LICS from CATS - a managed approach to the curriculum

Authors: Elspeth Jones and Ricarda Zoellner


This paper discusses how reviewing the curriculum can help in dealing with some of the pressures faced by language departments; considers how the needs of many kinds of students can be incorporated into, and satisfied by, a unified curriculum; considers how the Common European Framework can be used for Curriculum Review.

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Table of contents


This paper was originally presented at the Setting the Agenda: Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies in Higher Education conference, 24-26 June 2002.


It is widely accepted that language departments currently face a number of pressures, whether through the decline in applications from school leavers, from the need to widen participation, resource efficiency requirements or a reduction in the full-time student body. This paper considers how the Centre for Language Study at Leeds Metropolitan University (CLS) has sought to address these challenges through an innovative approach to the curriculum, which draws, inter alia, on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. A Centre-wide scheme now offers a series of awards for all of its 2,500 undergraduates, whether they be full or part-time, home or international and incorporates all 26 languages offered by the Centre.


CLS already had in place a Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS), which enabled part-time students to achieve a series of staged target awards, ultimately leading to a BA Honours. The curriculum and assessment methods were different from those in place for full-time undergraduates, which created a situation where:

  • staff had to cope with a wide range of modules and assessment methods;
  • although standardisation was undertaken, different language modules meant some inconsistencies in learning outcomes across languages;
  • there were few transfer opportunities for those wishing to change from part-time to full-time mode or vice versa.

In addition, there were issues which many other departments face such as:

  • a declining number of full-time students requiring efficiency gains to be made;
  • the need to benchmark language competence against agreed university descriptors of levels one, two and three (See Appendix 1 for Leeds Metropolitan University's Taxonomy of Undergraduate Assessment Domains);
  • quality assurance requirements and the need to rationalise academic management;
  • the need to widen participation and provide a framework for lifelong language learning;
  • a large body of part-time staff.

CLS has around 2,500 students from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of learning needs:

  • full-time undergraduates;
  • part-time students (mainly mature) in 26 languages;
  • students training to be teachers in any one of the above languages;
  • business clients learning languages for specific purposes;
  • students of English as a Foreign Language from around 60 countries.

It was decided to attempt to develop a single scheme which would cover all these learners and try to resolve the issues raised above. The title chosen was Languages for International Communication Scheme, or LICS and the scheme was implemented in 2001/02 for the first time.

Features of LICS

As noted above, one of our primary concerns was to resolve the issue of level of language competence in relation to university levels one, two and three. Along with many other departments, we have been under constant pressure to explain how, for example, pre-A level language competence can be justifiable at, say, level two in the university curriculum. We decided to divorce language competence from university level descriptors to put this argument to rest once and for all. Five generic language modules were developed for each of levels one, two and three, based on the transferable and academic skills as defined by the University's taxonomy. (See Appendix 1)

Table 1 Example of Leeds Metropolitan University's Level descriptors

Group/Interpersonal skills
Level one Ability to operate effectively and constructively in groups, albeit largely in an intuitive way
Level two Ability to begin to operate effectively in groups in professional and vocational settings with understanding of roles, leadership and the dynamics of groups
Level three Ability to interact with groups and individuals from professional and vocational settings, with a broad and self critical awareness

These generic modules can be adapted for different languages and levels of language competence. Differing degrees of language competence can be accommodated in any of these modules at any level, with learning outcomes as defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe (2001) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge University Press. See Appendix 2 for summary). This was chosen because:

  • the six levels fit well with university awards and levels;
  • it describes virtually every possible use of language and can be adapted to all assessment tasks;
  • it articulates in detail what the learner can do, making it easy for tutors to understand.

Assessment is then devised taking into account the language, level of language competence and the transferable skills to be assessed. This offers the significant advantage of flexibility (See Appendix 4 for an example of a full module description with associated assessment). Students from different courses studying at the same level of language competence can be grouped together. The assessment, however, must reflect the university level of the students, which is achieved by clearly-defined assessment criteria. (See Appendix 3 for identification of Key Skills assessment across the language modules in the scheme).


  • Working with many part-time tutors means that information has to be spelled out in detail to avoid confusion. This has led to greater complexity than originally planned, although the scheme design remains very flexible.
  • There are some issues with the Common European Framework, for example, level B1 is extremely broad and covers a wider range of language competence than the other descriptors.
  • A desire for academic simplicity has resulted in complex administrative systems, with students studying modules at different university levels in the same class as a result of their equivalent language competence.
  • Rate of progress is an issue in some languages, for example Japanese and others with a non-Roman script.


