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Can a centre of excellence really help to make language GCSEs popular again?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by TES_Rosaline, Jan 10, 2019.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    Will a dedicated centre working with hub schools really help to reverse years of decline in language learning?

    ‘The dwindling take up of French and German at GCSE has been addressed with the opening of the country’s first modern foreign languages centre for excellence.

    The £4.8 million centre is based within the University of York from where it is coordinating the work of nine MFL hub schools across the country to promote pioneering teaching practices - with hopes it will create “a renaissance in the teaching and learning of languages."’

    What are your views about the centre and will this lead to a renaissance in language learning and an increased take up in GCSEs and A-levels? Do we really need to improve the current way MFL is taught in schools? What do you think needs to be done to encourage more students to learn languages? Do we need to do more to introduce language learning at primary level to make it easier for children to learn MFL?

  2. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    Could this thread be moved to Modern Languages?
  3. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Nine boosted schools. After a couple of years the funding runs out, so they stop being able to support the other schools. After a couple more years the teachers who have thrived in the hub schools move on to better jobs.

    I'm feeling a bit cynical this morning.

    I believe that languages are really important as a component of being "educated" and that language teaching does best if started in primary schools. Every child should have the opportunity to learn at least one language.
    I used the word opportunity; having observed work in schools, I have noticed the difficulties (and resistance) of some children trying to learn languages. I wonder whether there should be an opt out clause after a while.
    I also wonder whether the different strategies needed to teach languages have led to the loss of too many language teachers following unfavourable observation by leaders who like identikit lessons.
  4. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Established commenter

    The biggest issue with languages is their difficulty - the hardest GCSEs by some way and just behind the Sciences at A level. Making them comparable in challenge would make more students take them.
    agathamorse and phlogiston like this.
  5. mpillette

    mpillette New commenter

    Will something also be done to help ensure that MFL are allocated enough teaching time, and that the pool of MFL teachers doesn't dry up?

    From The Guardian, 12.01.201: 'England Schools face staffing crisis as EU teachers stay a home.'
    pascuam49 and agathamorse like this.
  6. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

    Maybe it's not the number of available teachers that's the problem but the number of students which are presumably proportional to the number of posts. It is strange to see that out of the 6712 jobs advertised on TES only 206 are for MFL. The situation is worse in the North with only 10 jobs advertised 50 miles radius of my postcode and I am not in the depth of the countryside!.
    pascuam49 and agathamorse like this.
  7. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

    But the knowledge acquired would possibly not be of any practical value.
    Eszett likes this.
  8. mpillette

    mpillette New commenter

  9. mpillette

    mpillette New commenter

    A few days ago, a headteacher told me that he has reduced the number of MFL teaching hours because of recruitment difficulties. There are, of course, regional variations.
  10. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

    An encouraging thought for those of us currently applying for jobs..
  11. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    They’ve lost sight of it all. Over on Ed twitter they have abandoned children enjoying being taught and they are now down to drilling and instructing in zero tolerance schools. This will improve grades they pronounce.

    Sure, but philosophically you’d want them to enjoy learning the lanaguge, reading books, exploring history.
    agathamorse and Stiltskin like this.
  12. minnie me

    minnie me Star commenter

    Hate that label ' foreign '. Consider ' World Languages ' .

    Centre of Excellence suspect nice work if you can get it / jobs for the boys ? Funding expertise salary resources - not sustainable .No - I doubt very much this will address the bigger picture

    Need to address motivation and relevance for many students - lacking. A kind of ' what's in it for me ' scenario which even as an ex linguist I totally get. I am not precious about my subject . There are plenty of opportunities in later adult life to pick up the basics / embrace the culture / get by if you really want to . That thing about life longing learning ?

    Much of language learning depends also on excellent memory recall and regurgitating stuff . I got students ' through an exam following a totally meaningless brief ' but they did not learn a language and forgot pretty much everything afterwards.

    Class sizes of 1 to 30 - how much practice does a student get in developing oracy when then teacher has to focus on writing / listening and reading skills too ? And don't start me on group / pair work !!!

