The Micropolitics of EAP Centres: Opening Pandora’s Box

Our ‘professional’ literature prefers not to deal with the ‘unprofessional’.
Alderson, 2009:11.

[T]he core values of professional communities revolve around the expectation that we do not keep secrets, whether of discovery or of grounded doubt.
Shulman, 2000:50.

This blog post is an invitation to consider, critique and respond to what follows. And what follows is very speculative and tentative for reasons that will become clear.
The prompt for writing this blog entry are a series of questions:

What makes one EAP centre different from another?

How can we explain the culture, identity and ethos of an EAP centre?

Why do some EAP centres appear to flourish (despite often unfavourable structural forces) when some/many appear to struggle? Without wishing to suggest that ‘flourishing’ becomes yet another vague metric and opportunity to measure the unmeasurable, it does seem to me in my many conversations with colleagues in EAP in the UK and elsewhere over a number of years that some centres seem to thrive and others don’t. Some practitioners are happy others much less so.

I am not going to answer these questions as I don’t feel I am able do that but I am going to suggest that understanding the micropolitics of EAP centres might be helpful in providing part of a very complex response.
What EAP centres do share are the same structural forces that shape (but not wholly determine) EAP. I’ve blogged about the pernicious effects of neoliberalism already and won’t repeat the arguments here. EAP centres share the same contested and unstable knowledge-base (see this post for more information) and EAP practitioners across institutions often share similar educational backgrounds, aspirations, experience and transitions into EAP (although not as uniform as some commentators would have us believe). In other words, there is plenty that we do share, plenty that suggests we share similar social practices and plenty to suggest that our praxis is inspired from a shared and evolving understanding of theory, research and practice.
Where we do diverge is where we are located within the university: within a peripheral (from an academic perspective) service sector of the university, an independent profit-making unit, part of an academic school and ever more frequently in what is euphemistically called a ‘joint venture’ (rather than the more accurate ‘outsourcing’). Where EAP centres are housed will have some (and perhaps a great deal of) impact on the power, recognition, agency and perception of the centre (and those practitioners that work in them). The highly symbolic location of the EAP centre can only provide a partial explanation though of why EAP centres differ. Two comparable universities with EAP centres located in very similar university structures can nonetheless be and feel very different. Structural forces do not hammer down so hard that there is an undifferentiated mass of centres. Culture, context, history, people and micropolitics all contribute to shaping the ethos and identity of centres.
One way of beginning to unpack EAP centres is to account for the ethos, histories and practices of centres with the perceptions, beliefs and actions of those that work in them. Examining the micropolitics of EAP centres might help achieve this. Although we (with Ian Bruce) were largely interested in the effects of micropolitics on practitioner development and scholarship the following quote captures our understanding of micropolitics:

Micro-political studies are largely taboo within EAP and TESOL more widely (a notable exception being Alderson, 2009), and discussions are usually relegated to the margins of gossip at conferences and events. What is clear from our long experience in EAP is the significance of personal politics, the motivations of multiple actors and the complex and competing agendas and relationships that unfold and interact over time and contingently to shape a specific work environment and its response to structural forces. However, we know of this only experientially and anecdotally. Although controversial and not without risks, we would like to see more studies and expertise in understanding and exploring the culture and politics of centres. We know too little of how EAP centres function, why some centres are supportive of development and others not, why some thrive and others, many, struggle, why and how some managers and directors (and practitioners) embrace the market, why practitioners, at times, appear to reject or embrace scholarship.
Ding and Bruce, 2017:157.

Micropolitics is controversial and risky and opens up a potential Pandora’s box of partial insights, recriminations, libel, misunderstandings and damage to both institutions and people. Yet, there is a real imperative to understand how and why some centres can and do much more than survive and for this knowledge to be made available for scrutiny, critique and possibly used by others to influence or attempt change in their own institutions. Also we do need, collegially, with rigour and in good faith, to examine and understand poor practices and dysfunctional work cultures to change them and support those practitioners who are struggling with the micropolitics of work. And not just practitioners – it is too facile and unreflexive to assume that all cultural/political issues in EAP centres are not in part our own responsibility. We do have some agency and we also contribute to the ethos of where we work through our everyday interactions, conversations with others, our (mis) use of officious (contra official) power that we have, how we talk about what we do and each other, our everyday actions and how empathetically we try to understand those with different roles and perspectives. How we treat each other is significant in this respect.
There are ethical risks in undertaking this sort of research and there are methodological issues too – which is better emic or etic viewpoints? Are ethnographic/anthropological research methodologies the most helpful to uncover and analyse micropolitics? I don’t know the answers to this but I do feel that despite the serious risks attached to micropolitics we need to have the conceptual tools as well as the research to understand and improve where (and how) we work. It has got to be better than gossip and partial truths.


