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Challenges of new MFL A-levels

Until the election result we did not know for sure if the new A-levels, with their decoupled AS level, would become a reality. Now we know. We should see draft specifications from July. What challenges do the new specs pose for departments?

To remind you, teaching for the new exams begins in September 2016. Readers may feel this is two years too soon, what with the new GCSE, upon which the new A-level is claimed to be predicated, starting at the same time.

What's new? I would sum up the key changes as follows:

- Teachers must work with a prescribed list of texts and films (no history, no art, no region etc). No free choice. WJEC users are used to this.
- AS level is "decoupled" but may be co-taught with A-level. Exam boards are expecting take-up to be low.
- Topics will be more tightly focused on the culture of the target language country or countries. They may seem more serious.
- There will be an individual research project element for students.

What will departments have to do?

For those who have not taught literature or film before (roughly 30% of departments, I understand) staff will need to learn some new techniques and do some serious reading and watching! Exam boards will be producing guidance on this and I am sure there will be courses to attend. PM targets there, I suspect! If you have a list of, say, eight texts, you will need to read some, if not all, of them as well as seek advice from other language teachers.

Departments will need to look again at how they split up classes between "language" and "film/literature". They will also need to consider when to do the film and literature, particularly if they have any AS students to consider. That's a big "if". I suspect many schools will have no AS candidates at all.

Departments will need to consider carefully their resource provision. New textbooks? Any textbook at all? New library resources to support film and literature? Resourcing copies for students? Researching web links to support new topics, film and literature, not forgetting personal research projects? Resources to help teachers with methodology?

Departments will need to plan for transition from GCSE. The existing regime has seen AS as a post GCSE transition to A2 level. This will no longer be the case. So care will be needed to order topics and grammar in such a way as to pitch the lower sixth year correctly. Expect exam boards to provide ready-made schemes to help.

The personal research project will need looking at carefully it will only be assessed in the oral, so it may be wise not to go overboard on it, but some students will find it a challenge as well as an opportunity. I welcome this change. Teachers will need to give ideas to help students with their choices and probably allocate class time for reading and listening. I could envisage library/ICT/tablet time with one-to-one target language or English chats about progress. Teachers may welcome new areas to develop their own knowledge along with students.

Preparation on any new exercise types may be needed. Translation is here to stay, so no change there, but look out for any other grammar or comprehension assessment styles. The new speaking test will need to be planned for. Essay planning will need looking at again, along with new mark schemes which, unlike now, will reward subject knowledge alongside structure, relevance and quality of language. Thankfully, essays will be in the target language after Ofqual overturned ALCAB's view and listened to other stakeholders.

When new syllabuses come along, as a Head of Department I would always stress that change is evolutionary. You will be doing a very similar job and probably the single largest challenge will be for teachers who have little or no experience of teaching film and literature. That could be seen as a valuable opportunity for personal development.

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