Thursday, 29 August 2013

BBC Knowledge and Learning

I was interested to learn that the BBC is in the progress of re-organising all its educational content into a single website. Although, for financial reasons, they have produced no new modern language material in recent times, they have been organising their considerable archive matreial into easy to search clips. Previously this was called the Learning Zone, but this seems to be evolving into Knowledge and Learning.

Their thinking is explained here.

The French beta site is here.

They state that their aim is to "make the Knowledge and Learning Online feel like a single, unified place where users can learn more about science, nature, history, religion, arts and more."  To achieve this they say they will use a "web design technique called responsive web design, a way of enabling new content to adapt instantly to whatever device type or screen size it's being displayed on, smoothly reconfiguring and slimming itself down so it works optimally on tablets and mobiles as well as PCs."

In short, then, they are bringing together factual and education, and presenting it for all devices, especially one would assume ipads, which are becoming all the rage in schools.

This seems a very good idea and somewhat makes up for the fact that relatively little new material is being broadcast in these cash-strapped times.

In case you are not familiar with the BBC's French output, do have a browse of their beta site. Although much of the video material is several years old, it is often very usable in the classroom and I have already dipped into it for new listening resources on frenchteacher.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

United et City pour les francophones

De très bonnes initiatives de marketing de certains grands clubs de la première ligue qui affichent leurs sites web en versions multi-lingues, y compris, dans certains cas, français. Chapeau aux deux clubs de Manchester, United et City, qui offrent de véritables versions françaises. D'après ce que je peux constater, ce n'est pas simplement une traduction automatique qu'on trouve sur ces deux sites car le français se lit plutôt bien, même si je ne suis pas sûr de l'usage du verbe blâmer dans un des titres de l'actualité des Citizens!

Chelsea FC propose son site en diverses langues, mais pas en français. Les fans francophones des Blues ont leur site à eux Chelsea Foot. Quant à Liverpool, ils ont des sites indonésiens et thailandais, mais pas français. Leurs fans francophones ont Liverpool France.

J'ai été quelque peu surpris de constater qu'Arsenal n'a pas de véritable site français; leurs supporters doivent se contenter de, site pour les fans francophones. Les Spurs sont devancés linguistiquement, sinon footballistiquement, par les autres grandes équipes puisque'ils ne proposent leur site qu'en anglais. Leurs supporters francophones ont, eux aussi, leur prope site consacré à la "communauté francophone".

Monday, 26 August 2013

Why don't more teachers engage with social media for work?

I used to be Twitter-sceptic, but now I find myself addicted. I also engage with fellow teachers on forums and groups such as TES Connect, Mflresources and Linguanet. I even used to join in with these groups before I had a vested interest in publicising my website! Yet the large majority of language teachers do not choose to engage with colleagues via these means. Take Twitter, for example. The MFLtwitterati group number in the hundreds, but this is a small fraction of the total number of language teachers working in the UK and elsewhere. Why don't more teachers engage with the social media for their work?

I sometimes read "all teachers should join Twitter". Well.... I don't agree. For starters, there are other ways of engaging with colleagues in one's own school and in other schools, even though the coverage is bound to be more limited. In addition, most teachers are already extremely pressed for time with preparation, marking, teaching and meetings, and would like to spend the remaining hours doing other things. I don't blame them for not wishing to devote even more time to talking shop with colleagues.  At Ripon Grammar School I had valued colleagues, brilliant at their job, who simply did not feel the need to look too far elsewhere to refine their practice.

Now, that's not to put down Twitter and the other useful forums which provide support, ideas and links to fellow professionals. I agree with the claim that they constitute the biggest staffroom in the world; at the same time I would never criticise anyone who chooses not to engage online. Most of us find a certain number of resources which we like and which we use regularly. We don't need to search too hard elsewhere for more. Indeed, the vast range of available resources these days can lead to what my colleagues called "resource panic" - what shall I use?

 If I had a criticism of Twitter, its very nature means that dialogue about pedagogy is very limited. The contributors also tend to have an unusually large bias towards technology (which partially explains why they are there). Twitter is at its best when providing links. Forums are a better place to engage in discussion, but can occasionally be more combative (Twitter is rarely so between teachers; on the contrary, the default posture is to agree, not to troll.) In any case, conversations online tend to lean more towards current concerns such as exams, working conditions, resources and personal worries, rather than general issues of language teaching pedagogy.

