Primary Education in Japan: using the Global Scale of English

GSE Primary Japan

Andrew Lankshear is an English Teacher and Pearson author writing a 5-level series of skills books for young learners called English Language Booster. He currently works in primary education in Japan. 

We had a chat with him about why he started using the Global Scale of English (GSE) with his primary aged students (aged 6-12), who were learning English in a private elementary school in northern Japan. He tells us how the GSE is allowing the teaching team at his school to plan curricula and assessments more effectively and consistently.

Using the Global Scale of English to support planning

Andrew has been teaching English as a second language since 1998. In his current role, he works with a small team of teachers and is required to assess his students three times a year. In total there are 257 students, so he certainly has a challenge on his hands. 

“I have become familiar with the GSE over the past two years. Over that time, I have applied it to aspects of the syllabus that I introduced at my school,” says Andrew.

He says that this has been a good way to get started with the GSE. “By just trying to apply it to a unit here or an assessment schedule there, I’ve become more confident with it and can now provide evidence to my colleagues as to how it can be practically applied to our teaching practice and syllabus.”

Initially, it wasn’t his idea to use the GSE for more serious planning. However, after testing it out in this way, he has discovered it really does facilitate planning whole curricula. “Just yesterday, I had a meeting with our school curriculum leader who wants to rewrite the whole 9-year curriculum by the end of January!”

The GSE’s concrete examples will help him be clear on learner objectives and how to measure progress, he explains.

Aligning curricula with the GSE

“As a private elementary school, we have enjoyed the enviable position of being able to create our own curriculum.” 

But for Andrew, this is a double-edged sword. 

“We’ve had a number of English teachers come and go over the years,” he says. “Each one has had their own preferences and from those they created well-intentioned syllabi, which were then discarded by the next teacher who, in turn, introduced their own ideas and preferences as the core drivers of their curriculum.”

Unfortunately, this lack of consistency can lead to inefficiencies. “It’s led to a lot of wasted time and energy being spent in creating resources that have then been ignored or discarded by the next teacher.”

The GSE, however, has given the team an objective way to plan curricula. “What excites me about applying the GSE to our curriculum is its palatability and its permanence,” he says. 

It gives Andrew and the teaching team a way to focus their lessons on a set of common learning objectives. Teachers don’t feel they are tied to any particular methodology or teaching style. Yet they can still align their goals and provide a consistent learning experience across the school (the palatability).

“I value the permanence of externally-ratified goals for our school, which can then lead to an accumulation over the years of quality practices and resources aligned to them.”

The GSE and teaching young learners

As a young learner teacher, Andrew has been heavily influenced by developmental psychologist and researcher Lev Vygotsky and his idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). 

He briefly explains the theory:

“A child enters the zone by achieving the goal with the condition of being assisted by a more capable peer or teacher. They exit the zone when they can achieve the objective independently,” Andrew explains.  

He therefore thinks of each descriptor on the GSE as being on a continuum: 

  • At the beginning stages of this continuum, he notes the descriptors outline what a child can achieve with enough support – including recent prior practice, sentence starters, supporting gestures, etc.
  • In the middle stages, he says “I can envisage a student achieving the goal with reduced support; perhaps no preparation, but maybe a sentence starter or modelled sentences as a hint.”
  • At the end of the continuum, Andrew suggests that a student should be able to achieve a descriptor independently and accurately with no recent prior practice. 

This idea has a significant impact on his school’s syllabus design and its assessment. He explains that to allow for this continuum, they will not just cover a GSE criterion once: 

“Instead, it should be within the curriculum at least twice, if not three times: once at the lower grades with greater support, and then again in the higher grades with lesser support.”

Assessing progress with the GSE 

Andrew is enthusiastic about how flexible the GSE can be when it comes to assessing student progress for any given learning objective. Below, he shares a rubric for measuring learner progress, using example Can Do statements from the GSE and his own assessment criteria.

“The GSE descriptors in my example are where I want my students to be after six years of study,” he says. “This assessment occurs in their fourth year when they are introduced to the simple past tense for the first time, so I have weighted the rubric towards intelligibility and allowed for the measurement of the degree of independence.”

Grade 4 speaking test Unit 5

Speaking Descriptors GSE CEFR

Can ask basic questions about things that happened in the past.  40   A2+ (36-42)

Can talk about past events or experiences, using simple language. 41  A2+ (36-42)


  • How are you?   What is the date today?  What sport/animal/food do you like? 
  • What did you do on Sunday/Saturday/last night/..? 4 items
  • Ask the teacher what they did on Sunday/ Monday…

Primary Education in Japan

“A reiteration of this rubric in later years will focus more heavily on accuracy, fluency and the ability to achieve without recent prior practice. The test is likely to be embedded within a more complex task,” he says.

A flexible tool for planning syllabi and assessments 

Andrew concludes that he can identify two main benefits for staff and for curriculum design.

“For staff, I value the fact that it’s neither aligned to one staff member’s ideology nor consigned to the trash can once that staff member moves on. For curriculum design and assessment, I value its championing of a recognition of the conditions under which student learning and tasks performance take place.”

You can access the Global Scale of English online for free and also plan your curricula, classes and individual activities using the GSE Teacher Toolkit.

Learn more about the GSE in the following articles:

In this article