Bob Dylan, impact & the blurring of boundaries

Academic and author Paul Breen writes a guest blog on the growing importance that universities are attaching to the notion of real world impact, without a clear definition of what this means.

WINNING the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has placed Bob Dylan firmly in the analytical spotlight this past couple of days. It has also opened up a debate centred around the fact that this prize, historically, has been awarded as much for the realisation of idealism (in the original Swedish sense of the word) as it has been for the mastery of language, at which Dylan undoubtedly excels. There is rarely a day that passes without one of his phrases or lyrics cropping up in everyday thought and conversation.

For some, Bob Dylan is the 20th century Shakespeare. There is little doubt that the impact of his music has been a major determining factor in this noble, for some, break with tradition. Others see this as further evidence of the gradual dumbing down of society, where depth of knowledge is replaced by breadth of popular appeal. We only have to look at the content of the current American Presidential campaign and debates to garner evidence for such claims about the dumbing down of public debate.

Yet the reality is that Bob Dylan and many other musicians will have far broader impact in their lifetime than many academics could ever hope to even get within touching distance of. Indeed some would argue that academia has been pushed further out of touch with real world impact because of slowness to adjust to the speed and immediacy of the digital age. Despite that, impact is seen as a critical element of REF 2020, the great guiding light and set of goalposts for all our activities over the next couple of years.

This new emphasis on impact though is not simply talking about our impact in the academic or specific disciplinary context. It is suggesting that we have impact in the real world, which suggests that we as academics are to be measured not just on our professional achievements within work but on our personal achievements outside of it. Does this mean that the university can lay claim to those things we achieve in our spare time that help to boost our profile? For example, shaping political policy at national level can be seen as part of our impact. Thus if we are members of political parties in our spare time and we are invited to join committees that shape or challenge government policy, our unpaid work could have an impact of benefit and relevance to the REF.

In the same way, articles that we write outside of the work context can also be drawn upon in terms of real-world impact, which again asks questions of where the boundaries lie in terms of the professional and the personal. For me this is totally acceptable by the very nature of the jobs we do and the communities of practice in which we operate, but there seems to be a contradiction in this, and the increasingly corporate direction in which universities are moving. Many of us find our time being strictly measured and quantified in workload allocation models, which very often bear little resemblance to the actuality of what we do. Similarly, in theory, any work that we produce in a professional capacity belongs to the institution that we work for, though only technically if done within work time. In theory that should then mean we keep possession of those lessons and materials we produce on Saturday mornings of coffee and a hangover, but you may also find contractual clauses that define our work allocation more qualitatively as being the time it takes us to fulfil the duties of our roles. Therefore the Saturday morning shift still belongs to the university courtesy of the fact that we were not quite able to meet all the demands of our role in our regular Monday to Friday slot.

Similarly too, in some workplaces, there is a ban on use of personal email or on using the university postal service for personal purposes. So let’s say I am a member of the Green Party (hypothetically) and I use the university’s mailing service to distribute some promotional material to a newspaper. The folks in the post room may see this as personal, nothing to do with my job if I am a lecturer in English Language for example. Yet, let’s say I climb up the ranks of the party in terms of reputation as a consequence of my promotional efforts and end up becoming invited to join a government focus group on sustainability in higher education. My contribution to this group could count as impact.

Impact though remains a difficult phenomenon to measure, which brings me back to Bob Dylan. A lot has been written about the impact of his music upon culture and the changes to attitudes he has brought, particularly in his highlighting of social injustice. It is these changes to attitudes that satisfy the idealism criteria required by the Nobel judging panel. But did he really chronicle the fate of the African-American community in the manner of Toni Morrison or James Baldwin, the man she credits as one of the inspirations for her writing? Has he devoted his life to championing minority causes in the same manner as Ken Saro-Wiwa the Nigerian writer and environmental activist executed in Nigeria in the 1990s? Neither Baldwin nor Saro-Wiwa won Nobel Prizes, and nor have countless other minority voices, particularly those further inhibited by being female. Bob Dylan holds the cultural capital of being from a global superpower and presents his message through the highly commercialised and commodified medium of the music industry.

But to conclude I do think Bob Dylan deserves the prize because he is a master of language whose voice and lyrics cycle through our popular consciousness on a daily basis, and who reminds us all that writing belongs to those who poeticise, rather than prophesise. It would be wrong to deny the greatest lyricist of our age this prize on the basis of those who might also have deserved it either in the past or the present, but did not get it. This award has been a powerful statement on a contemporary redefinition of literature in an age when people are reading less and less, and on the importance of real-world impact.

