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Early exam entry in MFL

There are schools who enter pupils for GCSE exams before the end of Y11. There may be several reasons for this. Some schools with pupils of very high academic ability may feel that the GCSE exam is not challenging enough by Y11 and prefer to take on more challenging, or different work. Other schools may wish to enter pupil very early, even in Y9, so that their students get some accreditation before they drop the subject at KS4. In the days of O-levels, "academic" schools would allow pupils to sit exams at the end of Y10, taking on an "AO" qualification in Y11, for example business French or language and literature.

In general I am against early exam entry. Let me explain why.

Firstly, early entry requires teachers and students to focus too much on exam technique in Y10. With the current system of controlled assessment, squeezing exam work into Y10 becomes even more of a challenge. With new linear courses with terminal exams coming in June 2018 it may require more time to embed the skills needed to cope with the level of speaking and writing needed in the final exam. When you focus on exam preparation you severely limit the amount of comprehension work needed to build long term acquisition. You end up taking short-cuts, focusing too much on grammatical explanations, spoon feeding model answers and techniques.

Secondly, it is wrong to assume that, because a pupil can cope with early entry (and even get very good grades) this is the right thing to challenge them. Early entry means many pupils will get reduced grades (bad news for them and probably for school value-added figures). In addition, the problem with early entry has always been: what do you do in Y11? If you start AS level or A-level work you have to deal with the situation whereby any non-accelerated students will join in at the start of Y12. Another possible avenue, Asset Languages, has now gone. Many students will not be mature enough to deal with some of the topics covered at A-level. If AS level is decoupled from A-level and pitched at the level of A-level (as opposed to post GCSE, which it is now) this may become an even greater issue.

Even if you assume that the GCSE specification is too easy for some pupils (I doubt this, with very few exceptions), this does not mean that lessons need to be too easy. Skilled teachers will always know where to pitch work with their classes, challenging them just enough to make further progress. There is nothing wrong in having classes of motivated, confident classes, all getting A* at GCSE. The challenge at that point for a few is whether they can achieve maximum UMS point scores. Teachers can always create a sense of challenge.

For well embedded acquisition to take place, a long period of drip-feed structured target language input is the best solution in a school setting. Five years of little and often practice will produce the best outcomes and students well prepared to move to higher levels. It works for many students if the timetabling is right and the teaching effective.


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