Monday, 30 August 2010

Comparing French results with other subject areas

The issue of "severe grading" is well-known to language teachers in England and Wales. At GCSE French is roughly 0.4 of a grade harder than subjects such as maths and English and about a whole grade easier than certain subjects. At A-level, French and German almost the hardest, with just biology, physics and general studies being a little harder (based on 2004 data). English literature and geography are about half a grade easier and busines studies easier still.

The government acknowledged that this is the case, but decided not to do anything about it, largely for political reasons.

Helen Myers of the London branch of the ALL (Association for language Learning) has kindly posted an update with regard to the latest situation on grading and numbers. If you are interested here is the link:

In particular, there may be an issue with the number of A* grades awarded at A-level French. Only 7.7% got an A* this year, a lower figure than for nearly all subjects if you consider the percentage of those getting A* of the total A/A* percentage. Look at the link below and you'll see from the right hand column how marked the discrepancy is between French and other subjects. Something went wrong, exam boards.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Should pupils give up doing French?

That's the title of a BBC web site article following the annual hand wringing as GSCE results show a continued decline in numbers of students taking languages. GCSE French numbers have fallen 45% in eight years, whilst German struggles even more and Spanish holds it own. (We shouldn't forget that there there are a good number of pupils doing other courses such as Asset languages.)

I would be curious to know where we stand compared to the 1970's, when only a minority of pupils did French to age 16. My hunch would be that more children are still learning up to 16, but that fewer are doing A-level as more and more options have been offered for less brilliant students.

Incidentally José Picardo has written a nice blog post on language learning and the class divide.

The two main factors involved in the decline are the government's decision to make languages optional at key Stage 4 and the relative difficulty of language learning compared to some other subjects where it is easier to achieve high grades. Schools have allowed their curriculum to be dictated by league tables rather than the eucational worth of a subject. They have also, realistically, accepted that many children find language learning too hard and are more motivated and less troublesome if they study other subjects.

Is language learning hard? Yes. It requires a good deal of concentration and memory. Is it fun? It often can be, more so than most other subject areas. Should all pupils do a language to age 16? No. Many waste their time despite our best efforts and we have to accept that motivation will be low in a country which speaks the world's lingua franca.

Paul Noble, quoted in the BBC piece, says that we need to make language learning more conversational and relevant. There is nothing new in this, but it is a rather naive response, since it ignores the fact that conversational competence hangs on grammatical skill and vocabulary knowledge. Conversational skill is the very hardest thing to master and many children prefer other skills.

The fact is that with the little time we allocate to language learning only a minority of quite able students will achieve much competence. Let's not pretend that initiatives at primary level will change the game to any degree either.

So what can we do?

How about addressing the severe grading issue in languages? French is about half a grade harder than most other subjects and a whole grade harder than a few. (Google "ALL severe grading" for chapter and verse on this.) Also, what about rewarding schools who enter more KS4 pupils for languages in the value added system? This would encourage head to place a greater emphasis on MFL. Sure, we need to keep reevaluating teaching methods and improving teachers. Universities may also wish to re-introduce the requirement to have a language at GCSE as an entry requirement (as UCL does). I would also broaden the curriculum at A-level, as had been the original intention with the 2000 reform. Five subjects at AS level instead of four would be a start. We lose lots of potentially good linguists at A-level as bright students choose maths and science.

Oh - and we should defend French. German has more speakers in Europe, but French is more widely used by Britons. Germans cope better in English than French people. Business in Europe still seeks French and German ahead of Spanish. How many of our students will work in the Americas? Mandarin is too hard for most and few of our youngsters will work in China.

Bonne rentrée!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Donkeys wearing trousers

Just got back from three relaxing warm and generally sun-drenched weeks in Puyravault. Been doing the annual analysis of exam results too with the very good Enhanced Results service from e-AQA. It's brilliant. Means you don't have to go in to school to look at results and tells you more than ever before. Anyway, something which amused me in St Martin on the Ile de Ré this year was the sight of a line of donkeys wearing what looked like pyjama bottoms.

Well, it turns out that the trousers used to be worn by donkeys to protect their legs from insect bites as they wandered the salt marshes. Monsieur Régis Léau looks after 60 donkeys, including 20 Baudet du Poitou donkeys which are, it seems, a rare breed.

They are now a minor tourist attraction where they can be seen ridden by children.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Les Anglais mal habillés, les Français peu sympathiques

Article tiré de

Le site TripAdvisor a mené une enquête auprès de 2376 internautes comprenant des questions relatives à l’image que se font les touristes Européens des autres touristes Européens et des pays/villes qu’ils visitent. Avec certaines surprises à la clé…
L’avantage de voyager en Europe, c’est qu’en à peine quelques heures d’avion, vous pouvez changer de décor. Et en matière de décor – ou d’image – on fantasme parfois sur certaines villes, réputées pour être les villes de l’amour (Venise, Paris…) ou celles où la vie est la moins coûteuse (Prague, Varsovie..). Bref, à chaque ville son image d’Epinal. Et à chaque pays son touriste.
C’est ainsi que les touristes Anglais sont considérés comme les moins bien habillés d’Europe par leurs homologues européens (pour 20% des sondés) suivis des Irlandais (6%) et des Russes (6% également). A contrario, les Français (26%), les Italiens (23%) et les Espagnols (8%) sont considérés comme les touristes les mieux habillés d’Europe.

Dans la même veine mais sur un sujet différent, les touristes les plus agréables sont Irlandais (15%), Néerlandais (14%) et Ecossais (8%). Tandis que les moins sympathiques sont les Français (36%), Anglais (17%) et Russes (8%).
Enfin, les villes considérées comme les plus « attrape-touristes » sont : Paris (25%), Londres (17%) et Moscou (6%).
Conclusions ? On peut être très bien habillés et très désagréables (Français), être mal habillés et très sympas (Ecossais) ou n’avoir rien pour soi (Russes)

Normandy trip

Got back yesterday from Normandy. Brilliant trip with the second formers, all 106 of them. This group were a lot of fun to be with and very sensible. We stuck to a tried and tested routine: Bayeux Tapestry, Longues gun battery, Omaha Beach American war cemetery. (If you get the chance go there. The Visitors' Centre is outstanding - very touching.) The Mémorial in Caen, where they have extended the secton on the holocaust, the Mont St Michel, St Malo and Riva Bella beach at Ouistreham. My highlight was the talent show night when almost the entire group spontaneously got up to do a kind of conga as they sang a song dedicated to Daisy Newsome. Thanks to all the teachers: Marq, Chris, Helen, Sharon, Mike, plus Giles, Daisy and Charlotte. John M couldn't be with us as he was ill. I'm hoping to get some photos soon.

I really recommend the Château du Molay run by Travelbound in Brighton.

Off to Puyravault on Thursday.