That seems to be the buzz word/phrase of our era, though impact can be such a subjective factor, and the measurement of it raises as many questions as it offers answers. That’s no less true in the university environment than it is on the judging panel for literary prizes. The times they truly are a changing, as higher education redefines its own sense of impact.


The Limits of Identity Theory

The question of EAP practitioner identity is one that has proved to be a leitmotif (if often tackled obliquely) to many of the posts on this blog.  I have already noted Belcher’s (2012:544) recent observation that the ‘community that ESP professionals know the least about is their own’ ( and it would be interesting to speculate as to why this is the case. However, the purpose of this post is to point a way away from how identity has been theorised and why this is important work.

Given that the EAP practitioner is largely invisible in the EAP literature an obvious way to begin would be to turn to the research in teacher identity in TESOL, of which there is an abundance of articles and books examining teacher identity, for theoretical and methodological guidance. However, in this post I suggest that this leads to an impoverished understanding of the self and a very particular and very partial understanding of the politics of identity.

Varghese et al. (2005) claim that interest in TESOL teacher identity arose from two perspectives; the first is that teacher identity is crucial to understanding the language classroom, and the second, sociocultural and socio-political dimensions of language teaching (the so-called sociocultural turn in applied linguistics) came to the fore with a particular focus on identity as a key interest in language education. These claims made by Varghese et al. are, at best, myopic and reveal fundamental problems in theorising teacher identity (which I believe we in EAP would do well to avoid).

Identity theory in TESOL is largely parasitical on existent (and past) debates and frameworks in, inter alia, philosophy, politics and social theory. However, rather than suggesting a plethora of theoretical inspiration taken from elsewhere two associated theories dominate research in TESOL: poststructuralism and postmodernism. TESOL research is largely a reworking, repetition and reiteration of poststructural and postmodern theories of identities and, to use a poststructual expression, operates as theoretical hegemony in discourse on teacher identity in TESOL foreclosing other more promising avenues of research.

Perhaps the defining characteristics of postmodernism can be distilled as follows: an antagonism to any meta-theory (particularly Marxism); promotion of ethical, ideological and epistemological relativism; sensitivity to and celebration of identities, difference and diversity; a focus on context, discourse and practices; a lack of belief in social progress; an anthropomorphic understanding of knowledge and, most importantly, a deconstruction and dissolving of the self.

 [Postmodernism] stressed the fragmentary, heterogeneous and plural character of reality, denied human thought the ability to arrive at any objective account of that reality and reduced the bearer of this thought, the subject, to an incoherent welter of sub- and trans-individual drives and desires.

Callinicos, 1989:2


TESOL research on teacher identity parrots (almost to the point of parody) many of the concerns of poststructuralism and postmodernism:

… the concept of multiple subjectivities as dynamic, shifting, often conflicting and situated in particular sociohistorical contexts

Glodjo, 2016:5


[identity is} multiple, shifting, negotiated and contingent on external factors and protagonists

Cheng et al. 2015: xvi


Identity is not a fixed, stable, unitary and internally coherent phenomenon but is multiple, shifting and in conflict

Verghese et al 2005: 22-23.


Whether by ‘asphyxiation by social forces’ (Archer, 2000:18) or dissolution in discourse there seems to be only remnants of the self; an ontological self lacking both in coherence and initiative (Callinicos, 1989:6). This is what TESOL research, by and large, offers as a model for identity.

A second point to make here is that TESOL research on identity in general repeatedly focusses specific features of identity notably race, gender and sexual orientation, but almost never on social class. This means that the sociocultural turn in applied linguistics has, as David Block (2014) has noted ‘erased’ social class from applied linguistics (again following trends in the social sciences). Why? Block’s speculative answer to this is interesting (but incomplete) adopting Bourdieu’s notions of intellectualcentricism or scholastic fallacy to suggest:

An important aspect of researcher’s life stories and trajectories is their middle class condition, it is not surprising that there is often a tendency to impose on a view of the world that emanates from and reflects middle class position…  This means that when focusing on identity, as a lot of applied linguists have done in recent years, there is a strong tendency focus on issues around gender, race, religion, and sexuality because these are dimensions of identity that are most salient to applied linguists in their daily lives and middle class people in multicultural societies.

Block, 2014: 170.


Whilst Block gives a highly plausible (and damning) explanation of the erasure of social class from applied linguistics and Varghese et al. (2005) give an equally plausible (but very narrow) explanation for the growing interest in teacher identity in TESOL, what has not been explained is why identity has become so indispensable in politics and social theory in recent years.