In sum, whilst I would always urge colleagues to join in with social media for their job as it opens the mind to new ideas and resources, I totally understand why most choose not to.

Friday, 23 August 2013

GCSE French - the Ebacc effect

Much was made in the media about the rise in entries for modern languages in the 2013 GCSE exams. There is no doubt that the Gove Ebacc accountability measure has started to take effect. Entries for languages, history and geography all rose this year, which is good news for those subjects (but presumably bad news for others). Spanish saw the most significant rise, cementing its position as rising star, having held its own at A-level too. Tom Bennett amusingly states in today's TES that MFL has gone from being the Giles Brandreth to Rihanna in the school curriculum.

It's too soon to say whether this reverse of a trend is the start of something greater. It will take more than the Ebacc to achieve that, plus who knows which accountability measure will take priority for schools in the future - Ebacc or the general measure of performance across eight subjects? If schools prioritise the latter, then MFL could continue its previous decline.

And let's be clear: this year's entries are encouraging, but we have not even returned to the level of 2010, which is way below the numbers taking GCSE languages in the 1990s.

Here are the figures from Brian Stubbs' site showing entries in the last column.:

           A*   A    B    C    D    E    F    G    U   A*-C    A*-U

   2013   9.8 15.0 19.8 25.6 18.3  7.3  2.9  1.0  0.3  70.2  177288
   2012  10.7 15.6 20.9 24.5 17.1  7.2  2.9  0.8  0.3  71.7  153436
   2011  10.2 16.6 21.9 23.8 15.9  7.4  2.9  1.0  0.3  72.5  154221
   2010  10.9 15.8 20.1 25.1 16.6  7.3  3.0  1.0  0.2  71.9  177618
   2009  11.2 15.1 19.2 24.6 16.8  8.1  3.5  1.2  0.3  70.1  188688
   2008  10.3 14.7 18.8 24.5 17.3  8.7  3.9  1.5  0.3  68.3  201940
   2007   9.7 13.5 18.6 24.7 17.2  9.1  4.7  2.0  0.5  66.5  216718
   2006   9.6 13.2 17.7 24.2 17.5  9.7  5.1  2.4  0.6  64.7  236189
   2005   8.5 12.3 16.3 23.2 17.9 11.1  6.7  3.1  0.9  60.3  272140
   2004   7.4 10.7 14.5 21.1 18.1 13.0  8.9  4.9  1.4  53.7  318095
   2003   6.6 11.3 12.7 20.6 20.1 13.7  8.8  4.7  1.5  51.2  331089
   2002   7.4 10.9 13.5 21.8 18.6 13.6  8.8  4.6  0.8  53.6  338468
   2001   7.2 10.8 13.3 22.1 18.3 13.6  9.3  4.8  0.6  53.4  347007
   2000   6.6 11.6 14.0 20.5 18.1 14.2  9.7  4.7  0.6  52.7  341004
   1999   6.4 11.7 14.4 19.9 18.7 14.5  9.5  4.3  0.6  52.4  335816
   1998   6.3 11.9 13.9 18.6 19.2 15.1  9.7  4.6  0.7  50.7  335698
   1997   4.1 15.1 14.9 17.2 18.5 13.4 10.8  5.2  0.8  51.2  328299
   1996   4.4 14.8 14.6 17.2 18.2 13.5 11.1  5.5  0.7  51.0  342751
   1995   4.3 14.3 14.0 17.4 17.8 13.7 11.9  5.7  0.9  50.0  350027
   1994   4.1 14.9 14.0 16.6 18.3 14.2 12.1  5.1  0.7  49.6  324343
   1993       18.6 14.0 16.1 16.4 13.4 12.9  7.3  1.3  48.7  315246

The problems are clearly deep-rooted and the MFL community can only do so much about national perceptions of languages. The primary languages policy will do little to help matters.

One thing which would make a huge difference, as I have stated in a previous blog, would be if universities (e.g. the Russell Group for starters) decided to follow the lead of UCL by making a GCSE qualification in a modern language compulsory for entry. This would, in one fell swoop, ensure all quite bright youngsters chose GCSE MFL. This would rank MFL alongside maths and English, open up exciting new avenues for young people and help solve the nation's chronic shortage of skilled linguists.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A-level French results 1993-2014

Here are grades and entry numbers for A-level French from 1993 to 2014.

Source: and JCQ figures for 2014.

