Flemish communities of
Belgium. England, Poland and Sweden were among the lowest performers.
Direct comparisons between jurisdictions are confounded by a range of
factors, including the different languages that were tested and the various
grades in which pupils began learning these languages.
4 Pupil proficiency in French
French was the first target language in England and the Flemish and German
communities of Belgium. It was the second target language in Greece,
Portugal and Spain. The reported onset of learning French varied between
jurisdictions, from international Grade 1 (in the German community of
Belgium) to Grade 7 in England.
Pupils in England performed similarly to those in Portugal in reading, listening
and writing, with the majority of pupils at level A1 or below, and small
proportions at B1 and B2. Conversely, in the German community of Belgium,
the proportion of pupils at each level was significantly different from England
across all skills. England had proportionally fewer pupils at B1 and B2 and
proportionally more at A1 and below. England had significantly fewer pupils
below A1 than Greece in French reading and writing.
Within most jurisdictions that tested French, performance was similar across
skills. The exception was Spain, where pupils performed relatively less well in
listening than in reading. Performance was consistently high in the German
community of Belgium, where about 40 per cent of pupils achieved B1 or
higher in all three skills.
5 Pupil proficiency in German
Eight jurisdictions (the French community of Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia,
England, Estonia, Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia) tested in German. For
all of these jurisdictions it was the second test language. The reported onset
of learning German varied between jurisdictions, from international Grade 4
(in Croatia and Poland) to Grade 9 (the French community of Belgium and
In reading, pupils in England performed significantly differently to those in the
Netherlands, Estonia and Bulgaria at all levels. Pupils in England performed
similarly to those in Poland in reading with the vast majority of pupils (80 per
cent) achieving level A1 or below while less than ten per cent achieved B1 or
There is a significantly higher percentage of pupils in England at Pre-A1 and
A1 level, for listening, compared with Estonia, Slovenia, the French
community in Belgium and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands (the highest-
performing jurisdiction) 60 per cent of pupils achieved level B1 or higher, in
England this number was significantly lower with less than ten per cent
achieving the higher levels.
Within most jurisdictions that tested German, performance was broadly similar
across reading and listening. However, in a number of jurisdictions the
percentage of pupils achieving level B1 and B2 was lower for writing. This was
not the case in England where performance was similar across all three skills
6 Pupil characteristics and language proficiency
Across the majority of jurisdictions, there was an overall effect of gender on
writing proficiency for both target languages, with boys performing at a lower
level (this effect was not seen for reading or listening). However, in England,
gender does not appear to have any effect on proficiency in any of the three
skills in either target language.
The overall effect of socio-economic status on language proficiency was
pronounced. Across all jurisdictions, pupils with higher economic, social and
cultural status (ESCS) performed at a higher level in all three language skills,
in both target languages. However, this pattern was not reflected in England.
In England, socio-economic status has some effect on language proficiency.
Pupils with higher ESCS perform at a higher level in Target Language 1 (TL1)
(French) writing, and in Target Language 2 (TL2) (German) writing and
listening. No significant effects were found in TL1 reading and listening, or for
7 Pupils and language learning
In England, pupils’ perception of the usefulness of learning the target
language had a significant positive relationship with all three skills (reading,
listening and writing) for both TL1 (French) and TL2 (German). That is, pupils
who perceived the target language as being useful tended to perform at a
higher level. However, for the majority of other jurisdictions this pattern was
only seen for TL1 (English was TL1 for most participating jurisdictions),
whereas for TL2 this effect this was only seen for reading and writing.
Across participating jurisdictions, pupils who liked learning the language ‘a lot’
performed significantly higher in listening and reading in TL1, and in reading
and writing in TL2 (compared with pupils who hardly like or do not like at all
learning the language). However, this was not the case in England where a
significant positive relationship was only found for TL2 reading (pupils who
liked learning TL2 ‘a lot’ had higher levels of proficiency in reading).
There was variation between jurisdictions in the findings for the association
between intercultural exchanges and attainment. In England, pupils’
involvement in intercultural exchanges was found to have a significant positive association with TL1 writing skills. Whereas, for the majority of jurisdictions
there was no significant association between pupils’ involvement in
intercultural exchanges and attainment in any of the TL1 skills. For the
majority of jurisdictions (including England), there were no significant
associations for TL2.
negative association between the frequency of the use of resources and
proficiency in writing. This effect was not seen across jurisdictions.
There were several other pupil factors that were found to have a significant
positive relationship with language proficiency for the majority of jurisdictions,
but not England. These were:
Pupils ‘quite like’ learning a language (significant for TL2 writing skills)
Duration of language education (significant for TL1 all three skills, and
for TL2 listening and writing skills)
Exposure to target language at home (significant for TL1 all three
Parents’ knowledge and visits abroad (significant for TL2 listening
Pupils’ use of target language (significant for TL1 all three skills)
Individual pupil activities used/teacher speaking to the whole class in
lessons (significant for TL1 writing skills).
8 School and teacher factors and language learning
The school/teacher level factors that had a significant effect on language
proficiency were not the same for TL1 and TL2.
For TL1 the factors that were significant for all three language skills were
related to school policies/practices in terms of foreign language learning (the
number of languages a school offers, and schools’ specialist language
profile). Whereas, for TL2 the factors significant across all three skills focused
on the training and experience of teachers (teachers’ experience of teaching
TL2, teachers’ receiving training in Common European Framework of
For both TL1 and TL2 the number of financial incentives offered by schools for
teachers had a significant association with two language skills (listening and
writing at TL1, and reading and writing at TL2).
In terms of the school/teachers factors that were significant for just one
language skill: the picture was again mixed between TL1 and TL2, with
different variables having an effect on different skills across the two targe