Izenberg (2016) and Moran (2015) offer complimentary accounts of the historical emergence of identity. Moran argues that identity is an ideological keyword – a cultural materialist concept developed by Raymond Williams (1985) – and the core premise is that ‘words change their meaning over time in relation to changing social, economic and political pressures’ (Holborow, 2015:71) and the ‘problems of its meanings [are] inextricably bound up with the problems it [is] used to discuss’ (Williams, 1983:15). Put simply, identity now carries meanings and effects that it didn’t have even 70 years ago. Identity came to mean what it does today at that precise moment in history when questions of the self and group became problematic. Identity is an articulation of threats to the self and group. Moran (idem: 25) relates the emergence of new meanings attached to identity to three key changes:

  1. Emergence of new social movements around race and gender
  2. Intensified consumption in contexts of contemporary capitalism
  3. Popularisation of psychology and the self help industry

Identity has been largely appropriated by the cultural postmodern left (rather than the economic  Marxist left) and has generally refused to base identity in the material and social conditions of capitalist societies. However, because of theoretical commitments to anti-essentialism (or anything foundational) postmodernism is unable to conceive of identity as anything other than fragmentary, partial, contingent, and fluid. It is more a paralogical understanding of identity: a theory against identity. It is a theory that denies that there is anything essential to an identity of a person or group. Ever finer demarcations of identity are sought to counteract claims of essentialism to capture the experience of a given group leading to ever decreasing group affiliations and ever increasing incommensurate identities and voice. This has the effect of atomising groups to individuals and weakening social ties and solidarity: poststructuralism and postmodernism are highly congruent with neoliberalism and individualism and it is no historical accident that both have flourished at the same moment.  Postmodernism and poststructuralism identity politics is all about recognition of difference and nothing about redistribution which is one reason why it sits so well with neoliberalism:

Recognition at the level of discourse and attitudes is of course important, but it is not enough, and at worst may be tokenistic. It is easy for the dominant to grant discursive recognition and civility to the dominated or socially excluded; giving up some of their money and other advantages to them another matter.

Sayer, 2005:64


The purpose of this blog post has been to lay the groundwork for a positive theory of identity that could be applied to EAP practitioner identity without succumbing to the weaknesses of theoretical frameworks that have shaped discourse of teacher identity in TESOL. As there has been no research (to my knowledge) specifically on EAP practitioner identity we have no theoretical legacies to follow, no established frameworks to respect, and no discourses which have erased or promoted specific aspects of identity. I believe it important not to follow the lead given by research in TESOL because, in the end, it can only offer a very partial account of our identity and a very emaciated one at that.

My positive theory of identity discusses the following elements:

  1. Provide a link from identity to agency
  2. Have explanatory powers to articulate the relationship between structure and agency and, specifically account for morphostatis and morphogenesis i.e to account for how agents are shaped by structural forces and how agents change structure over time.
  3. Account for, at least theoretically, how professional identity is shaped. What are the discourses, knowledge bases, practices, and social material contexts and forces that intersect to influence professional identity?
  4. How does personal identity relate to social identity (or which one aspect is professional identity)? How do our personal concerns and commitments manifest themselves in the social sphere?
  5. What connects or affiliates one practitioner to another? Is there such thing as a profession? Is there an essence to EAP? Something that binds all practitioners?
  6. How do we account for recognition, distinction, social stratification and boundaries in defining a practitioner? Who makes these distinctions? And how do we change them?
  7. How do neoliberal values impose themselves in universities and how do these values transform practitioner identity?

The framework for identity coming in the following post is inspired by many of the fundamental premises of critical realism especially in the works of Margaret Archer and Dave Elder-Vass.

Archer, M. S. (2000) Being Human: The Problem of Agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Belcher, D. (2012) ‘The future of ESP research: Resources and access and choice’ in B. Paltridge and S. Starfield (eds). Handbook of English for Specific Purposes. Boston: Blackwell, pp.535-552.

Block, D. (2014) Social Class in Applied Linguistics.  London Routledge.

Callinicos, A. (1989) Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cheng, Y. L., Said, S. B., and Park, K.’ Expanding the Horizon of Research in Language Teacher Identity’ in Cheng et al. (eds) Advances and Current Trends in Language Teacher Identity Research. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. xv-xxi.

Glodjo, T. (2016) ‘Deconstructing Social Class Identity and Teacher Privilege in the Second Language Classroom’. TESOL Journal .

Holborow, M. (2015) Language and Neoliberalism. London: Routledge.

Izenberg, G. (2016) Identity: The Necessity of a Modern Idea. Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press.

Moran, M. (2015) Identity and Capitalism. London: Sage.

Sayer, A. (2005) The Moral Significance of Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Varghese, M., Morgan, B., Johnston, B, and Johnson, K, A. (2005) ‘Theorizing Language Teacher Identity: Three Perspectives and Beyond’, 4(1), Journal of Language Identity and Education, 21-44.

