Melanie Butler asks Andrew Freeman, Trinity College London director of Europe, about his professional background, the impact of Brexit and his plans for Trinity’s suite of exams
Your professional experience is in publishing, particularly educational publishing. Now you are director of Europe for exam board Trinity College London, responsible for ELT both for students and teacher trainees, as well as music and drama. As I understand it, your interest in these areas and your passion for travelling comes from your family. Your father taught EFL?
Yes, my father did teach EFL but quite late in life. He was actually a vicar while I was growing up, but he and my mother had lived abroad doing missionary work and have lots of tales to tell of this. He then taught English for a time in various places, including quite a long period in Turkey.
This love of travel has definitely rubbed off, and I have travelled pretty widely, including with Collins Learning in my last role as associate publisher and with the arts publisher Thames & Hudson. In fact, my very first day at work with Thames & Hudson was in Istanbul, and ended with a very pleasant but slightly surreal dinner with my brand new boss, my dad and me.
In terms of the EU, you have arrived just in time for Brexit. What has the immediate impact been on Trinity and what do you see as the biggest challenge going forward?
Brexit does not change our commitment to deepening our existing ties within Europe, some of which now date back more than sixty years. Trinity believes that effective communicative and performance skills are life-enhancing, should know no boundaries and be within reach of us all. We see the under-lying demand for ELT continuing to grow, and also the need for transferable skills and broader communication skills.
In the UK, of course, Trinity Integrated Skills in English (ISE) is one of two exams accepted as a Secure English Language Tests (Selt) for student visas under tier 4, as we call it. Although it’s well-known in Europe, it’s relatively new to UK language schools. What do you see as its three most important features, from a teacher’s point of view?
First, I’d suggest positive ’washback’. Teachers don’t want to spend time teaching a set of discrete ‘test skills’ that have no use to a student other than in the exam room. If they prepare their students for an ISE exam, owing to the construct of the test, they will be nurturing communicative competence – preparing students to deal with authentic tasks that reflect real-world communication. This makes teaching much more productive, as students appreciate the relevance and utility of the teaching activities. And most importantly, they know that a student that passes an ISE exam will be able to engage in spontaneous communication at that level, whatever the situation.
Second is the fact that ISE is a highly contemporary exam, one reason being that it explicitly addresses the integration of skills. Modern understanding of interaction confirms that, in real-world communication, language skills are truly integrated. The construct of ISE is unique in that it embraces what we now know about how we learn and use language, and reflects this in the construct of the test by assessing skill integration.
And lastly it would be utility. Not only is Trinity ISE accepted for Selt purposes by UKVI, it’s also widely recognised as an accurate indicator of communicative ability. Well over 90 per cent of higher educational institutions in the UK recognise ISE as a robust measure of language proficiency.
For teachers in UK language schools ISE offers a range of advantages as an assessment, but ultimately it’s the student that matters, so such questions remain: What will have a positive effect on their learning? What will help develop their skills for life? What will encourage real-world communication? ISE addresses all of these questions.
Trinity is best known in UK ELT for GESE, your spoken English tests. What are your plans for them?
Our GESE exams have been successful for many reasons, not least their non-scripted nature, the emphasis on student choice of discussion topics and the focus on face-to-face conversation between examiner and student. GESE has been in great demand for many years and we do not see this demand weakening. The twelve grades of GESE provide a well-established pathway for learning with excellent washback into the classroom, benefitting both teachers and students.
Selt is a particular case in point, as GESE is recognised for the Home Office requirements for citizenship, spousal visas and indefinite leave to remain as an excellent way of checking the language level of a non-native speaker of English. We see great further potential for GESE worldwide and in the UK both in the ELT sector and for SELT.
What do you think the biggest challenge in your job is and what are you most looking forward to?
The biggest challenge for me is taking Trinity’s ELT, music and drama exams much more deeply into key markets beyond our traditional areas of strength, and the opportunity here really excites me.