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National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy

The new National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy is up and running and has a website to prove it. You may recall that the DfE decided to invest a sum of money to promote effective pedagogy in MFL classrooms around England. There is a hub at the University of York and nine schools which were chosen after tender to disseminate good practice. It's early days but we now know which people from the worlds of second language acquisition and teaching are involved.

The stated aims of the Centre are to:
  • increase teachers’ capacity and confidence in delivering key aspects of the MFL Pedagogy Review;
  • increase the numbers of students taking a language GCSE, with a view to improving EBacc attainment;
  • improve vocabulary, phonics and grammar knowledge;
  • provide access to research-informed classroom resources that support language teaching and learning, and support the implementation of the principles of the MFL Pedagogy Review;
  • and maintain the network of specialist and hub schools.
The main activities for the coming two year period listed on their website include running residentials and workshops for teachers in the Lead Schools, twilight CPD and Teacher Research Group meetings. In addition a searchable, evidence-based set of resources will be created including phonics materials, vocabulary lists, example schemes of work, activities to promote meaningful practice and digital games fro grammar learning. The Centre also intends to develop a network community to spread good practice and support on primary/secondary transition.

Key figures involved in the Centre include Emma Marsden, a second language acquisition researcher based at York, Rachel Hawkes, know to many MFL teachers already, Rene Koglbauer, Suzanne Graham and David Shanks, who works for the Harris Federation and is a well known networker and presenter.

The nine Lead Schools are;

Dartford Grammar School, Dartford Dixons Kings Academy, Bradford Presdales School, Ware, Hertfordshire Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, Marlow St James’ School, Exeter The Broxbourne School, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire Archbishop Temple School, Preston Blatchington Mill School and Sixth Form, Hove and Cardinal Hume Catholic School, Gateshead.

These schools had to demonstrate a good record of results and a commitment to the principles of the TSC Report, I believe.

We shall see how the role of this centre develops in the coming years. A few points occur to me at this juncture:

  • Let's hope the DfE commits financially to this long term. Alas, we know from past experience that follow-through is not their strong point. A previous valuable initiative the MYLO project and its impressive website of mixed skill resources is currently archived somewhere without a host after the DfE abandoned it. We all know what happened to CILT, primary languages and the Teacher Resource Exchange.
  • The Centre will base its work on the TSC Review, which is committed to certain pedagogical emphases, such phonics, explicit vocabulary and grammar instruction. I believe the research bias at York is towards explicit skills acquisition, an emphasis with which not all scholars would agree.
  • The proof of the pudding will be in the eating; we need to see the quality of resources produced before rushing to judgement.
  • DfE top-down approaches like this may carry far less influence than the grass-roots networking being done by, for example, the Chartered College of Teaching, individual schools, and resource and training providers.
  • Nine Lead Schools is not many, so if this initiative is to have a lot of traction the online presence will need to be strong. Large swathes of the country will be some distance from the Lead Schools.
  • The Centre will need to be wary of suggesting that there is a best way to teach MFL.If they stick to general principles such as the importance of comprehensible input, interaction and building memory through spaced learning they'll be on safe ground.
  • I'd hope they'll consider producing a repository of teaching videos, similar to those produced years ago for Teacher's TV (another abandoned project).
  • I'd be interested to know how much influence on PGCE training the TSC Review has had. Not every teacher I encounter has heard of it and few have read it.

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