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A National Language Centre

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/languages-boost-to-deliver-skilled-workforce-for-uks-businesses

The DfE in England announced today an investment of nearly £5 million in a national centre for languages, including the involvement of nine schools which will act as hubs spreading good practice and, it’s said, drive up standards. The good practice which the centre aims to spread is based on the Teaching Schools Council Review of MFL Pedagogy, which I have previously blogged about on a couple of occasions.

You can find it here. It’s worth a careful read:

https://www.tscouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/MFL-Pedagogy-Review-Report-2.pdf

On the one hand any new investment in languages (in this case French, German and Spanish) is to be welcomed. This particular initiative, officially supported by the CBI, is a response to the faltering take-up of modern languages in secondary schools and skill shortages in the world of work. One DfE spin on this is that in the post-Brexit era we shall need linguists even more than today. Make of that logic what you will, particularly in view of the oft reported reduction of interest in languages following the EU referendum. Leaving the EU will of itself cause significant damage to attitudes towards other cultures and languages.

But when you think of the damage done from 2010 by the coalition government, for example closing CILT (itself a national language teaching centre), closing down Asset Languages, the Teacher Resource Exchange and Teachers’ TV, abandoning support for primary schools and Hello MYLO, this latest initiative looks like a piece of low-cost sticking plaster which will barely scratch the surface of some real issues: teacher shortages, poor timetabling for MFL, closing A-level courses for lack of funds, insufficient support for primary MFL and accountability measures which discourage heads from supporting MFL. While it is no doubt true that many schools underperform in MFL, is this the best way forward?

This initiative is also a tacit admission that the DfE’s Ebacc strategy has failed. If you recall, Ebacc was meant to incentivise schools to enter more pupils for GCSE. As the 9-1 performance measure has become predominant, so schools have failed to take the Ebacc bait. Last year saw GCSE entries fall to 47% of the yearly cohort.

The type of hub system being proposed is designed to spread the pedagogy recommended in the TSC Review, a pedagogy supported by some, but by no means all research. It will reinforce work already being done in local networks, such as those under the auspices of the Chartered College, but these new hubs will be specifically expected to support phonics, translation, explicit grammar teaching, planned vocabulary teaching, and the use of literary and historical texts. Does this suit all pupils?

Apart from a much more serious investment in teachers, perhaps a more efficient way to spread practice would have been to use social media or a new version of Teachers’ TV. The latter would have required more money though. It will be interesting to see who is involved in the new national centre for languages and how the hubs fulfil their role. Maybe social media, where the action really is, will play a role. I think we should wish participants the best, but history shows that these initiatives last a few years at most, then disappear with barely a trace. Follow-through has rarely been the DfE’s strong point.




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