  • Ease of delivery for tutors has been a major benefit in the context of diverse awards and a varied student body.
  • The scheme is an excellent vehicle for staff development, both operationally and in terms of professional development such as pedagogy and language acquisition processes.
  • Standardisation of language competence across languages has been made easier.
  • Flexible course delivery for students has resulted in a wider range of languages as options.
  • Resource efficiency reduces the threat of languages being under pressure.


Although the creation of the scheme was a complex and time-consuming development, the resulting benefits so far seem to outweigh the disadvantages. It remains to be seen whether this continues to be the case.

Appendix 1 Leeds Metropolitan University - Taxonomy of Undergraduate Assessment Domains

Domains Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
Technical Skills Choose appropriate "tools" and use them for the accomplishment of simple tasks. Choose and develop the application of appropriate "tools" to the accomplishment of more complex set tasks. Application of a range of complex "tools" to novel situations in achieving innovative solutions.
Organisation and Planning Organisation of self, planning and organisation of tasks under close supervision, ability to organise and plan own studying patterns. Organisation of self, planning and organisation of tasks with increasing levels of independence and involving negotiation of outcomes and process. Ability to work autonomously over significant extended academic tasks and able to accept accountability for the process and outcomes.
Communication Ability to communicate in a clear and concise way, both written and orally, in relatively informal and limited length pieces of work, using appropriate technology. Ability to communicate in a clear and concise way, both written and orally, in more formal academic styles and in extended pieces of work. Ability to communicate in a clear and concise way, both written and orally, in formal styles in relation to major pieces of academic work.
Group/ Inter-personal Ability to operate effectively and constructively in groups, albeit largely in an intuitive way. Ability to begin to operate effectively in groups in professional and vocational settings with understanding of roles, leadership and the dynamics of groups. Ability to interact with groups and individuals from professional and vocational settings, with a broad and self critical awareness.
Data Collection and Interpretation Collection and organisation of data mostly from common and recommended secondary sources. Collection and organisation of data independently from wide range of secondary sources, the increasing acquisition of simple primary data collection techniques. Extension of knowledge of and capability with primary data collection methods and growing awareness of the choice and application of suitable methods.
Theory and Principles Knowledge and understanding of key theories and principles although still as discrete parts of a necessarily fragmented framework. Knowledge and understanding of key theories and principles but with a clearer understanding of their inter-relationships and discrimination of their relevance in different contexts. Ability to combine knowledge, theories and principles in novel ways in the analysis and solution of complex substantial problems.
Analysis and Reflexion Ability to analyse simple situations and problems for the relevant factors and main inherent issues. Ability to analyse more complex situations and problems for relevant factors/issues and demonstrate/justify the validity of analytical process. Ability to analyse complex situations and problems from a range of different viewpoints/theoretical standpoints and with some objectivity.
Application and Reflection Ability to apply learned theory and principles to straightforward and relatively unambiguous situations and problems. Ability to apply appropriate clusters of theories and principles to more complex and relatively ambiguous situations and problems and begin to reflect on the process. Ability to apply learned theory and principles in the identification of a range of valid solutions to complex problems and begin to reflect on the appropriateness of theory, practice and outcomes.
Synthesis and Evaluation Begin to organise, synthesise and evaluate structures for/and relationships between the knowledge and principles of the subject. Ability to identify a range of valid alternative solutions and to begin to discriminate and evaluate amongst these solutions in a reasoned way. Ability to synthesise theory and professional/vocational practice and to critically evaluate theory, process, solutions and outcomes.
Creativity Can identify and appreciate novel/original aspects of and perspectives on the subject. Ability to begin to express personal views/perspectives in relation to knowledge, issues and solutions within the subject, that are founded in/stemming from authoritative sources. Begin to identify new perspectives in and modifications to existing knowledge, structures, new areas for investigation, new problems for solution, transfer of knowledge/solutions into new contexts.