Williams, R. (1983) Keywords: A Vocabulary of Society and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.

EAP as Pharmakon: are we all neoliberals now? 

This post is a response to my previous post ‘Neoliberal EAP: are we all neoliberals now?’  ( and is a continuation of a dialogue started by Julie King ‘Credentials, credibility and the EAP practitioner’ ( as well as a contribution by Gemma Campion ‘What is required to teach EAP?’(

Pharmakon means remedy, cure and poison (it can also mean charm, drug, medicine …). It has an indeterminate meaning in which the opposite meaning is contained within it. Pharmakon reflects an intrinsic ambivalence inherent in EAP suggesting that EAP is capable of being a remedy and poison. There is a third meaning to pharmakon -scapegoat – which also fits neatly with perceptions of EAP. I have chosen pharmakon as a heuristic to respond to ‘Neoliberal EAP: are we all neoliberals now?’  because pharmakon captures the complexity, ambivalence and ambiguity of the praxis of EAP within neoliberal universities.

It is axiomatic that EAP, in the UK and elsewhere, has flourished due to governments and universities aggressively competing to capture increasingly large numbers of international students for reasons including financial gain. However, it does not follow logically that we need to succumb – either with enthusiasm, indifference or resignation – to an ideology of neoliberalism within EAP.  Simply because EAP exists largely (but not wholly) as a consequence of neoliberalism does not entail that we must frame, justify and, most importantly, shrink our activities (teaching, scholarship, …) to a reductive commercial enterprise and philosophy. If and when we do this EAP becomes more poison than remedy.

It is also axiomatic that education is transformative. By that, I mean something rather banal: education necessarily entails some kind of transformation (of students, teachers, the institution, knowledge ..) whenever teaching (and not just teaching) takes place. Lessons, seminars, lectures, modules, syllabi and curriculum all explicitly and implicitly aim at some notion of change, development or progress. The key question here is to examine what sorts of transformations – within admittedly unfavourable structural/ideological conditions – do we wish to aim for when we design and teach a multitude of EAP courses. What are our purposes when we speak of EAP? The purposes of universities (and of disciplines) involve considering the values that are invested in knowledge and universities. Whilst (UK and many other countries too) government policy is dominated by neoliberal directives and discourse, limiting not only the autonomy and functioning of universities but also public debate and understandings of the purposes of education, this is not necessarily reflected in the values of those who inhabit the university and give it its identity. There are competing purposes for the university – many of which are as instrumental as the neoliberal ideal of education as a means to advancing personal wealth – such as social transformation and nation building. There is also the important but often now considered quaint, politically naive or perhaps even elitist idea that there is intrinsic epistemic value in knowledge i.e. knowledge (and building and accessing knowledge) is a good in itself. These, and other, ideals compete and co-exist within the university. So, when we think of the purpose in EAP it is important to consider other values and idea(l)s of the university – and to consider where our values reside and should reside. It is the critical exploration of these and other values and focusing on praxis that EAP can avoid slipping into being/becoming a simple commodity. By transforming curricula where knowledge and intellectual engagement (of students and practitioners) are central and opening up discussions of the purposes of university to students counteracts instrumental visions of education. This has to be done in a way that is not demagogic (a perhaps reasonable accusation sometimes directed at Critical EAP and AcLits) but more an invitation to consider values and ideals in universities. An irony that the metaphor of a marketplace of ideas is a good thing.

In order for (the epistemic value of) knowledge to become a central value in the teaching of EAP entails practitioners’ education and knowledge-base (or as BALEAP labels it – competencies) expanding to incorporate a deep understanding of the values, socio-economic forces and politics that frame local, as well as global, enactments and embodiments of university education and research. We need to understand sociologically how knowledge is constructed without losing sight of the intrinsic value of knowledge. Through a thorough and critical understanding we can firstly, begin to question, reaffirm or modify our own values, actions and commitments and, secondly, assess the extent to which our values are dissonant with the values that prevail. How subversive can we be?

We also need to engage in developing a critical understanding and assessments of the range of ideologies, theories, pedagogies and research that have shaped the teaching of EAP and analyse the extent to which specific influences enable, distort or obscure an attempt to position EAP in less subservient, derivate and commodified ways. In other words, to move us beyond the often common perception of EAP practitioners as language fixers and working within an intellectually vacuous field.

By engage in scholarship, with a wide range of communities, we open our endeavours to public scrutiny and critique and use by communities, to make our presence felt and to influence and engage other important communities. It is important to have our own vibrant EAP scholarship community but it is equally important not to turn inward and navel gaze because we need to argue, collectively and individually, in a principled and informed way to exert pressure to change those values and structures that undermine what we wish to achieve – to find elbow-room within traditions (of EAP), university contexts and structures which are not always, or often, favourable. We need too to establish intellectual capital in the university – to participate fully in university life. There are a wide range of conditions that often hinder or obstruct the emergence, maintenance or development of intellectual capital – it is these conditions we need to transform.

