Skip to main content

Remember this?

In 2002 the Department for Education and Skills produced a document entitled:  Languages for All; Languages for Life - a Strategy for England. Here were the three over-arching objectives which were laid out in that document:

1. To improve teaching and learning of languages, including delivering an entitlement to language learning for pupils at Key Stage 2, making the most of e-learning and ensuring that opportunity to learn languages has a key place in the transformed secondary school of the future

2. To introduce a recognition system to complement existing qualification frameworks and give people credit for their language skills

3. To increase the number of people studying languages in further and higher education and in work-based training by stimulating demand for language learning, developing Virtual Language Communities and encouraging employers to play their part in supporting language learning

Now, I cannot support what I am going to say with detailed facts and figures, but the essence is about right.

Since 2002 primary school modern languages have seen considerable progress, recently halted, but that progress has been patchy and it certainly has not led to a noticeable improvement in proficiency or take-up at older age levels. Realistically it could probably be described as a partial success at best. As far as improving the quality of teaching and learning, this must be very hard to demonstrate. You would have to ask Ofsted what they have discovered, but my hunch is that any progress must have been marginal. In any case, improvement would be hard to measure given the huge reduction in the number of children doing languages at KS4.

As regards e-learning, well, there has been some progress in this field, with greater investment in equipment in schools (England, according to the OECD, has an excellent ratio of computers per pupil, for example), but progress in individualised e-learning has been limited and electronic links with overseas schools are very restricted for all kinds of practical reasons. There has not been a strong drive from above on this.

Most objective observers would have to conclude that progress on point 1 of the strategy has been disappointing.

As regards point 2, a recognition system, or "languages ladder", was introduced and Asset Languages saw some growth, although I read that take-up for Asset qualifications has declined recently. I doubt very much whether it has seen much use at its higher levels. League tables have meant that GCSE maintains a stranglehold on entries even though its assessment systems are inferior to those employed by Asset in Cambridge. My impression is that we have not seen Asset taking off and becoming established in the same way as music exams have. Maybe a renewed drive is needed on this.

Point 3 - this has been a miserable failure. Whilst higher education institutions have made good progress with internationalisation and language courses for non-specialists, the number of specialist linguists has declined alarmingly, a trend just confirmed with a record fall in applications for modern languages this year ( a fall of over 20% compared with last year - UCAS). I am not sure whether "Virtual Language Communities" (whatever they are) have seen the light of day and the reference to employers playing their part looks very vague, doesn't it?

One is left with an impression of honorable intentions not backed up by political will or follow-through. The feeling since 2002 is one of decline, not progress.


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…