Teaching and Learning Modern Foreign Languages in the United Kingdom - Statutory and Non - Statutory

The National Curriculum for Modern foreign languages was updated in 1999, and aims towards giving "teachers, pupils, parents, employers and the wider community a clear and shared understanding of the skills and knowledge that young people will gain at school" (National curriculum, 2003:3).

The structure of the National Curriculum enables teachers to use this working document in order to inform their long-term, mid-term and short term planning. Amongst general guidelines, it contains a Programme of Study defined in the 1996 Education Act as "the matters, skills and processes that should be taught to pupils of different abilities and maturities during the key stage."(National Curriculum, 2003:6) Modern Languages Departments have the responsibility to decide on how they want this programme to be implemented, and this has to be detailed in their schemes of work for the various year groups.

The Programme of study features five mains strands to address in Key stage 3 and 4: students should acquire knowledge and understanding of the target language, develop languages skills, develop language-learning skills, develop cultural awareness and have a breadth of study. These strands are sub-divided in more specific points, which are no longer topic based, such as "pupils should be taught the principle of interrelationship of sounds and writing in the target language" ( National Curriculum, 2003:16).

The National Curriculum also includes attainment targets and level descriptors which should help to assess the performance of students uniformly across the country. The 1996 Education Act, section 353a, defines the attainment target for Modern Foreign Languages as the "knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage". Attainment targets across the curriculum consist of eight level descriptors, which describe the range of abilities and knowledge that students should have when they reach that level. For all the core subjects started in primary school, students have already been assessed using these levels; therefore, secondary schools are provided with prior data for each student new to a school. However, as languages are not statutory in primary school, secondary Modern Foreign Languages teachers are not provided with any information concerning students' prior learning. This implies that in Year 7 students are in mixed ability groups, amongst which some students have already practised languages, and some other have had no connection with a foreign language. Planning the lessons to suit the needs and skills of each individual student within the group is extremely difficult to achieve.

The National Curriculum promotes cross- curricular teaching and learning in various areas such as spiritual, moral and social and cultural development, key skills and thinking skills. It stresses the importance of the National Literacy strategy, a statutory strategy across the curriculum since 2000, as "Pupils should be taught in all subjects to express themselves correctly and appropriately and to read accurately and with understanding" (Literacy Strategy, 37:2000). Literacy has to be part of a whole school approach, and roles and responsibilities are clearly dispatched throughout the staff. The task of the director of learning is to monitor that the policy is implemented, in each department, and he gives guidance to all the staff as how to teach literacy. Each department is expected to identify literacy skills to focus on, in their department and include suitable strategies in the schemes of work. Indeed, Modern Foreign Languages are directly linked with literacy skills, as pupils are taught a foreign language, mainly through their knowledge of their native language. Besides, Hawkins suggests (1996: 21) that "one of the most effective ways of understanding the structure of a language is to compare it with the structure of another language".

Schools have the obligation to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for all their students. This is one of the key general teaching requirements in England. All students must have equal learning opportunities. There are three main principles for inclusion that teachers need to remember when planning their lessons: setting suitable learning challenge, responding to pupils' varied learning needs, and providing manageable assessments. Every child has to be treated as an individual, with his pace, needs and desire.

Researches have shown that "subject choice differs in single sex schools from that in mixed schools, and this may relate to boys' perceived susceptibility to peer pressure... in single sex setting, boys were more keen on languages than in their counterparts in mixed-sex schools" (Morgan and Neil, 2001: 133). If the boys are often achieving well in Year 7 and 8 in languages, it seems that they become disaffected in favour of subjects seen as more masculine, like sciences, from Year 9 onwards. Boys are usually more participating orally, during a lesson. The National Curriculum states that "to ensure that they meet the full range of pupils' needs, teachers should be aware of the requirements of the equal opportunities legislation, that covers race, gender, and disability" (National Curriculum, 2003: 21). The laws states that teachers should know about are The Sex Discrimination Act, 1975, The Race Relation Act, 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995.

On the web site "Teacher Net" regarding equal opportunities and education it is said that "Schools must broaden the opportunities for all pupils to reach their individual potential. The objective is not equality in the absolute sense of everybody achieving the same, but the removal of what are often referred to as "barriers" to educational success."

