This paper arises out of a number of research studies we have conducted since 1998. They have included a survey of assessment practices in nine schools – implemented between March and July 1998 (see Rea-Dickins, Gardner & Clayton, 1998). A range of different purposes for assessment were identified: formative, summative and evaluative, as well as a wide number of different approaches to assess learners. In this survey ‘language sampling’ was identified as a central mechanism used to support the assessment of learners with EAL. A further study (between September 1998 and March 1999) therefore focused on issues of language sampling in greater detail (see Gardner & Rea-Dickins, 1999). Additional data are included from our current research which focuses on classroom-based assessment at Key Stage 1, with specific reference to the formative assessment of learners with EAL.