Thursday, 15 March 2012

CfBT survey on Language Trends

This is the major annual report on trends on modern language teaching in England. The executive summary and conclusion may be worth reading if you don't have time to read all the data.

A number of things struck me:
  • Ebacc is having a notable effect on take-up, as predicted
  • A-level still on the slide because of harsh grading and lure of STEM subjects
  • Severe grading at GCSE and A-level still an issue, including difficulty of reaching A* at A-level
  • Lack of curriculum time at KS3 and KS4. Not enough "little and often" to embed learning
  • Controlled assessments come under fire - too much time to prepare and too much memory learning
  • GCSE too dull
  • Continued dominance of independent sector in MFL - it's a subject area for posh kids
  • German still suffering badly, Spanish less so
  • Continuity with primary MFL proving a challenge
The "expert panel" on the national curriculum recommends that MFL become compulsory again. I remain, on balance, unconvinced about this. Even if the severe grading issue were dealt with (and it won't be), MFL remains fundamentally hard and apparently irrelevant for many children. EBacc may provide a useful correction to the recent trends, but to force the vast majority into modern languages up to 16 may just be counter-productive. We have the experience of pre-2003 to demonstrate this, a period when many children were "disapplied" in any case. I am not sure whether that era raised the status of MFL and I am sure that there are thousands of disillusioned pupils and teachers who would bear witness to the futility of the exercise.


  1. Thanks for this summary. I have to disagree with the fact MFL shouldn't be compulsory in KS4. I would completely disagree with the notion of every student had to sit a GCSE, however, what is the problem with students developing their skills through MFL whilst sitting a qualification suitable for their level of learning and general needs?

    Despite being (very) new to the profession, I can think of many benefits the study of a foreign language alongside language acquisition. How would you feel about languages generally being continued up to age 16 but through ASSET or FCSE languages for lower ability students?



  2. I don't think anyone is suggesting GCSE for all. Even so, I would argue that The fact we are an Anglophone nation makes selling MFL quite hard here. The pre 2003 experience was often very unproductive and hard for teachers and pupils so Labour decided to make MFL optional. I agreed with that decision as I think there are other things some 15-16 year olds may be better served studying. I suspect mine is a minority view among language teachers.