To all practitioners

Dave Allan



Who is he?

Dave Allan was born in Sheffield in March 1947, when the snow was up to first floor bedroom windows. He moved to the North-East at three months old, and then from Newcastle to Sunderland when he was three. He has been a longstanding (and sometimes long-suffering) supporter of Sunderland Football Club since they beat Newcastle in the FA Cup at St. James’s Park in 1956.

After seven years at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle and a ‘gap-year’ working on the buses in Sunderland, he gained a place at Emmanuel College, Cambridge to study French and German. Graduating in 1969 with a Joint Honours degree in Modern Languages, he went on to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (with Distinction). Already married with two children, following a meeting with the Head of Longsands Comprehensive in St. Neots to thank him for the chance to do research there (on motivation for language learners), he accepted a job at the school teaching French and German and training the football team.

Professional life

Dave’s first job in the world of ELT was driving a minibus on a Bell Educational Trust summer course (1969), followed by a post there as Social Programme Organiser (1970). In 1971 Frank Bell offered him a full-time job as a teacher at the Bell School in Cambridge and he switched from teaching French and German mixed ability groups at the St. Neots comprehensive school (a great learning experience) to ELT.

Having learnt languages through a ‘grammar-translation’ approach both at school and at university, he used direct method and audio-visual approaches at the comprehensive, but then joined Bell just as the ‘communicative approach’ was starting to influence the profession. Having seen so many people studying languages, passing exams with good grades but still having only minimal speaking and listening skills, the idea of a completely different approach to language learning, communicative, humanistic, learner- and learning-centered and interactive, with a focus on formative assessment, appealed hugely. Working at Bell Cambridge as a teacher and helping to set up a research and development department there, Dave found Bell was the perfect environment to start to put into practice an educational philosophy derived from broad progressive educational thinking in the 60s and ELT-specific developments in the 70s.

Before moving to Norwich in 1975 (incidentally, the year that John Munby published Communicative Syllabus Design) to take up the Director of Studies position at Bell Norwich, Dave completed the RSA Dip. TEFLA (with a Distinction in the practical), and subsequently embarked on an MA in ELT and Linguistics at York University, again gaining a Distinction (upgrading to an M.Phil., not completed) in 1980.

Finding that the Bell Schools had adopted a communicative syllabus, communicative materials, communicative methodology and a broadly humanistic approach to language learning but were still using formal assessment instruments designed decades earlier, was the stimulus to learn about new approaches to assessment that have remained a driving force throughout his career. In 1976 he became Principal of the Bell School, Bowthorpe Hall, Norwich, which gave him the opportunity to make the school what he and the team there wanted it to be. This meant humanistic approaches not only to the teaching and learning of language, but also to the leadership and management of a team of people working to provide teacher training and CPD for both new and experienced language teachers. In 1985-86, Dave applied his leadership and management experience to a Diploma course in Language Education and Management, once again earning a Distinction. He subsequently designed Master’s level programmes in language education management for the Universities of Nottingham and East Anglia, becoming an honorary fellow of the latter.

Dave worked as a consultant (1994-2000) on diverse projects for the British Council and education ministries in Bangladesh, Morocco and Tunisia, and as Director of British Council Summer Schools for Austrian Teachers. Between 1975 and 2023 Dave led projects, ran courses, delivered plenaries and workshops and supported education ministries through consultancies in 42 countries, with the main focus areas being language teaching methodology, assessment, language education management and professional development.

In 1995, Dave co-founded NILE, the Norwich Institute for Language Education, where he continues to hold the post of President. In the course of a long career in ELT, he has also chaired the ARELS Education Committee, and been a member of the UCLES Exams Committee and of the UK design team for IELTS. An active member of the IATEFL Special Interest Group (SIG) for Testing, Assessment and Evaluation, he served as Coordinator of the SIG from 1989 to 1998. He has also been Chair of MATSDA (the Materials Development Association) and an Expert Member of the British Council Accreditation Committee. Most recently he has been a member of the British Council’s English Language Advisory Group.

Key Influences and critical friends

Dave has said that over the 50+ years of his career colleagues worldwide who have been important influences are too numerous to mention, but his longstanding ‘critical friends’ certainly include his Bell and NILE colleagues and, for different aspects of HLT in the 70s and early 80s, he would want to mention Rod Bolitho, Robin Davis, Shelagh Deller, Susan Holden, Lynette Murphy O’Dwyer, Sandra Nicholls, David Nunan, Sue O’Connell, Philip Prowse, Hilary Rees-Parnall, Kari Smith and Steve Walters.


Dave’s interest in language and languages is pre-dated only by his passion for football and for Sunderland Football Club in particular, which is only exceeded by his love for his family. He’s been married for 55 years and has grown-up children and grandchildren. He played football himself for over 20 years until his career was ended by a broken leg in a trial game at York University in 1979.

Other interests, in no particular order, are chess, dialectology, wine, music, gardening, translation, almost all sports, travel and a ‘bonkers’ Labrador.

Social Profiles

NILE Website


Dave Allan

Recommended books

Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Paolo Freire.

1970. London: Penguin Books. (source)

Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Classroom.

Gertude Moskowitz.

1978. Boston MA: Heinle and Heinle. (source)

Teaching Language: A Way and Ways.

Earl W. Stevick.

1981. Rowley MA: Newbury House. (source)

Humanism in Language Teaching.

Earl W. Stevick.

1990. New York NY: Oxford University Press. (source)

Learner-Centered English Language Education: The Selected Works of David Nunan.

David Nunan.

2013. London: Routledge. (source)

On Becoming an Effective Teacher: Person-centered Teaching, Psychology, Philosophy, and Dialogues with Carl R. Rogers and Harold Lyon.

Carl. R Rogers, Harold Lyon, Reinhard Tausch.

2013. London: Routledge. (source)

Place in HLT

While not one of the authors of any of the key books or articles which began and developed HLT, practitioners and writers like Mario Rinvolucri, Alan Maley, Rod Bolitho and Adrian Underhill, Dave has been a strong, enthusiastic and consistent proponent of its key values and approaches, both in his own classrooms and in the learning environments created at Bell Norwich and NILE. His teams at both institutions have had huge impact in making HLT a reality for thousands of teachers and learners worldwide.

The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.