Skip to main content

Language Trends Survey 2016-17

Every year since 2002 the British Council has conducted a survey of language teaching in primary and secondary schools in the UK, both in the state and independent sectors. This latest survey was carried out between September and December 2016. 2970 state secondary schools, 655 independent secondary schools and 6000 state primary school were invited to respond to a questionnaire. Responses were received from 701 state secondaries, 146 independent secondaries and 727 primary schools.

The main focus of this year's report , produced once again by Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board, was to see how schools, primaries, are responding to the long term aspiration of 90% of young people taking a GCSE in a language as part of the EBacc suite of subjects.

Primary schools - key findings

Although languages are becoming more embedded there are, unsurprisingly, large disparities in provision. Languages still have a low profile when compared with core subjects. Even so 88% of respondents expressed wholehearted commitment to primary languages, commenting on the social, personal and cognitive benefits language learning produces. Some respondents have concerns, however, that learning another language may be less beneficial to pupils already learning English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Schools offering less than the minimal 30 minutes a week tend to have more pupils on free school meals. Languages get sidelined when there seem to be other priorities. (This might suggest that the "class divide" in language learning starts young.)

The expertise of staff has increased a little with the percentage of teachers who are bilingual or with a degree level qualification has risen to 46% from 42% in 2015-16.

One notable point is the large gap between what primary schools report their pupils can do and what secondary school teachers see in Y7. 81% of primary teachers say that speaking in whole sentences is an expectation, only 7% of Y7 teachers report that pupils can do this. (This suggests that knowledge is poorly embedded owing to lack of input and practice. The report notes that this disparity also applies to other subjects.) The report notes that no progress has been made on the awkward transition between primary and secondary.

Secondary schools - key findings

Although many schools (38%) state they have plans to increase numbers at KS4, the number of dual linguists is falling, notably in the independent sector. A majority of schools have adjusted their curriculum to adapt to the new GCSE. Some have created a 3-year GCSE course from Y9, others have cut provision to one language. Few schools are offering an increase in the (inadequate) time offered to language learning. (Not necessarily a bad move, in my view. I would also add that the idea of a two or three year GCSE course always sounds odd to me. Surely the route to GCSE starts in Y7 or before.)

Financial factors are creating a growing disparity between state and private schools in terms of Foreign Language Assistant provision. This is regrettable and provides a further example of social disadvantage.

Spanish continues to increase in popularity, while German's decline continues. Under a half secondary schools offer German at KS3. GCSE take-up looks set to increase somewhat and there is evidence that the pupil premium has had a modest impact on increasing numbers.

Post-16 numbers continue to decline for reasons often reported before; severe grading, perceived difficulty of A-level languages, the lack of A* grades. many schools are also moving from four to three subjects in Y12 which is bound to affect take-up for languages.

Teacher supply is not reported as a major issue at the moment, but this may change if take-up rises for GCSE. Recruiting teachers with specialism in more than one language is proving more difficult, however. Financial cuts mean that independent school teachers get far more access to CPD than their state sector colleagues. This is very concerning.

As far as Foreign language Assistants are concerned, only 33% of state schools reported having one compared with 73% in the private sector.

Non-UK EU nationals who make up a considerable proportion of our MFL workforce are, not surprisingly, concerned about their own future status and access to programmes such as Erasmus +.

Conclusions?

On a positive note it seems likely that the number of pupils doing a language up to GCSE will increase. The government's stated aim is now 75% by 2020, rising to 90% later. It's also welcome that primary schools are making such a great effort to spark pupils' interest in languages, even though provision remains patchy.

That said, what struck me most in this year's report was the growing social gulf between pupils who have access to more languages, greater learning time in primary and secondary and Foreign Language Assistants, and those who don't. On average pupils who fare worst go to hard-pressed state schools, often those with lower general attainment, while those in the independent sector continue to benefit from more opportunities to engage with native speakers in schools and abroad. This is both a social and geographical (north-south) divide.

Austerity is biting in other ways. Post-16 continues to cause great concern, with numbers continuing to fall, in part owing to cuts, in part because of the DfE's moves on AS levels. Anecdotally many schools, especially state schools, report that they can no longer afford to offer A-level courses with small groups while many schools are dropping the fourth AS level subject completely. (Staffing and exam fees become less costly.) Ofqual's move on A-level grading this year, as a one-off measure, is welcome, but severe grading is a chronic issue affecting take-up.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…