What is required to teach EAP?

This guest post is by Gemma Campion – currently a colleague at Nottingham. We co-wrote a chapter on teacher education and development for the Routledge Handbook of EAP which is due to be published later this year. Gemma won the BALEAP MA dissertation award in 2012 ‘The learning never ends’ Investigating teachers’ experiences of moving from English for General Purposes to English for Academic Purposes in the UK context; What are the main challenges associated with beginning to teach EAP, and how can these challenges be overcome?’”

Since my days as an ESOL teacher, deciding to study an MA with some vague sense that it would help me get into EAP, I have always been interested in how it is that one becomes an EAP practitioner, perhaps particularly because of the apparent mystery that seems to surround it. As an outsider to the profession I had a sense that EAP was quite different to other types of ELT I had experience of, but I was never sure quite how; I’d read bits of information; EAP Essentials for example, with its comparative table of ‘General English’ and ‘EAP’ attempts to provide a comprehensive account of the differences, but the problem was often that I didn’t even recognise the ‘General English’ that was described in the EAP literature (given the plethora of contexts and forms this can take). So determined was I to try and find some answers, I even devoted my Masters dissertation to investigating the process of learning to teach EAP, but due a dearth of relevant research and literature, my understanding was limited to the small number of insights I gained from my own research with six EAP teachers. I wasn’t surprised therefore to see the recent request from the English teacher in Greece on the BALEAP mailing list (see thread ‘EAP experience question’ which began 04/12/14), asking for advice about how she could go about getting into EAP in the UK. I was more surprised however to see how a rather innocent enquiry provoked such a long and animated (at times even verging on heated) debate. What has struck me about the ensuing exchange is the apparent strength of feeling that people seem to have on this topic.

For those who may have missed, or not have access to the conversation, a whole range of views were expressed; from proponents of ‘ELT experience’, along with CELTAs and DELTAs, through to those arguing that a background in academia is more important. At its centre, the debate seems to draw on a basic dichotomy/distinction between skills and knowledge; is it more important to have a firm set of (CELTA/DELTA inspired) teaching skills in one’s repertoire, to be able to go into the classroom and deliver well-staged, neatly executed lessons, or does EAP require MA holders and ‘academics’ (those in possession of ‘paper qualifications’) who, even if lacking in teaching skills and experience, may nonetheless have a much better understanding of academic literacies and the university context, and perhaps also a more questioning, critical disposition, such as we hope to foster in our students? Although these crude distinctions are, in some cases, a reduction of the views expressed, they nonetheless get at the types of binaries which seem to underpin what are essentially quite deep philosophical differences in beliefs about teaching EAP. For me, particularly with the increasing commodification of higher education, it seems that such questions are doubly significant because they are also inescapably political in nature. If we take the former view of EAP teaching; what for me is something of a reduction of TEAP to a set of skills, which can be learned on a teacher-training course, what implications does this have for our status within the institutions for which we work? On the other hand, if ELT qualifications and background aren’t important, what does this do to our identity as specialists, who have had to undergo formal training in order to be able to do what we do?

Views expressed in the conversation also draw on distinctions between experience and disposition; with some comments pointing to the importance of EAP experience, while for others it is a teacher’s disposition, their flexibility to adapt for example, which marks them out as the ideal TEAP candidate. For me the question of experience has always been slightly perplexing; so often it is called upon in the professional TEAP literature as a sort of benchmark of quality, yet nowhere does anybody really explain why experience is of such fundamental importance, or justify why experience is necessarily equated with expertise and competency. Alongside references to the value of experience seems to be a corresponding preoccupation with the short-comings of the novice, albeit usually in the (slightly patronising) context of how the ‘novice’ can be brought up to standard. We see this for example in the British Council’s ‘Pathways in EAP’ (1) , which makes very broad assumptions about teachers based on their level of experience in EAP; those at entry level are told, for example to ‘beware’ of ‘overconfidence’. BALEAP’s TEAP Accreditation Scheme is similarly underpinned by the belief that development should be based on level of experience. What is it about experience that is so key for an EAP role?

What also interests me is, given that the question of what is required to be an effective EAP practitioner continues to provoke strong reactions, and varied responses, is why the profession has, collectively, always seemed so reticent about it. Aside from a couple of PIMS in the past couple of decades (2) and a handful of studies (a significant number of them unpublished MA dissertations; inter alia Alexander, 2007; Elsted, 2012; Campion, 2012; Post, 2010) historically, very little attention has been given to this issue. For me, this fact is as worthy of consideration as the question itself. I wonder if it is because of the way in which the question of what is required to become an EAP practitioner is intimately bound up with larger questions about practitioner identity, together with the sorts of political implications mentioned above. In order to know what is required, we need to know what we are, and perhaps this is the issue which seems to hold the greatest contention.

