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Final subject content for MFL A-levels published

I'd been awaiting this for a while. The DfE have published the final subject content for the new MFL GCE A-levels.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388809/GCE_AS_and_A_level_subject_content_for_modern_foreign_languages.pdf

For reference and comparison, here is the July draft:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/330337/Modern_Languages_GCE_-_subject_content_-_final.pdf

This follows a consultation period which ended in September. The new courses are due to be taught from September 2016 for first examination in Summer 2018. If there is a change of government in May we are told this will no longer be the case.

So what has changed as a result of the consultation?

The headline change is the abandonment of the essay in English on the novel or film. The essay will be written in the target language. This change is very welcome as the essay in English may well have encouraged poor classroom methodology, in particular a move away from target language teaching. We should be pleased that ALCAB/Ofqual have responded to teachers' views on this.

The second most obvious change is the reworking of the content themes. There are now only two, not three (these do not include the study of film and literature). They are: (1) social issues and trends and (2) political and/or intellectual and/or artistic culture. It is right that the category current affairs/politics/history has gone - it was a misguided idea to begin with to include current affairs as it is impossible to write exam papers based on genuinely current issues. Politics has migrated  into the second category and history has disappeared from the themes, although we read this reference: "themes relating to the society and culture, past and present", so sources with a historical emphasis could be used and they could feature in a student's personal research project.

There are some specific requirements with regard to the second theme. To be precise, at A-level ( I am assuming few students will do AS level):

Students must study two themes e.g, one theme from political culture and one theme from either intellectual or artistic culture, or one theme from intellectual culture and one theme from either political or artistic culture.

Slightly confused? For some reason they have something against artistic culture, it seems!

The requirement to do a personal study remains. This is desirable, but will prove a challenge to weaker candidates. One presumes that the assessment of this study will be done in the oral exam. Is this sufficient? Will students feel that the amount of work they put in is adequately assessed? Further, how will the content of the research be assessed if it is not from a prescribed list of sources?

Returning to the essay in the target language on film or literature, the final subject content references to this differ from the draft published in July. Because the ALCAB essay in English has been dropped, the new document is more specific about the content of the target language essay, attempting to ensure that students write to a challenging level. It is now stated:

At A level, students must develop a more detailed understanding of the works, showing a critical appreciation of the concepts and issues covered, and a critical and analytical response to features such as the form and the technique of presentation, as appropriate to the work studied (e.g. the effect of narrative voice in a prose text or camerawork in a film).
By the way, it is worth noting that the insistence on a prescribed list of texts and films remains.

Overall, the subject specification remains very conservative with its continued reliance on the essay and translation (both ways) to assess knowledge and skills. The essay will remain problematic in terms of assessment reliability, whilst translation will encourage over-use of English in the classroom. I have said it many times, translation is a specialised, enjoyable activity, but you do not need to do it to develop grammatical accuracy. If you include it in the exam teachers will do too much of it in the classroom at the expense of target language.

The move away from "general studies through the target language" to a syllabus more tightly focused on the target language culture is regrettable, but I expect teachers will try to put this right themselves as far as they can. I would expect teachers to favour theme one (social issues and trends) over theme two.

This has been a huge missed opportunity. We could have modernised the assessment, given speaking and listening its proper place and designed something to appeal to a greater range of students.Where is the world of work, for example?

The awarding bodies can now get on with designing specifications which include content appropriate to the subject content document, but which really engage students and which may help to arrest the disastrous decline in the number of A-level students. ALCAB and the DfE have not made the task easier.


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