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ESOL exams: A guide to awarding bodies

ESOL exam bodies UKWith so many awarding bodies out there offering such a wide range of ESOL exams, choosing the right suite of exams for your organisation and, more importantly, your learners, can be a little baffling!

Fear not! NATECLA has come to the rescue with a handy guide to help you choose. If you are still a little undecided, why not get in touch with some of the awarding bodies directly?:

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Find out more about the ESOL qualifications offered by these awarding bodies on their websites: 


The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA): The SQA do not offer ESOL RCF qualifications so are not included in the guide below. Their exams are benchmarked against SCQF levels. Visit the SQA ESOL website for more information. 

Qualification modes offered by each awarding body

ESOL qualification modes

Qualification features offered by each awarding body

Qualification features

Further information about ESOL qualification features:

  • Ascentis - No minimum registrations, no wait or re-registration for resits, listening tasks can be sat as a whole class, certification within 4 weeks, accredited for learners aged 14+, regular free regional support and standardisation events, subject expert external quality assurers
  • City & Guilds - Additional information is available from the City & Guilds ESOL Skills for Life (4692) website 
  • ESB - All Reading and Writing assessments are marked and moderated externally by ESB. Speaking and Listening exams are assessed at the learners' centres by ESB assessors.  Past papers and videos of Speaking and Listening assessments at every level are available on the ESB website.
    Exams can be booked 4 weeks before the Speaking and Listening exam date and 2 days before the Reading and Writing exam.  Assessment dates are at the centres' convenience. Speaking and Listening results are returned 5 working days from the date of the assessment. Reading and Writing results are returned 5 working days after receipt of papers at ESB or 10 working days in peak periods. Resits can be booked as soon as results are received. Candidates receive a personal Speaking and Listening report highlighting areas of good practice and areas for development. Speaking and listening assessments are communicative and taken in pairs.  Learners may take individual awards at different levels or an overarching certificate covering all three modes. Training is provided at the candidates’ centre and ongoing support is available from an ESOL specialist. 
  • Gateway Qualifications - Contextualisation is permitted for Speaking and Listening at all levels, and for Reading and Writing at Entry Levels. Gateway Qualifications has been chosen by the Ministry of Justice as the sole Awarding Organisation for the provision of ESOL for Prison Education.
  • NOCN - No minimum number of learners required and assessments available 5 days after registration. 
  • Pearson - Spiky profile is available through the individual awards, though not for Certificates.
  • Trinity - Free training provided for teachers and administrators. Two different speaking and listening components offered:  component 1: 1 to 1; component 2: group discussion. Other key features include: 100% external assessment; Clear guidance and resources and personal contacts for administrators and teaching staff

Registering your ESOL learners

Minimum number of learners required for assessments

Further information about the above:

  • ESB: Speaking and listening exams have a minimum fee of £450. No minimum fee for reading and writing. Dates for assessments are fully on demand. 
  • Gateway Qualifications: No minimum number of learners per cohort or per assessment.
  • Pearson: There is a minimum spend of £1000 per academic year, per centre.
  • Trinity College London: Minimum fee for S and L and R and W; fully on demand S and L; 25 set dates for R and W – opportunity for 3 start times per level on each set date. 

Registration deadlines

Days notice ESOL

Costs of ESOL qualifications

ESOL exam costs