Despite some recent developments indicating perhaps a move towards a greater clarification and professionalization of the TEAP role; the inception of the BALEAP Competencies Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes (CFTEAP) in 2008, the emergence of MA programmes in TEAP in recent years, alongside other short TEAP courses; and most notably perhaps, BALEAP’s recent launch of the TEAP Accreditation Scheme in 2014, there are also equally some (more depressing) signs of a greater deprofessionalisation of the role; some TEAP courses and MA programmes have closed, many EAP jobs are now offered on a short-term and / or zero hours basis, and we are increasingly seeing out-sourcing of EAP provision to external providers. The professional literature and most adverts for TEAP jobs continue to favour generic ELT qualifications over specialist TEAP ones (3), suggesting that there isn’t anything particularly specialist needed to teach EAP.

The issue of EAP practitioner identity is again one that has received very little attention, but perhaps this is where we need to start. Ambiguities surrounding our collective identity were summed up in an earlier thought-provoking, blog post on here by Julie King (see ‘Credentials, Credibility and the EAP Practitioner’ June 2012). This post raised the question of where we see ourselves in relation to others; part of the broader world of ELT; inherently language problem-fixers, serving the needs of the academy, or closer to the academic community, with aspirations to the same sorts of entitlements to carry out research and scholarly activities that characterise work within the disciplines (4). Perhaps tackling questions such as this will help us to get a little closer to understanding not only what we are, but importantly, what we want or aspire to be. Then we might finally be in a better position to give a more coherent answer to the question of what is required to become an EAP practitioner.

(1) See:

(2) BALEAP PIM on Teacher Training in 2001, and BALEAP PIM on Teacher Education in 2014.

(3) The CFTEAP for example includes ‘Cambridge ESOL of Trinity Diploma in English Language Teaching (or equivalent)’ in its list of ‘appropriate qualifications for the UK context’ as well as an ‘undergraduate degree’, ‘postgraduate degree’, with the most specific qualification being an ‘ELT/TESOL/Applied Linguistics focus’ in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree (pp.11-12).

(4) Another post on here ‘EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner’ Alex Ding, December 2014, provides a summary of a meeting which was held to discuss the topic of scholarly activity for EAP practitioners, and issues of personal and professional development.


Alexander, O. (2007) ‘Groping in the dark or turning on the light: routes into teaching English for Academic Purposes’. In Lynch, T. (ed.) Teaching Languages for Academic Purposes. Edinburgh: IALS, Edinburgh University.
BALEAP (2014) TEAP CPD Scheme, available at
BALEAP (2008) Competency Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes, available at
British Council (n.d.) Pathways in EAP, available at

Campion, G. (2012) The Learning never ends: investigating teachers’ experiences of moving from English for General Purposes to English for Academic Purposes in the UK context; What are the main challenges associated with beginning to teach EAP, and how can these challenges be overcome? Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Nottingham.
Ding, A. (2014) EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner, available at
Elsted, F. (2012). TEAP teacher training & professional development in EAP: A Masters dissertation study. Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Essex.
King, J. (2012) Credentials, credibility and the EAP Practitioner, available at
Post, D. (2010) The transition from teaching General English to English for Academic Purposes: an investigation into the challenges encountered by teachers. Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Bath

Exploratory Practice and the EAP Practitioner

Continuing recent discussions here about the EAP Practitioner, Bee Bond outlines her views on teaching, research and the role of exploratory practice. As per usual, the purpose of the post is to provoke discussion and we’d welcome challenges, comments, digressions and any thoughts you might have.

Bee is a senior teaching fellow at Leeds University

I was thinking of starting a PhD; after all ‘We live in a world where only research matters’ (The Guardian; 24/4/2015).
However, research is not all that matters. The staff pages of my University’s website are as preoccupied with celebrating excellence in teaching in at least equal, if not greater, measure as successful research. Recent changes in HE have highlighted the importance of good teaching.

I am a teacher. I have 6 pieces of paper to prove that I have trained, qualified, reflected on and honed my teaching practices (to nowhere near perfection). Therefore, it is on ‘scholarly teaching’ and the ‘scholarship of teaching’ (Schulman; 2000), not research, that I should focus my energies. It is through this I can share and continue to develop my expertise.
Scholarship is often seen simply as a synonym for research or ‘research-lite’. Rather, I would argue, it is working to better understand what goes on in a classroom, then sharing this understanding with others. Scholarly teaching is taking and interpreting research and using this interpretation to enhance your practices. The scholarship of teaching is then telling others about the impact this and other pedagogical innovations have on your students’ experience and learning.
For many, the greatest barrier to scholarly activity remains lack of time. However, the more I have pondered this the more I believe that this is actually a non-issue. If scholarship is to be defined in close connection to teaching, then we do not need time away from teaching to be scholarly; rather we need to build scholarly thought and processes into our teaching. The student should remain central to our activity, and therefore be part of it.

