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How well was MFL taught?

Just came across this YouGov survey which asked people in different age groups, regions and social classes how well they thought various school subjects were taught. You might find it interesting.

The subject which emerged as the best taught was English with 87% of respondents saying the subject was well taught. In second place was maths (80%), then geography (76%), history (75%), PE (67%), biology (65%), chemistry (64%), physics (60%), art (59%), MFL (55%) and music (52%).

Figures are also supplied for how badly the subject was taught and these show a similar order.

A closer look at the MFL figures shows that the most happy respondents are those in the 25-39 age group. Younger and older respondents were considerably less happy. Conservative voters were a little happier than Labour voters, with Lib Dem voters the happiest. ABC1 class voters were happier than C2DE by a margin of 10%.

What could this all mean?

Here is my shot:
  • Languages (along with art and music) are specialist subjects which have always attracted a minority of fans. These subjects are a harder sell for teachers and this may affect the perception of the quality of teaching.
  • Languages are actually harder to teach, because they are perceived as harder and the methods needed to teach them are more demanding of teachers.
  • Maybe, though this seems less likely, language teachers are generally less good than teachers of maths, English, humanities and science.
  • Middle-class children are more likely to enjoy languages and have a better perception of their teachers.
  • Older respondents may have more negative feelings if they were taught via traditional (grammar-translation) methods.
  • The youngest respondents may be less happy than the 25-39 age group because their experience is more recent.
It is quite possible for languages to be perceived as well taught. In many schools, and I may say Ripon Grammar School was an example, teacher quality was the key factor in the pupils' perception of a subject. This might suggest that modern language teachers are, on average, less good than most. On the other hand, Ripon is a very white, quite middle-class school with many well-travelled children, so that was also a factor in perceptions of the subject.

Here is an interesting academic study which looks into pupils' and teachers' perceptions of teaching methods. The study notes some serious disconnects between teachers' and pupils' views of effective language acquisition pedagogy. One conclusion is that teachers would do well to explain to pupils why they are using certain methods. As teachers we know that lots of target language and authentic communication is generally a good thing, but the perception of a child who values clarity and successful task completion, maybe with a grammatical aim, may be different.

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