French entries
                 A*    A    B    C    D    E    N    U   A - E  Entries 
       2014      6.6 31.0                                       10433                                     
       2013      6.5 32.0 30.3 17.9  9.1  3.4       0.8  99.2   11272
       2012      6.8 32.6 29.4 18.5  8.8  3.1       0.8  99.2   12511   
       2011      7.7 32.4 29.3 18.0  8.7  3.0       0.9  99.1   13196
       2010      7.7 31.4 28.5 18.2  9.6  3.7       0.9  99.1   13850
       2009          38.6 27.6 18.3 10.5  4.1       0.9  99.1   14333
       2008          37.3 27.7 18.9 10.6  4.3       1.2  98.8   14885
       2007          36.3 28.0 18.2 11.6  4.6       1.3  98.7   14477
       2006          34.7 27.4 19.5 11.8  5.3       1.3  98.7   14650
       2005          32.9 27.5 20.0 12.4  5.6       1.6  98.4   14484
       2004          33.4 26.8 19.8 12.6  5.8       1.6  98.4   15149
       2003          31.4 26.4 20.0 13.3  6.6       2.3  97.7   15531
       2002          29.3 25.2 20.9 13.8  7.7       3.1  96.9   15614
       2001          24.7 20.5 19.4 16.0 11.2  5.5  2.7  91.8   17939
       2000          23.5 21.5 20.1 16.3 10.5  5.6  2.5  91.9   18221
       1999          23.2 20.4 20.1 16.4 11.3  5.7  2.9  91.4   21072
       1998          21.6 20.7 19.6 17.3 11.6  6.2  3.0  90.8   23633
       1997          20.2 19.9 19.6 16.7 12.1  6.9  4.6  88.5   25916
       1996          20.9 18.0 20.3 17.3 12.5  6.9  4.1  89.0   27490
       1995          20.1 18.3 19.3 17.7 13.4  7.1  4.1  88.8   27563
       1994          19.9 17.7 19.0 17.4 13.4  7.8  4.7  87.5   28942
       1993          18.6 17.3 19.5 18.5 13.6  7.6  4.9  87.5   29886
A* grades remain relatively thin on the ground when compared with other subjects. The recent JCQ report on the A* issue explains that variations in writing performance and the way that grades are calculated from raw scores means that A* grades are bound to be lower in MFL. The headline figure of 6.6% for 2014 is only a couple of points short of, say, chemistry, but it is a much smaller proportion when you look at the comparison of A* and A grades. I would not be alarmed by the apparent grade inflation since 1993. Remember that in those days the average ability of A-level linguists was lower - just look at the entry numbers. There has been some inflation, but it has been greater in other subjects, so MFL still suffers from severe grading, but most noticeably at the A* point.

Incidentally, bearing in mind current worries about falling entries for French and German, there is no very strong correlation between the decision to make MFL optional at KL4 (a decision taken around 2004). That decision may have had some effect, but the serious decline was earlier. The JCQ report published in July, about which I recently blogged, looks into the reasons why students are rejecting languages at A-level. These reasons include a poor experience of GCSE, fear of getting a lower grade than for other subjects and the current popularity of STEM subjects.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Listening activities on

(Updated 8th September) When I did my recent Surveymonkey survey of users, a number of subscribers said they would like to see listening activities on the site. I had been thinking about this for a while too and I have now begun to incorporate listening resources, mainly at A-level to begin with, but with a few for GCSE too.

Finding the right material online takes care, because you need source material which is interesting, spoken clearly at a reasonable pace and, preferably, which works well with exam board topics. I cannot embed copyright material, so my worksheets link to external video sites which the teacher could play "from the front" or which students could access themselves at home, in the ICT room or on a tablet. Some worksheets incorporate oral activities (pré-écoute) and other linguistic tasks.

If I were using them I would present them from the front as part of a teaching sequence. They could also make excellent listening revision material, which students often request.

Students must not be given the login to, so it's simply a case of printing off a sheet to hand out. Copy and paste the URL into your classroom computer to either present the video or let students copy it down into their own browser. Easy-peasy.

I have divided the listening tasks into "easier" and "harder", reflecting the difference between AS level and A2 level in the English and welsh exam system. Very competent GCSE (intermediate) groups could handle the easier material.

Exercise types vary, depending on the source. So far I have used true/false/not mentioned, questions in English and French and find the French.

Topics covered so far:


Health - making vegetable soup; health/sport - hiking; a Strasbourg restaurant; family - a mum describing her daughters; holidays - favourite holidays


Easier: Tattoos, holidays (past and future), internet saftey, e-cigarettes, legalising c...bis, describing a film, speed dating, an extract from the film Etre et avoir, a song by Orelsan, national stereotypes, describing a film and talking about sport.

