What does the report say?
Only a third of pupils at the end of key stage 4 achieve a languages GCSE at grade C or better. Many are just giving up languages study when they get to the end of key stage 3, with less than half even entering a languages GCSE. It’s been suggested that this is partly due to pupils not enjoying languages lessons and also feeling that they aren’t making progress. Reviewing and improving pedagogy is key to addressing these issues.
Many language courses are organised around themes, such as ‘free time activities’, ‘the environment’, ‘home and family’. The choice of vocabulary can be too specialised, teaching relatively rarely used words at the expense of common words. This can lead to pupils realising that they cannot say or understand basic things in the language, contributing to a lack of enjoyment and feeling that they aren’t making progress.
The report says that pupils need to gain early knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar, and sound and spelling systems (phonics) of their new language, and how these are used by speakers of the language. And they need to reinforce this knowledge with extensive planned practice and use in order to build the skills needed for communication.
Taken together, most of the report’s fifteen recommendations, advocate teachers adopting a clear, planned and sequenced direct teaching of vocabulary, grammar and phonics right from the start of key stage 3.
The report also includes advice for head teachers and senior leaders, who may not be linguists themselves, to help them engage with languages teachers and departments and understand the aspects of pedagogy which may improve interest and achievement in languages.
The report documentation includes:
• MFL pedagogy review (pdf)
• Evaluating MFL teaching (PPt)
• Planning and evaluating your MFL course (PPt)
Ian Bauckham, the Review Chair: “There are powerful educational benefits and career advantages to be gained from studying a modern foreign language. Language teachers are highly committed and hard-working. Nevertheless, outcomes in languages present us with some significant challenges. Good teachers continually review their pedagogy and this report offers recommendations which they can use for this purpose. This report recommends direct, sequenced teaching of vocabulary, grammar and phonics, planned practice leading to fluency and accuracy in use, and horizon-widening subject matter. It also lays special emphasis on high quality subject-specific teacher training and development.”
From Carolyn Robson, Vice-Chair of the Teaching Schools Council “The vast majority of young people should study a modern foreign language, preferably at least to GCSE level. Languages are an important part of young people’s education entitlement. This report provides advice which is intended to lead to courses being more enjoyable and effective so that greater numbers continue studying a language beyond key stage 3. With GCSE specifications recently changing, now is the right time for teachers to consider whether their courses provide pupils with the essential knowledge they need to succeed”.
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