One way of doing this is through Exploratory Practice (EP).

For a detailed exploration of Exploratory Practice see Allwright & Hanks (2009). In summary, it is based around 7 principles (p.149-153), the first of which is about maintaining ‘quality of life’ whilst the rest are generally based around collaboration and reflexive practices. EP also makes 5 propositions about learners (p.15). I think as EAP tutors there are lessons to be learned from these propositions and our general perceptions of the people we work with. Importantly for me, EP views the student as a ‘developing practitioner’, thus distinguishing itself from action research.

Exploratory Practice is about ‘puzzling’ to understand classroom life, not finding an answer to a problem. Questions are usually framed around a ‘Why?’

It is possible to work through Exploratory Practice in a number of ways. It can be, simply, a pedagogy along similar lines to task-based learning (see Hanks 2014 for a more detailed explanation). If a teacher engages individually in EP, it is most likely to result in an internal reflection on practice, but little more.

The third way of working through Exploratory Practice is for the teacher and her students to develop their puzzle together. It is here that I see the real potential.

In my example, the puzzle I developed with my (low level, Arabic L1, male, pre-UG) students was ‘why can’t they spell?’ On the surface, not very EAP. However, I felt that their problems with spelling were blocking any other learning from taking place and that we had reached an impasse when my usual ‘teaching tools’ had failed. Rather than feeling frustrated, I decided I needed to gain greater understanding, not an answer. In order to do this, I threw the question back to my students. By involving them, showing I valued their opinion and ideas, they became far more engaged in their learning in general. Together, we became mutually involved in co-creating a shared understanding of our collective puzzle. We did this, sometimes together in class, and sometimes separately. We were not constantly ‘doing spelling and Exploratory Practice’; it was a thread through our usual, more obviously EAP classes. None of this placed any greater burden on me than my normal teaching load. Anything ‘extra’ I did made my planning easier and was because I chose to, because I was interested and could see positive changes in my students, which in turn was making my time in class with them far more pleasant. Quality of life came first.

So, how does fit with my definition of scholarship? For EP to translate into scholarship of teaching there needs to be some form of transmission of the developed understanding. For me, unusually, this particular process became part of some PhD research (see also Hanks 2015). Rather less unusually, I produced a set of materials which are now used by a number of colleagues; I jointly ran a workshop with an interested colleague; I presented at a conference, and this month am involved in a day-long seminar organised by the School of Education.

This is just one example. The other reason why I am beginning to conclude that a PhD is not the right route for me (at least for now) is that I am too eclectic in my tastes. For a while, I was interested in spelling. Today, my students and I are wondering why it’s so hard to start writing, even when you know what you want to say! I don’t need to delve too deeply – we don’t have enough time;but I do want to focus on what the students in front of me need. This requires a teacher dedicated to teaching and learning, not a researcher dedicated to research.

Allwright, D. & Hanks, J. 2009 The Developing Language Learner: an Introduction to Exploratory Practice Palgrave Macmillan
Hanks, J. (2014). ‘Education is not just teaching’: Learner thoughts on Exploratory Practice. ELT Journal Vol 69 Issue2. DOI: 10.1093/elt/ccu063
Hanks, J. (2015). Language teachers making sense of Exploratory Practice. Language Teaching Research. DOI: 10.1177/1362168814567805
Schulman, L. 2001 From Minsk to Pinsk: Why a scholarship of teaching and learning? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Vol 1 Issue 1 p.48-53

The CEMistry of EAP

Well worth reading (as per usual)

The EAP archivist

I am in the process of establishing in-sessional provision at my new institution so this was a timely read – Sloan and Porter’s ‘Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: using the CEM model’ (2010).

The research that informs this article (conducted between 2005 and 2009) is grounded in the contemporary milieu that sees HE shamelessly obsessing over all things ‘international’. The authors (“two ‘subject champions’ from the English Language Centre and the Postgraduate area of Newcastle Business School” p. 199) were concerned with identifying whether the then “existing model of EAP delivery at the University [of Northumbria was] supporting the academic literacy learning needs of the international student body” (p. 199). This question was posed in acknowledgement of the fact that students seemed to be reticent in their engagement with in-sessional provision offered at the university. A problem that appeared evident to different sectors within the…

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