The Global Scale of English and the price of “free”


“No really, how much is it?”


“This is great, what’s the catch?”


“No, no, really? How long can I use it for free before you charge me?”

I’ve been traveling about quite a bit with the Global Scale of English (GSE) and have had the opportunity to present both the scale and the learning objectives to a wide variety of educators around the world. The reception has been fantastic, and this has been very affirming to the teacher in me. When the audience responds with enthusiasm and excitement about using the GSE in their course, or to work with their programs, I feel like I have done my job well.

Every once in a while, though, someone will ask me one of those questions about how a company like Pearson could create something so powerfully useful to teachers and not want to charge for it. When this comes up, it always takes me by surprise as the GSE project was never set up as a product for sale. Are teachers really so suspicious of publishers? It would seem that some are! So let me try to put the record straight and explain why the GSE is free now, and why it will continue to be free in the future.

The Common European Framework of Reference

First, it is important to understand that the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), an internationally recognized proficiency scale, is the backbone of the GSE. The GSE is built on the CEFR – and includes many of the original CEFR Can Do statements. In order to have this integration, we were required to obtain permission from the Council of Europe – and this permission prevents us from charging for access to data (the CEFR Can Do statements) which is freely available to everyone. At the same time, the Council of Europe is represented on our Technical Advisory Group which oversees the GSE project and this has enabled us to collaborate further on the forthcoming update to the CEFR. The GSE extends the CEFR to include more learners (EAP students, ESP students and Young Learners) and extends the set of learning objectives (Can Do statements) that can be used to inform teaching and assessment.

The Research

In the academic world, there is a phrase that sums up perfectly the need to have your research in the public domain: publish or perish. If no one has access to the GSE, if no one has a chance to collaborate and share knowledge on the GSE and how it can be used, then the GSE will simply languish and die. It will become yet another proficiency scale, a “flash in the pan”, an educational fad that has its moment and then withers and dies and is consigned to some dark corner of the internet. This is not our intention for the GSE. Collaboration and ongoing research are key to creating a useful and functional solution that can help towards raising the standards in English Language Teaching.

For those of us who have worked in academia for years, the value of collaboration with like-minded individuals is easy to explain. The same is true for those of us who have worked on research that has been blocked, or has to be tabled, because key information is only available at a very high cost. With collaboration and a willingness to share our research and thinking behind the GSE freely, the project itself benefits from the insights and experiences of all those who engage with it. Practitioners – teachers – will help to further our research and enable us to share evidence of what works – and what doesn’t work – in the classroom.

The Utility

It has only been through discussion of the GSE with teachers, educators, academics, parents and students that we have truly begun to see the exciting potential uses and applications for the scale and learning objectives. As we began to introduce the GSE to educators, we started to discover all sorts of ways in which the GSE could be used to support teaching, learning and assessment: what it could do for curriculum development, program alignment, and learner progress. Some of these we had planned; others we would not have predicted without the insights of great teachers. Some of these insights include:

And this is just the beginning. As we continue to explore the potential of the GSE with teachers from around the world, both inside and beyond the English space, I suspect even more practical applications will be identified.

The last few months have been busy with conference presentations around the world. Some days I feel like a ping pong ball, constantly moving to the next group of teachers to talk about the Global Scale of English and what we are learning through use and application. I have seen educators across the world inspired by the potential of the Global Scale of English. I’ve done small one-to-ones with educators in the US and Canada on using the GSE to improve their learning programs. In Lima, I had the chance to present to 250 teachers on the use of the GSE to provide insight into scaffolding. As the session wrapped up, I found myself saying my favorite words “and the Global Scale of English is free for you to use.”

One teacher stopped me and asked: “What does that really mean?”

And I answered without thinking: “The GSE doesn’t belong to Pearson anymore, or to me, but to us. It belongs to educators, it belongs to the world.”

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