History of assessment

The History of Assessment project explores the British Council's involvement in English language testing and assessment between 1941 and 2016.

The project draws from archival research into Council-owned and external collections, recorded interviews with those involved in testing at the British Council; as well as an investigation into the projects the British Council engaged in internationally during this period.

Mark Robson, Director, English and Examinations

It is already clear from this project that the British Council has a long and proud history in the area of English language test development and delivery around the world.

This project will bring that history to life and demonstrate our position as a leading contributor to the world of assessment, which is a vital element of our cultural relations’ mission.

This project reinforces the sense of pride we take in our assessment work and builds an awareness not only of our past endeavours in this field, but also underlines the confidence in the contributions we believe we can make in the future.

In the past few years, we have reaffirmed our place among the world’s leading test development institutions. This project contextualises our development and demonstrates , the importance of tradition and trust in this profession to our international partners and clients.

Origins of the project

Prof. Barry O’Sullivan, Head of Assessment Research and Development:

"The inspiration to investigate and chart a history of the British Council’s work in assessment came from a number of sources. One of these was Cyril Weir’s excellent book, written for Cambridge English Assessment, on the history of that organisation’s work in the area of assessment, from its beginnings in 1913 to the present day.

Cyril’s work focused very much on the theoretical principles that underpinned their various tests over the years. Within that volume, there were a number of references to the British Council’s involvement with Cambridge, and most interestingly to the agreement between the two institutions, signed in 1941, in which the British Council agreed to provide the expertise to help Cambridge develop English examinations.

The other main source of inspiration came from my own involvement with the British Council over the years. Many years ago Cyril and myself spent a wonderful evening with Alan Moller, shooting the breeze and talking about the ‘good old days’ of language testing in the British Council.

After that, I went on to work on projects such as the assessment element of the Peacekeeping English Project, the EXAVER project in Mexico and later the International Language Assessment, a placement test for use across the British Council teaching centres. All these things were rattling around in my head when I met with Cyril in the late summer of 2013. By the end of that get-together, we had an idea and a plan. The rest, as they say, is history…"