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NCELP revisited


NCELP stands for National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy. You may recall that this was the organisation set up by the government some time after the publication of the TSC Review of MFL Pedagogy (2016). Based at the University of York (England) and led by Dr Emma Marsden and Dr Rachel Hawkes, the role of the NCELP is to disseminate via hub schools what they consider to be the most effective pedagogy for MFL classrooms in England.

Worth recalling is that the original pedagogy report, accessible via the site, was based on a trawl of research considered relevant to the English context, as well as classroom observations of classes and interviews with school teachers. In my meetings with teachers I have found it is surprisingly little known, so I wonder how well their work has been publicised.

Since its inception in 2018 (I think), their work has progressed and, for most teachers, its fruits are visible on the website. These resources are varied and are a mixture of theoretical presentations, schemes of work and individual resources. These are all focused on the key findings of the 2016 report and relate primarily to phonics, vocabulary and grammar.

I thought I would return to the site to see what's there now. There's quite a lot. If you go to the site, all resources are freely available, after a slightly annoying page where you have

What I like most are the presentations about phonics, grammar and vocabulary. These provided teachers with a digestible summary of key findings from research. For example, I have just read three presentations. The first presentation/screencast (by Robert Woore of Oxford University( is about the teaching of vocabulary. Conveniently, the script of the screencast is there if you prefer, as I do, to read quickly rather than listen at length. The presentation covers all the bases I would have expected to see, with references to major researchers in the field, such as Paul Nation and Norbert Schmidt. The advice proffered looks eminently sensible. 

The second is about error correction, which also presents a balanced review of evidence about this very confusing area, along with tips about how to correct pupils in class. Good stuff! I felt the same about a PowerPoint presentation on grammar teaching.

The third, again by Robert Woore, is about phonics. This is a clear and useful introduction  to phonics and what is known as SSC's  (sound-spelling correspondences) - this abbreviation is used in individual resources on the site. The presentation talks up the role of phonics, while acknowledging that there is actually little research to support its use in MFL. We found the same when we researched our book Breaking the Sound Barrier. (The anecdotal evidence is strong, though.)

So, all in all, I can strongly recommend the research summaries.

The classroom resources are a different matter, I think. So far, there are resources for Y7 and Y8, linked to schemes of work. You can search them through the resources portal page, by language, type, skill, topic, target age range and thematic/semantic field. the archive is growing all the time. To my mind, the quality is, shall we generously say, mixed. To take a few at random for French:

1.  French question words - learning routine

This is a set of slides showing a range of question words (all the main ones for near beginners). Each one is translated (good), each one is exemplified in a sentence (good). Colour is used to "enhance the input", as they say. And that's it. I know it's dubious to take a presentation out of context, but I wonder what I would do with those slides as they stand and if it#s wise to present all of those words at once.

2.  French SOW Y8 Term 2.1 Week 2 - full lesson - phonics (-al/-aille) - regular -ir verbs in the present tense (nous, vous, ils, elles), present tense, future meaning with time adverbials

This set of slides shows individual words with images and key vowels highlighted in a different colour to help pupils make sound/grapheme correspondences. There is then a phonological listening exercises, a littel matching exercises for reading, another brief listening task, a reading matching task for time phrases, a grammatical explanation slide, then a listening to task to spot present or future meaning, a short writing task (seven sentences to write), a verb conjugation slide, more listening exercises, and so on...

Although there are opportunities for pair work in there, I reluctantly have to say this sequence looks very dull and I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. It look very teacher-led, lacking in communication and interest, focused quite a lot on form at the expense of interesting meaning or task-like communication. This lesson (or lessons) resembles others I have seen on the site. On the dry side.

3.  French SOW Y7 Term 1.1 Week 7 - vocabulary learning homework

This resource is linked to an audio file. Students listen to the words and their meanings (a good thing). You need to know how the words sound. There is a Quizlet task to do, involving writing words in both English and French.

Now, if you read my posts or books, you'll know I'm not a great fan of learning isolated words. In my own experience, and under the influence of Gianfranco Conti, I am convinced that learning via meaningful chunks gives better surrender value than learning single words. So, once again, I'm afraid, I would not consider using a resource like this.

4.  French SOW Y7 Term 3.2 Week 7 - full lesson - SSC revidited - using Wordrefernce resources - text exploitation - L'homme qui te ressemble (poem by René Philombé)

The lesson begins with an activity to show students about silent final letters t, x, d, s (but gives exceptions c, r, f, l). (Actually, I don't find this sort of rule giving very useful or memorable for pupils). Example words with text colour enhancement are then given, for choral repetition, I suppose. My problem here is that the phonics element is totally out of context when presented before the main text. I don't see how this would be of interest to a clas. It would need a strong sell.

There is then an exercises about spotting cognates, followed by an exercise in using, explaining what grammatical terms like adverb, pronoun and verb mean. Abbreviations are explained in a separate slide. There are then exercises matching words with grammatical terms. We eventually get to some exercises relating to the poem.

Now, I'm sorry, but I find this whole approach logical but as dull as ditchwater (or is it now dishwater?).

Now, I daresay that there are teachers who believe in these kinds of resources and find a way to make them work, but I just don't see it. I've yet to see teachers online talking about them, as they do about Conti resources and knowledge organisers à la Barry Smith. Many, many teachers give glowing reports about these lexicogrammar-style methods. Lexicogrammar and chunking don't seem to be priorities for NCELP yet. Does the NCELP just need more creative or experienced resource writers?

I am by nature quite open-minded about methods - I've seen a few. But one thought I have is this: grassroots methodological movements (whether they be Conti-style - aided and abetted by yours truly, TPRS or KOs), get more traction than government-sponsored ones. I think the TSC Review and the NCELP are, if I may mix metaphors, on some of the right lines (basis in research, phonics, phonological awareness, a clear vocab syllabus, the necessity to do some grammar, etc), but somehow missed the boat when it came to producing usable, motivating classroom resources. What's there so far seems to be stuck in a straight-jacket created by the schemes of work and the particular priorities they chose. Communication seems to a distant, secondary priority.

Comments welcome, especially as I have been a bit critical here.



  1. I totally agree with you, these type of resources are very out of date, dry and unmotivating. Using these type of resources, no wonder students get bored and the feeling they can't do languages.


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