Talking with experts in ELT!

Interviews on education and language teaching

Tom Reynolds: Grades are a destination, let’s break down the language journey into steps

Tom Reynolds is an experienced classroom practitioner, school senior leader, consultant-adviser, teacher-trainer, and national Specialist Leader of Education with expertise in raising standards of English language teaching, learning, and assessment. As an assistant head teacher, curriculum leader, and consultant/advisor, he has played a pivotal role in the successful improvement of under-performing English language departments across the UK and specializes in working within exceptionally challenging timescales and circumstances.

 As a post-BA-diagnosed dyslexic, his methodical ‘skill-by-skill’ and ‘step-by-step’ approach to English language education has enabled him to empower teachers, students, and leaders alike by reducing ‘over-load’, improving outcomes, and supporting schools to raise their examination results to record levels.

Text by: Anastasia Spyropoulou

 Reynolds is the founder and director of EdenFiftyOne™, the ed-tech platform that encapsulates his approach to promoting a logical, clear, and collective methodology that demystifies the educational English language experience from the classroom to the exam hall. He works both nationally and internationally as an education consultant and intervention strategist for the teaching, learning, and assessment of the English language.

 EdenFiftyOne™ is the ed-tech platform that clarifies, monitors, tracks and teaches the 51 universal skills of reading, writing speaking, and listening within English language education.

In harmony with all exam board specifications and international awarding bodies, the EFO™ platform accurately maps the journey of teaching, learning, and assessment: from intermediate levels of literacy to advanced-level communication [B1-C2].

Empowering English teachers and learners and enhancing the English language assessment process, EdenFiftyOne™ promotes a logical, universal and accessible methodology that demystifies the English language experience for everyone involved: from the classroom to the exam hall and into the wider world…

Begin your EFO™ journey: one skill and one step at a time…

  • What is the platform you have developed?

 The ed-tech [education technology] platform is called EdenFiftyOne™. The platform enhances global English language teaching, learning, and assessment by unlocking the 51 universal skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening that every ELT exam-board qualification is based upon.

  • We know that there are four basic language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. You have identified 51. How?

 I think that my answer to this may require people to think a little differently...

 Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are, of course, the four, permanent pillars of language communication. But, however widely accepted, for reading, writing, speaking, or listening to be specifically and individually referred to as being ‘a skill’ is perhaps detrimental to the clarity and success of the teaching, learning, and assessment process.

 For example, if writing itself was indeed a ‘singular skill’ [the skill of writing], teachers would be able to provide supportive and impactful student feedback by simply stating ‘work on your writing skill’. The same could, of course, be said for reading, speaking, and listening. Feedback such as this would mean very little, if anything, to the student.

 This is because proficiency within reading, writing, speaking, and listening is achieved holistically: once all of the individual skills have been shared, understood, developed, and combined confidently together, we can consider ourselves to be ‘skilled’ readers, ‘skilled’ writers, ‘skilled’ speakers and ‘skilled’ listeners. Simply put, we become ‘skilled’ in a subject when we have mastered the skills that the subject is made of. The subject itself is therefore not ‘a skill’ but a result; a product; a sum of all its parts...

 This is where the EdenFiftyOne™ platform helps to clarify, support, and enhance the teaching, learning, and assessment of every English language exam board.

There are 100s of ELT exam boards and qualifications across the world -Greece alone, as you know, has 29: it was 2 just over ten years ago; this number is ever-growing as each one purports to be slightly different from the next. However, English language exam boards do not make up for their own skills. Exam candidates were required to demonstrate the same skills one hundred years ago as they are today. Having studied the expectations of 10s and 10s of English language exam boards, at the core of the English language, there are only 51 universal skills of reading [18], writing [18], speaking, and listening [15].

  • You call them 51 expectations. Do you mean what is expected from a student to learn?

 Yes. There are 51 skills that English language exam boards can choose from and consequently, 51 skills that English language exam boards can ‘expect’ students to demonstrate in assessment.

 Therefore, prior to assessment, there are 51 skills that English language teachers should be ‘expected’ to teach and 51 skills that English language students should be ‘expected’ to learn.

  • Could you give us an example?

Of course! Writing Skill 14 [W14]: To use a full range of punctuation symbols correctly/effectively. 

Long before the first English language exam boards were introduced by Oxford and Cambridge in the nineteenth century, students of the English language have always been -and will always be- expected to demonstrate their proficiency in the correct and effective use of punctuation.