Harder : Humanoid robots, democracy, genetic modification, animal rights, villes nouvelles, carbon capture and storage, fracking, assisted dying, animal rights, new towns, forensic pathology, Erasmus, various songs (Cabrel, Pagny), restos du coeur, and alternative energy sources.

There will be plenty more to come.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Falling modern language entries at A-level

This is an update of a previous blog following yet another year of decline in A-level modern language entries....

Once again in 2013 the number of students taking A-level languages has declined overall, with only Spanish seriously bucking the trend by holding its own. In The Independent today Andrew Hall, head of AQA, denied that languages are harder than other subjects. If he is well informed, he knows better than this. But severe grading of languages is only part of the problem.

In 1993 nearly 30,000 students entered for A-level French. In 2012 the figure was just over 12,500. Just compare with a few other common A-level subjects (I am grateful to Brian Stubbs for these figures, which I have rounded up or down - apologies for formatting):

                             1993                            2012

Maths                   66,000                         86,000
History                 46,000                         52,000
Geography           46,000                         32,000
Physics                38,000                         34,500 (fell, but rising since 2006)
Biology                48,000                         63,000
Chemistry            41,000                         49,000 (fell, but rising since 2003)
Psychology          22,000                         56,000
Religious studies   9,000                          23,000
Media,film,TV      7,000                          32,000
Business              23,000                          28,000

French                 30,000                         13,000     2013: 11272
Spanish                4,800                           7,300      2013:  7651
German               11,000                          5,000      2013:  4242

So what has been going on? I believe a number of factors have led to the decline in French (and German).

  • A-level students have a wider range of options in sixth forms and particularly sixth form colleges and many of what we might call the non-specialist linguists have gone to subjects such as psychology and business. These may be perceived to be more interesting or easier to get a good grade in (they are).
  • The supply of linguists coming through from GCSE has declined, though this may be a minor factor since French was on the slide during the 1990's, long before MFL became optional again in 2004
  • In the last few years there has been strong encouragement from government and schools to take STEM subjects (hence the recent rises in the sciences). This reflects a growing utilitarian trend among students to pick subjects which are valued highly by society and the jobs market.
  • It has become increasingly clear to students that it is harder to get a high grade in languages than most other subjects. The focus on targets and the transparency with which these are shared with students has sharpened the awareness of students to their likely outcomes.
  • There has been no move in the media, schools or from government (until just recently with EBacc) to value languages highly, despite the very favourable employment outcomes for linguists (in the top ten for university subjects)
  • Teaching approaches in MFL may have produced a generation of linguists less proficient in the skills needed for success at A-level (internalised grammatical understanding and its associated outcome, the ability to use language spontaneously). Coursework and controlled assessment may have played a role in this, but the problem goes back further and 1990's course books thin on high quality grammatical progression did not help matters.
  • Lack of curriculum time and poor timetabling at KS3 and KS4 - lack of regular contact - has led to weakly embedded skills so students lack the confidence to continue beyond GCSE.
  • Mike Kelly has suggested that more negative national attitudes to foreign cultures may be playing a role. I am a little sceptical about this and wonder how much young people pick up on national political trends.
It seems a little ironic that as the world gets smaller and young people travel and work more widely, the popularity of languages has waned dramatically, to the point where the UK is perilously short of skilled linguists for business and diplomacy. What could be done to address this?

