North Macedonia Signs NATO Accession Agreement

Congratulations to North Macedonia on the signing of the NATO accession agreement in Brussels yesterday. This is the first step towards full NATO membership, and now all NATO countries need to ratify the agreement. Greece will go first.

Coincidentally, Rob is in Skopje this week working with the STANAG Testing Team on their level 2 and 3 speaking and writing tests, as reliable STANAG tests scores are a key component for interoperability within NATO at all levels, and for selecting the right personnel to take part in multinational peace support operations worldwide.

A Masterclass in Minsk

Rob spent last week in Belarus delivering a Masterclass in Teaching course for 14 Military Academy teachers at the Central Officer’s Club in Minsk. The course was jointly organised by the Military Academy, the Belarus MOD, the Defence Section of the British Embassy and the British Council in Ukraine. The revised British Council Certificate in Vocational English Language Teaching (CiVELT) course was used as the core of the programme, supplemented with McIlwraith Education materials.

The course considered all aspects of ESP teaching and the teachers were introduced to new ideas and activities for skills based lessons, and vocabulary and grammar teaching. The event was closed by HM Ambassador to Belarus, Ms Fiona Gibb, and Colonel Susha, Deputy Commandant for International Co-operation at the Military Academy.

Teacher Training in Novi Sad

Rob spent this last week in Novi Sad in Serbia training a group of military English teachers from Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro on behalf of the British Embassy in Belgrade. Nine teachers spent the week looking at planning different kinds of lessons, considering new ideas for reading skills lessons (the Deep Text and Dual Text approaches), developing listening and video lessons, and thinking about how to create better information gaps. At the end of the week, the participants worked in groups to develop lesson plans and materials based on the ideas explored in the seminar. These will now be polished, trialled and shared.

Reviewing and Revising Tests and Curricula in Skopje

Rob spent last week in Skopje, Macedonia working with the Centre for Foreign Languages teaching team as they started the revision of their English language course curricula. The team looked through the current STANAG descriptors and identified what tasks and topics were not currently included in the curriculum and added these. Then all the course curricula were reviewed and revised in detail, the course length and number of hours were reconsidered, and the placement testing process was revised. The teachers now have to complete the revision process ready for the new curricula to be introduced in January 2020. Skopje is currently enjoying a lovely golden autumn and was beautiful in the warm sunshine.

Claire on the Campaign Trail in Uzbekistan

Last Friday Claire returned from Uzbekistan where she had been running the second in a series of NILE led workshops for teachers at the National Guard Institute. This particular 10-day workshop focused on how to teach using the military English coursebook Campaign, which the Institute will introduce this academic year on the English language programme for their cadets.

The workshop was highly practical and gave the teachers opportunities to jointly plan and teach different sections of Campaign in micro-teaching sessions. Overall, the teachers did an excellent job and Claire has very confidence in their ability to effectively use this coursebook. She wishes them all the best and hopes that they, and their cadets, enjoy using Campaign!

Claire at the National Guard Institute in Tashkent

Claire has just spent two weeks in Uzbekistan working as the Project Lead Consultant for Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE) on a British Council Professional Development Programme for Military English Language Teachers Project. She delivered the first of what will be a series of workshops to teachers working at the National Guard Institute in Tashkent. This initial workshop focussed on language teaching methodology. The second in-country workshop, which Claire will run at the end of October, will build on the first with a practical focus on teaching using the military English coursebook Campaign.

Her thanks go to the National Guard Institute for making her feel so welcome and to the teachers for their enthusiasm and hard work during the workshop. Claire is very much looking forward to returning to deliver the next workshop at the end of the month and to enjoying Tashkent life once more.

Baltic States Summer Schools and Conferences

Rob has been busy helping organise and presenting at two events this summer. The Latvian Association of Teachers of English’s (LATE) Annual Conference was held on the 23rd and 24th August 2018 at Riga State Gymnasium No 1, Raina Bulvaris 8. The conference title was: Educating Today’s Learners for the 21st Century World: Competence-based Teaching and Learning. One hundred and forty teachers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia took part in the two-day conference. Rob’s presentation was about teaching writing: Writing: Still a Key Competency in the 21st Century.

The British Council/LATE Summer School: Coping with Competences was held recently on the 15-18 August at Priekuli Technical School in northern Latvia. Fifty-four primary and secondary school teachers from Latvia (and one from Lithuania) spent three days considering the new Latvian school curriculum and how best to deal with the challenges it will be bringing into their classrooms. The Summer School was an original proposal by Rob and organised by the Latvian Association of Teachers of English, of which Rob is Vice-President.

The trainers at the Summer School were mostly local Latvia-based trainers but the British Council sent Chris Thorn to give workshops on Engaging With Motivational Activities and Assessment for Learning. Chris was able to attend most of the Summer School and did not just fly-in-fly-out, which is often the case. This meant he had a better idea of the local teaching context, and was able to socialise and network with the Latvian teachers in the evenings.

The Summer School was not just workshops either. The teachers were asked to work in pairs to develop lesson plans based on the coursebooks they were using in their schools, incorporating ideas which they had been presented with during the workshop phase of the Summer School. By engaging in professional practice (lesson planning) they immediately had to incorporate the new ideas into their teaching in a collaborative learning process with their peers.

It’s Ntja in Namibia!

Rob has spent the last two weeks in Windhoek, Namibia, trialling his new Military English course book with officers of the Namibian Defence Forces. The training took place at the School of Military Science at the University of Namibia. Twenty-three officers – from captain to full colonel – took part in the course. The course was opened and closed by the Deputy Minister of Defence, a sign of how seriously the Namibian’s take the English language proficiency of their soldiers. It was a joint project with the British Council in Namibia and the Namibian Ministry of Defence, and part of McIlwraith Education’s ongoing engagement with Africa. Rob waived his usual fee and covered his own costs. Rob will now make final revisions to the course and move towards publication.

Claire at IATEFL

Last week Claire visited the IATEFL Conference and Exhibition in Brighton, UK. During her three days there she attended some excellent plenaries, in particular Brita Fernandez Schmidt’s on the work that Women for Women International carries out helping women in countries affected by conflict. It was an incredibly sobering, yet inspirational talk, which left a strong impression on Claire. (The plenary can be watched at:  She also attended as many workshops as she could in the time, which focussed on research, teaching with technology and teacher training. She found these really stimulating and they left her buzzing with ideas to develop further.

As a book lover Claire enjoyed visiting the publishers’ stands scanning them for new publications. She was excited to pick up a copy of Best Practices for Blended Learning by Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett, and was delighted to see that they have drawn on her questions for blended learning course designers from her book Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design to Implementation to create a checklist for successfully implementing Blended Learning.  The two other books that she came away with were Mind the App! 2.0 by Thomas Strasser, and a new British Council publication entitled A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research by Richard Smith and Paula Rebolledo, so she has plenty to keep her occupied!

Last, but not least, IATEFL is about catching up with friends and former colleagues, and Claire was delighted to spend a sunny lunchtime on Brighton’s beautiful beach with three members of the Macedonian team, Snezana, Jasmina and Aco, who she’s worked extensively with over the years!  She also found the time to take a flight on British Airway’s i360, a 162-metre/531-foot vertical cable car, which provided stunning 360-degree views across Brighton and the South Downs.

All in all, she found it to be a highly enjoyable, productive and stimulating conference – roll on IATEFL 2019!