Now with 10s of exam boards for English language learners to choose from, candidate proficiency in this skill, is not specific to any one exam board. Indeed, it is routinely expected by all of them as the universal skills of the English language. They precede and exceed the limitations of boards that examine them.

The same can be said for every one of the 51 for example:

  • Writing Skill 2 [W2]: To focus on the purpose of the task. [Inform/Persuade/Describe etc.]
  • Writing Skill 8 [W8]: To introduce, develop and conclude your response.
  • Reading Skill 8 [R8]: To make statements that clearly provide your opinions and ideas.
  • Reading Skill 9 [R9]: To quote concise evidence in support of your statements.
  • Speaking Skill 3 [SL3]: To consider the needs/expectations of your audience [Teenagers/Adults etc.].

 Exam boards can decide:

  • which of the 51 skills they want to test -some ‘lighter’ exam boards may not require one or two of the ‘higher-order’ reading skills such as ‘R17 – To evaluate the writer’s intentions]
  • how many marks are attributed to each skill –weighting.
  • the texts to be read and responded to.
  • the dialogue to be listened to and responded to.
  • the written and verbal tasks to be conducted.

Exam boards do not make up new skills; they use the range of the above-mentioned ones.  

  • You claim that the EdenFiftyOne™ methodology demystifies the educational English experience. Are there any mysteries in the way teachers teach and students learn?

I can answer this as a learner of the English language, a teacher of the English language, and a post-BA-diagnosed dyslexic.

  • As a learner, if I had known how many skills I needed to understand and develop, in order to achieve a high standard of proficiency across reading, writing, speaking, and listening, my learning experience would have been a lot less challenging as I would not have been aiming for the unknown.
  • As a teacher, if I had known how many skills I needed to understand, share and develop with my students, in order for each and every one of them to achieve a high standard of proficiency across reading, writing, speaking and listening, my teaching experience would have been a lot less challenging as I would not have been attempting to monitor the unknown.

 If the teacher does not know how many skills they are required to teach within the four pillars of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, then the student cannot know how many skills they are supposed to learn and master. Without a number, the teaching and learning of the English language retain an element of mystery, at the expense of clarity, certainty, and ultimately, assessment outcomes.

 By sharing the 51 universal and permanent skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, with both teachers and learners, the core system at the heart of the English language experience is ‘demystified’.

  • How does the platform track students' progress in so many skills?

As English language teachers, we cannot simply choose to tick [ü] or cross [X] student performance in the way that maths teachers can. However, we can use a simple, 4-tier, traffic-light-style system, as seen in the EFO™ platform example below.


Brilliant / Impressive – 85% of the time [or more]


Good / Secure – 65% of the time [or more]


Okay / Developing – 50% of the time [or more]


Weak / Priority – Less than 50% of the time

Here, we can see how a student’s proficiency, in the 18 universal skills of English language writing, is clearly communicated. 

This system enables the teacher to enter student performance quickly and efficiently by simply selecting one of four colours; the skills can also be taught and assessed in any order; singularly or in unison. 

Developed by a teacher, for teachers, and by a learner who needed greater clarity in his own learning journey, this system not only saves time and effort but also has a far greater impact on everyone.

  • Is students' performance in language exams improved with the use of the platform? How?

 Absolutely. Schools have reported their best-ever English language results since using the EFO™ platform.

Referring again to the above example, we can see that the student may be disappointed with their ‘Overall Writing’ proficiency [58.61%]. However, rather than simply seeing or being told the writing grade and being disappointed, they can see that they are performing really well in 3 areas [Blue]; quite well in 7 areas [Green]; adequately in 4 areas [Yellow], and that they only have 4 priority areas for development. They will also know that improvement in these 4 specific areas will improve their ‘Overall Writing’ proficiency and therefore, their overall English language grade.

This clear, step-by-step, and visual approach to the English language provides a greater sense of ownership for the teacher and the learner on their shared, progress journey enabling them to improve and develop together one skill and a step at a time...

More examples would be found within two of the writing skills:

  • Writing Skill 4 [W4]: To adapt your language choice and register[Formal/Informal] and tone depending on audience and purpose
  • Writing Skill 5 [W5]: To produce the response in the appropriate form[Letter/Article/Report etc.]


  • Is the platform complete?

Instructional videos to develop understanding within each of the 51 skills will be added throughout the year enabling the teachers to build clarity and confidence before creating exam-board-specific resources as well as the learners to build clarity and confidence before attempting to complete exam tasks.

For general information about the EFO™ platform, people should visit www.edenfiftyone.com 

PACE Ahead is EFO™'s official partner in Greece.