Professor Barry O’Sullivan OBE FAcSS FAALA is the British Council’s Head of Assessment Research & Development. He has worked on numerous test development and validation projects globally and advises ministries and institutions on assessment policy and practice. He has undertaken research across many areas on language testing and assessment and its history and has worked on the development and refinement of the socio-cognitive model of test development and validation since 2000. He has presented his work at many conferences around the world, while almost 100 of his publications have appeared in a range of international journals, books and technical reports. He is the founding president of the UK Association of Language Testing and Assessment, holds a visiting professorship at the University of Reading, UK, and is Advisory Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. He was awarded Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences in the UK in 2016 and was elected to Fellowship of the Asian Association for Language Assessment in 2017. In 2019 he was awarded an OBE by the government of the UK for his contribution to language testing.


Plenary: Policy and practice: Developing a working Comprehensive Learning System 

Day 2 - Saturday 28 October - 15.45-16.30

The Comprehensive Learning System (CLS) recognises that the area of teaching, learning and assessment is a single integrated unit, in which all elements are symbiotically linked. This refers to the curriculum (or national course of study), the delivery of that curriculum (teacher selection, education and monitoring as well as materials and physical layout) and all assessment within that system (formative or summative). Building such a system required significant resourcing at the national or local level across all elements. Unfortunately, this is not always fully understood by policy makers, who tend to look for quick and relatively affordable solutions, often missing out on key areas. This often has the effect of causing significant cracks in the system which lead to its ultimate failure. An example of this is the failure to resource teacher professional development programmes to ensure that students are appropriately prepared for a new curriculum change (for example, a move to a more communicative approach) or the introduction of a new textbook or final test. 

While the concept of the CLS is quite simple, the implications for policy makers are not. The need for educational policy to deliver in the real world is obvious, though there is often a deep chasm between the policy and the reality of the classroom. This can, and will, have serious implications for the application of even the most well-intentioned policy. In this talk, I will stress the importance of practicality and reality in the development and delivery of educational policy, while offering examples of what can, and often does, lead to the ultimate failure of many policy makers to realise their ambition. While my focus will be on English language education, I very much believe that the arguments put forward here are of relevance to all subject areas and to all educational levels.