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KS3 pupils to lose entitlement to MFL teaching

Interesting story from Oxfordshire which is upsetting modern language teachers.

"An Oxfordshire head teacher has said she should not be forced to teach foreign languages to her pupils.

Dr Fiona Hammans from Banbury School said a 12-year-old with a reading age of six did not benefit from learning French or German.

She said: "They are so left behind and my real concern is that we don't leave them even further behind.""
I'm slightly reluctant to pass judgement on this story without knowing the precise circumstances and context. I do know that the school is a comprehensive with a wide range of abilitites, home languages and social backgrounds.
It is no doubt worth mentioning that MFL teaching contributes to a child's literacy development. I would also ask why the children should drop language learning rather than, say, a humanity, R.E. or technology. Could one argue that these children with literacy issues would benefit even more from some MFL input? Maybe the bottom line is that this headteacher simply does not place a high value on foreign language learning.
As more schools become academies will they too be tempted to allow children to drop harder subjects? I wonder what Mr Gove would make of this. He might, on the one hand, say that an academy should be free to choose its own curriculum based on individual circumstances; on the other he has nailed his colours to the languages mast with the introduction of the E Bac.
The story has attracted the attention of the ALL (Association for Language Learning) who have issued a statement on their web site:
"In response to a news report on the BBC Oxford website, the Association for Language Learning has been approached by members for our views on the question of a secondary school removing key stage 3 pupils from Language lessons in order that ’we don't leave them even further behind’ in their English.

The Association for Language Learning believes that language learning (i.e. learning a language other than your first language) has positive influences on many aspects of an individual’s development and on their life, that it is relevant at all points in a person’s life and that it is relevant to learners of the widest ability range. We also believe that every learner is entitled to a balanced school curriculum, and disagree that successful language learning in any way leaves pupils at a disadvantage in their development of English.

In our recent response to the Curriculum Review we proposed that:

‘Language learning should... be statutory from Key Stage 2 to KS4.’

‘We believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn languages from an early age and that coherent and relevant programmes of language learning, which build on prior knowledge should be available throughout their primary, secondary and higher education.’

The key point here in the current debate is the word ‘relevant’; the Programme of Study allows teachers to plan their content and progression in order to be motivating and relevant; however in the real world we know that schemes of work in key stage 3 are often already geared to the content of key stage 4 assessments, and ALL members have for some time been expressing concern about the relevance of the content of those current examination syllabuses to our students.

The argument from the Headteacher in Banbury seems to ignore the flexibility offered by the National Curriculum in planning content relevant to all of the learners in key stage 3; ALL members know from experience since the establishment of a national curriculum with a Languages for All policy that appropriate schemes of work can make a considerable contribution to individual learners’ life experience:

•In terms of awareness of language in general

•In terms of a renewed focus on the skills of Listening and Speaking

•In terms of cultural and intercultural experience

•In terms of the life skill of communication

•In terms of promoting confidence and self-esteem

•In terms of contrast between a new language and English, and consequently of Literacy.

On the other hand ALL would be interested to see any evidence that the suggested remediation in English, as late as key stage 3, is effective in terms of educational progress, given the potential for social stigma that would attach at a key point in the psychological development of the individual child.

We are aware from members that some schools have, for some time, been removing pupils from key stage 3 Languages in spite of the national curriculum requirements but would encourage them to rethink this approach.

At a time when our partners in Europe are encouraging a policy of plurilingualism, where all citizens are encouraged to acquire more than one language, this seems isolationist, and not based on sound educational principles.

Finally, within an increasingly interconnected international economy, it would be regrettable that any pupil be deprived so early of an entitlement to encountering the language and culture of other countries, and of the flexibility to travel, study or work abroad or with people from other backgrounds.

Our young people deserve the best education we can provide; this includes their personal development as individuals and as members of a society. It is manifestly unjust to deprive some young learners of access to experiencing another language within a relevant scheme of work. "


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