    French / Spanish in Primaries kicked around forever. Too many variables, too many substandard ( ' hey you spent this summer on the costas / gîte you are more than able to troll out a few useful phrases to tick the MFL box ? ) teachers with very, very dodgy pronunciation. Children who ' do ' French in Primary only to have to ' study ' Spanish @ Secondary . Dyslexic students who would be better served learning Spanish made to do French ? No joined up thinking. Possibly a reliance on gimmickry to entertain / make it fun / games ( I am absolutely no stranger to using these tactics ) BUT at some point basic graft required and from my experience the students aren't convinced the effort delivers the goods ... and you know as scandalous as this may sound I kind of commend it to the house ...
    sbkrobson, agathamorse and minka1 like this.
  13. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Star commenter

    Is this the new thing then? The Maths Hubs seems to be working okay so we'll copy this for Science, MFL and Computing (University of York are doing well out of it though, so well done them).
  14. Geekie

    Geekie Occasional commenter

    My problem with it is that it is focussing solely on secondary, despite compulsory language learning beginning at age 7 / Year 3 according to the national curriculum. Part of the new centre's remit is to ensure that primary learning is built on in KS3, but what about making sure that primary language learning is working properly across the board in the first place?
    MosaiK, pascuam49, minnie me and 2 others like this.
  15. Eszett

    Eszett New commenter

    There needs to be an honest discussion about why we teach languages and to whom. From the point of view of the child, yes, all children deserve an opportunity to learn a foreign language. If we want 95% of the cohort to learn a language and enjoy it, then we should realistically focus on fostering an appreciation of cultural difference and some very basic knowledge in any foreign language.

    From the point of view of industry, there is a need for more students at the top end who are fluent in a language, particularly German/French and there is very little use for students who can say "Me gusta la musica" / "Ni hao" and have spent some time drawing posters of bullfighters or crafting paper lanterns.

    I doubt that the same specification can do justice to everyone here. The current one certainly doesn't.
    MosaiK, cathr and agathamorse like this.
  16. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Sorry, I fancy a rant about this!

    What is pioneering about this?
    It's all been done-communicative teaching, functional teaching, grammatical drilling, singing. Breaking it down, showing the bigger picture, addressing learning styles.
    I think of such centres of excellence with complete disdain, because they do not represent excellence, do they? they represent "do it my way, everybody!"
    Pivotally, they assume that it is the method which is responsible for the level of achievement in language learning.
    It isn't. Not completely.
    Speaking as a sort of dabbler MFL practitioner who has worn many many hats over the years, the one constant, the one common thread is that the kids perceive language learning as difficult and fall into their own self constructed self fuflfilling prophecy. Adults do it too. And one poster in this thread even.
    Phooey is it difficult-you hear some words, you copy them. You see some words, you write them down. You work on remembering the bits, and if you are good enough at that bit, you can take it further.
    But kids don't see it this way. And I'm sure some readers of this post would like to argue against it.
    Kids don't like to make protracted noises by copying. They lapse into anxiety about it. They fear they get it wrong. They don't like copying new words carefully-it involves slowing down and accepting what you are told.
    The saddest aspect of the decline in languages in the UK is that when speaking at parents' evening, the parent says, in the presence of their child "Well, I never liked it. It was too difficult for me"
    And that is the problem. All those faux anxieties about saying "bonjour" are corroborated by echoes of home life telling kids "it's difficult, I know that, but I shall love you the same for failing at it the way I did"
    Language are not difficult to learn. But that is how they are sold.
    And that is the root of any possible popularity of this "centre of excellence".

    Sorry for my pessimism, but I am pretty fed up of MFL teachers having to deliver a far more intensive and dissected entertainment experience than in any other subject, as if that is the answer to generational and national resistance to a fundamental concept.

    Learn a language, learn about the world. Some kids get that, mind. The ones who you can teach without putting on a party hat and making posters of Spanish football teams.
  17. Eszett

    Eszett New commenter

    sbkrobson, in principle I agree with your post wholeheartedly, however, "the difficulty" of MFL is real in terms of GCSE results: https://ffteducationdatalab.org.uk/2016/02/which-are-the-most-difficult-subjects-at-gcse/ (This study controls for general ability of the student.) Look at where French and German are, even though the cohort will have included native speakers...

    (I think it can be taken for granted that the languages at the "easy end" will have been taken predominantly by native speakers.)

    Moreover, as languages are rarely a whole-school priority, we have to get students through these difficult exams with 2 lessons a week, no meaningful interventions, bad time-tabling, no setting etc. For some students this is not a good idea.
    pascuam49 and agathamorse like this.
  18. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    We should be offering the pupils with MFL potential far more time per week. Those who struggle with English competence and others should have reduced time where they are introduced to cultural awareness and basic phrases from othe countries (a sort of cultural General Knowledge course of study that further supports their development of correct English).

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