  • Government should be raising the status of modern languages. The EBacc is a crafty step in the right direction, using league tables to shift schools' curricula and option policies. Entries will rise in 2013 and this may slightly improve A-level entries. A bolder option would be to make languages compulsory in some form again, though this policy would be unpopular with schools and pupils, the coalition has rejected it and I have reservations about it.
  • So-called top universities could make a GCSE qualification in languages at grade B or above compulsory for entry. This would have a dramatic effect on GCSE take-up. UCL have shown the way in this. The current generation of students are highly aware of what they need to reach their destination. It is good that MFL has the status of "facilitating subject" for the Russell Group.
  • School leaders could change their perception of languages, valuing them more highly on the timetable and awarding them a similar status to maths and English.
  • Government could reward MFL teacher trainees more generously in order to raise the quality of entrants to the profession.
  • Having made MFL compulsory at KS2, resources need to be allocated for resources and training.
  • Incentives could be given to encourage more study trips and exchanges.
  • The GCSE examination should be revised to make it more stimulating and to reward deeper understanding rather than rote learning. What is currently proposed is unconvincing and, in any case, academies and free schools can ignore the national curriculum.
  • Course book publishers could be less slavish to the exam specifications and actually produce stimulating and challenging resources.
  • The issue of grading in MFL should be addressed, both at GCSE and A-level. We currently suffer from severe grading. How about going in the opposite direction and making languages relatively easier in grading terms, recognising their inherent difficulty for pupils? Ofqual has show recently how easy it is to get the grades you want. Several years too late Ofqual has just announced it wishes to look at this issue. We continue to see the results of their incompetence and political cowardice.
  • Lastly, and importantly, the post 16 curriculum should be broadened to allow studenst to continue with a language for longer.
Overall, my educated guess is that Britain will not suddenly start falling in love with languages, nor will schools, whose leaders are the product of their society. But the government and universities could easily rig the system to make modern languages more attractive and maybe this is where they should start. Too many young people are missing out on the unique rewards and job prospects which language learning brings.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Loss of AS levels in their current form would be bad for languages

 ... and all other subjects for that matter.

Back around 2000, when the last major reform of A-levels took place, there was a battle between those who wanted a broader post 16 curriculum and those who wished to maintain the "gold standard" of three A-levels. The second group feared that broadening the curriculum would entail a watering down of subject content and produce students less prepared for university courses.

The "gold standard" folk won the day, if not the argument. We ended up with a dog's breakfast of four. AS levels in lower sixth and three A2s in upper sixth (apart from a minority of students who take four A2s). This is still, by international standards, a remarkably narrow curriculum.

At least it meant that more students would be tempted to continue doing a language for a year after GCSE and, indeed, this is what happened, even if the numbers continuing to complete a full A-level courses continued to dwindle.

Michael Gove's reform of A-levels, making AS levels a stand-alone course pitched at the same difficulty level as A-level makes it likely that many schools will choose to drop AS levels altogether. My guess is that schools focus on helping students get three good A-level grades and that is what universities will want to see. Maybe a minority of schools and students will want to beef up their value-added scores and curriculum vitae with added AS grades.

Fewer students will continue with a language beyond GCSE and, in all probability  fewer will take full A-levels, especially given the current popularity of STEM subjects.

This reform is bad for languages and the reduced diet at AS level makes it likely that all subjects will  see a decline in take-up in the lower sixth year. Universities do not like it and Stephen Twigg has said Labour will reverse the reform.

Of course, what  nobody seems interested in is a genuine broadening of the post 16 curriculum. Pity.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Journal télévisé - A-level oral task

This group discussion task can take a little time in preparation and filming, but classes find it memorable and enjoyable.

Vous faites partie d’un comité de rédaction qui prépare le journal télévisé de ce soir.  Dans votre bureau vous recevez sur votre écran d’ordinateur les informations ci-dessous.  C’est à vous de choisir dans quel ordre et sous quelle forme vous allez les présenter.  Discutez entre vous les mérites de chaque information.

Ensuite vous pourrez préparer votre propre journal qui sera filmé.

Un bateau pétrolier échoue au large de Brest.  1000 tonnes de pétrole ont été déversées dans l’océan Atlantique. Il y a de forts risques de pollution sur les plages bretonnes.

Dans la finale de la Ligue des Champions l’Olympique Lyonnais remporte la victoire face au Réal de Madrid 2 à 0.

La Banque Européenne a décidé de baisser le taux d’intérêt de 1% avec pour objectif de réduire le chômage dans l’UE.

12 personnes tuées et 10 blessés dans un carambolage sur l’A26 près de Rheims.  Le brouillard aurait joué un rôle dans l’accident.

Découverte en Chine d’un singe qui arrive à prononcer des mots en chinois.

Tremblement de terre en Turquie.  2000 personnes auraient été tuées par le séisme.  Au moins 1000 personnes se trouvent sans abri.

Explosion dans une centrale nucléaire en Angleterre.  On craint un attentat terroriste.

La sécheresse dans le midi de la France touche gravement les agriculteurs de la région.  Des restrictions d’eau sont en vigueur depuis 6 mois.

La jeune chanteuse Amélie Gaufreteau gagne Star Académy sur TF1.

Un nouveau remède contre le cancer a été découvert dans un laboratoire américain.  Les chercheurs prétendent que c’est un grand pas en avant dans la lutte contre le cancer.