Appendix 2 Common European Framework of Reference for Languages - Summary

  A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2
Listening I can recognise familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly. I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements. I can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main point of many radio or TV programmes on current affairs or topics of personal or professional interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear. I can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. I can understand most TV news and current affairs programmes. I can understand the majority of films in standard dialect. I can understand extended speech even when it is not clearly structured and when relationships are only implied and not signalled explicitly. I can understand television programmes and films without too much effort. I have no difficulty in understanding any kind of spoken language, whether live or broadcast, even when delivered at fast native speed, provided I have some time to get familiar with the accent.
Reading I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues I can read very short, simple texts, I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters. I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters. I can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular attitudes or viewpoints. I can understand contemporary literary prose. I can understand long and complex factual and literary texts, appreciating distinctions of style. I can understand specialised articles and longer technical instructions, even when they do not relate to my field. I can read with ease virtually all forms of the written language, including abstract, structurally or linguistically complex texts such as manuals, specialised articles and literary works.
Spoken Interaction I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I'm trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics. I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can't usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself. I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies work, travel and current events). I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible. I can take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts accounting for and sustaining my views. I can express myself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. I can use language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes. I can formulate ideas and opinions with precision and relate my contribution skilfully to those of other speakers. I can take part effortlessly in any conversation or discussion and have a good familiarity with idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms. I can express myself fluently and convey finer shades of meaning precisely. If I do have a problem I can backtrack and restructure around the difficulty so smoothly that other people are hardly aware of it.
Spoken production I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know. I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job. I can connect phrases in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. I can narrate a story or relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions. I can present clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of subjects related to my field of interest. I can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options. I can present clear, detailed descriptions of complex subjects integrating sub-themes, developing particular points and rounding off with an appropriate conclusion. I can present a clear, smoothly flowing description or argument in a style appropriate to the context and with an effective logical structure which helps the recipient to notice and remember significant points.
Writing I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form. I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate need. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something. I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions. I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my interests. I can write an essay or report, passing on information or giving reasons in support of or against a particular point of view. I can write letters highlighting the personal significance of events and experiences. I can express myself in clear, well-structured text, expressing points of view at some length. I can write about complex subjects in a letter, an essay or a report, underlining what I consider to be the salient issues. I can select style appropriate to the reader in mind. I can write clear, smoothly flowing text in an appropriate style. I can write complex letters, reports or articles which present a case with an effective logical structure which helps the recipient to notice and remember significant points. I can write summaries and reviews of professional or literary works.

Appendix 3 Assessment of Key Skills - Languages for International Communication Scheme

Leeds Metropolitan University
The grid shows where key skills are assessed across the generic language modules in the scheme

Levels 1 and 2 Module Titles
Key Skills Languages for Group and Teamwork Language Skills Development Language in Use Independent Learning/ Observing Culture (level 2 only) Subject Context (Level 1 only)
Technical Skills      
Organisation & Planning      
Data Collection & Interpretation      
Group/Interpersonal Skills
Theory & Principles  
Analysis & Reflexion  
Application & Reflection  
Synthesis and Evaluation    

Appendix 4 Sample Module Description

Leeds Metropolitan University
Languages for International Communication Scheme

Module Title: Languages for Group and Team Work
Level: 1
Credits: 15
Subject code:  
Notional Learning Hours: 150 hours
Version Number/Date/Authorisation:  


To have achieved the language competence as specified for admission to the route.

Learning Outcomes

All tasks in the target language will be at a level appropriate to the language descriptors specified for the award.

On completion of this module students will be able to:

  • discuss or write effectively about a number of everyday topics in the target language;
  • understand spoken and written simulated and authentic texts on a range of non-specialist topics;
  • operate effectively and constructively in pairs and groups.

Indicative Content

The exact content will vary according to the target language. Areas for focus, however, will include:

  • oral interaction in a range of everyday communication contexts;
  • writing texts for a range of everyday communication contexts;
  • comprehension of simulated and authentic spoken and written texts;
  • vocabulary development.

Assessment Procedures

The mode of assessment will vary according to the route. In selecting the mode of assessment, consideration will be given to the students' overall study programme. The mode of assessment which is most sympathetic to and coherent with other modules will be selected. Synoptic assessment with other language modules will be encouraged where possible.

i) Presentation and project
Students will give an oral presentation based on a written group project.


ii) Coursework
Assignments and class tasks will be completed to reflect the four language skills and will include group work. They may be conducted under tutor or student-controlled conditions.

Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy

Language classes based on an interactive approach to language learning and teaching including, individual, pair and group work activities.

Indicative Distribution of Learning Hours

Contact Time: 30 hours
Time spent on Assessment: 40 hours
Guided/Independent Learning: 80 hours

Key and Associated Skills

This module reflects the level 1 competencies identified by the Taxonomy of Assessment Domains and the following are specifically assessed on this module:

  • Communication
  • Group/Interpersonal skills

Module Title: Languages for Group and Team Work
Level: 1

This module is offered in the following languages:

Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, EFL, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish Gaelic, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish.