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How could the exam boards make the new A-levels palatable?

Soon after this post was written I saw that Labour have said they would put A-level reform on hold if they came to power in 2015.... They have the reform of AS level particularly in their sights, but this would inevitably make intended changes to subject content unworkable.


If you have followed my series of blogs about the new MFL A-levels to be taught from September 2016, you will know the three categories on which exam boards must select their themes for study. At AS level three themes must be covered, one from each category. At A-level six must be done (two from each category?). The ALCAB report designed their syllabus so that AS and A-level may be taught concurrently.

Here are the three general categories again:
  • social issues and phenomena
  • politics, current affairs and history
  • intellectual culture, past and present
Now, once the consultation is over in September and once the final guidance emerges (I would not expect much change) the exam boards will be thinking "How can we make this palatable to students and teachers whilst remaining within Ofqual's guidelines?" They will have looked at the indicative lists provided by the ALCAB report and thought that many of the themes would be too challenging or off-putting for students. They will also be aware that they are in competition with other boards to produce a specification which schools will wish to follow.

They may also feel that the three categories are ill-conceived in the first place. When you begin to come up with themes for each category you soon realise that the first category is far more productive than the others. This may be why the ALCAB report came up with themes, for French, such as existentialism, French mathematics and surrealism in the intellectual culture category.

So I was wondering what I would like to see as a (former) head of department and suggest the list below (for French). I am keeping in mind that the themes need to fit the categories, be challenging, interesting, important, relate to the target language culture, engage the personal experience of students and, crucially, be capable of generating interesting lessons where communication in the target language predominates.

Here is my shot:

Social issues and phenomena

La famille et les relations en France (marriage, relationships, living alone, parenting, conflict, changing modes of family, changing roles in the home, separation, divorce in France, benefits, poverty)
L'immigration et l'intégration en France (free movement of labour in Europe, multiculturalism, integration, racism, benefits and problems of immigration, experience of individual immigrants in France, experience of victims of racism, anti racism organisations)
La vie active en France: (employment, unemployment, full and part-time work, work patterns, reasons for unemployment and its effects, types of work, social effects of unemployment, benefits)
L'école en France (educational system, success and failure at school, curriculum, universities, selection, private schooling, secular schooling)
La publicité en France (role and purpose of advertising, trends in advertising, advertising techniques, benefits and drawbacks, laws on advertising in France, internet and social media, describing French language adverts)
Les Français et l'environnement (policies, effects of environmental changes on daily lives, French environmental groups, renewable energy in France, climate change policy, local environmental initiatives)
Jeunesse et vieillesse en France (youth culture, retirement, employment, demographic change, caring for the elderly, assisted dying)
Services publics en France (transport, infrastructure, health service, privatisation, social security, housing policy, suburbs)

Politics, current affairs and history

(Note that "current affairs" is problematic since, by its nature, it is ephemeral - surely it was a mistake to include it. This general category is also one where it is hardest to find topics that engage students' personal experience, making communicative lessons harder to plan.)

La vie politique en France (left/right, electoral system, parties, policies, contemporary political issues, personalities)
La France en Afrique (colonialism, francophonie, life in francophone African countries, Algerian War, development)
L'histoire de l'émancipation des femmes en France
L'actualité dans les pays francophones
Le rôle de la France dans la deuxième guerre mondiale (occupation, resistance, post war revival)
La France et la Belgique dans l'Union Européenne (history of EU, role of France and Belgium, attitudes to European integration, the euro, European institutions, implications of European policy for the economy, environment and employment, views on the EU and sovereignty)
La Grande Guerre (context of First World War, events, battles, life and experience of soldiers, literature, legacy)
Les jeunes et la politique en France (voting patterns, political causes, how to engage young people, single issues, voting age, policies of French parties, left and right)

Intellectual culture, past and present

Le paysage médiathique en France (channels and radio stations, financing, programme types and trends, overlap with internet, benefits and dangers of watching television,new technologies)
Le cinéma en France depuis 1970 (importance of cinema industry, film types, directors, festivals, films, movements, new film technologies, a good French language film I have seen, role of cinema in popular culture)
OR La nouvelle vague du cinéma français* (context, techniques, films, describing films, directors)
La peinture impressionniste (context, techniques, painters, biographies, describing individual works, legacy)
Sciences, technologie et médecine en France (GM foods and genetic research, nuclear energy, cures for diseases, new technologies, dealing with climate change, ethical issues)
La musique populaire dans les pays francophones (music types, music industry, radio, law on French language music, changing trends, music I like)

* Although arguably more interesting from an intellectual standpoint, the films of the New Wave may appeal less to students than many films from 1970 onwards.

I maintain a faint hope that teachers will respond in large  numbers to the consultation and reject outright what the Russell Group and Ofqual have proposed.


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