II. 2. The National Strategy for England; Languages for all: Languages for life

II.2.a. Rationale

"In the knowledge society of the 21st century, language competence and intercultural understanding are not optional extras; they are an essential part of being a citizen. For too long we have lagged behind as a nation in our capability to contribute fully as multi-lingual and culturally aware citizens. Likewise, in the global economy too few employees have the necessary skills to be able to engage fully in international business, and too few employers support their employees in gaining additional language skills as part of their jobs" (Dfes, 2002:5). This statement made by the Department for Education and Skills certifies their knowledge and understanding of their countries rocky relationship with Modern Foreign Languages. Their answer to this issue is "The National Strategy for England; Languages for All: languages for life" was published on the 18th of December 2002. This document sets out the Government's plans to transform the countries abilities and views about languages.

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry, ordered by the Government in 1999, has established, as explained earlier, that the Government did not have a coherent approach to languages, and that there was no continuity in the initiatives concerning Modern Foreign Languages from primary school to university.

It is to address this issue and several others raised in the Nuffield Inquiry Final Report that the Government published primarily a Green Paper 14-19 entitled "Languages Learning: Extending opportunity, raising standards" in February 2002. This Green Paper lays the foundations to the National Languages Strategy published later that year. The proposals in this text focus on various concerns that the Government proposes to work upon; entitle students in primary school to study a language by 2012, increase the number of Languages Colleges, augment the number of people studying languages in further and higher education, increase the number of persons teaching languages, and work towards recognition of languages by society in England.

II.2.b Aims and strategies

The audit that the Government made in December 2002 embraces many issues and is extremely straightforward. They are fully aware of the crisis that languages have undergone in the previous 30 years. Their purpose is to change the perception that the nation has about languages and they are conscious that this will not be an easy challenge.
They decided to focus on creating an entitlement to languages for all pupils at Key Stage 2. "Every child should have the opportunity throughout Key Stage 2 to study a language and develop their interest in culture of other nations. They should have access to high quality teaching and learning opportunities, making use of native speakers and e-learning. By age 11 they should have the opportunity to reach a recognised level of competence in the Common European Framework and for that achievement to be recognised through a national scheme." (Dfes, 2002:15). This involves many constraints which are already listed in the National Strategy, but the Government also suggests pathways to achieve this long term project, which should be operational nationally by 2012. To deliver these lessons, primary school teachers who show interest in Modern Foreign Languages will be trained.

Furthermore, incentives will be given for language specialists to train for the primary level. Schools could also share a specialist teacher within a catchment's area. Furthermore, the Government advises to use members of the wider community demonstrating abilities in languages, and train them to teach at Key Stage 2 level. Specialist Languages Colleges should share best practice with their primary school colleagues, by doing outreach work. As the results obtained for National examination by students' attending Specialist Languages School prove to have improved tremendously, the National Strategy advocates increasing the number of schools having this Specialist status from 157 in 2002 to 200 by 2005. This also means that these schools, as they offer a varied range of languages have more staff within their Modern Foreign Languages department. One of the consequences which, is directly linked to the Strategy is that these schools are able to offer their competences to the local community. This can improve the perspective that a whole area has about languages.

Likewise, Advanced Skills Teachers are teachers who have been identified by Local Education Authorities, as outstanding professional within their specialist subjects will be involved in helping primary schools colleagues. Their role consists already in providing support to schools where either the exam results are very low, or in departments undergoing structural difficulties.

In order to increase the number of students taking up languages after 16, the Government insists on improving teaching and learning at KS3 and KS4. Students need to develop better abilities, and achieve better in order to be willing to carry on studying a language at a higher level. The curriculum needs to be increasingly flexible and the range of routes for learning language during the 14-19 phase should expand. The decrease in the number of pupils studying one language or more at A level has obviously had an impact on the provision for languages at universities. However, the National Strategy puts on emphasis on new courses offered which are joined degrees in a language and a more practical skill. Sixty new degrees which embed a language and business, management or tourism have been developed in the past few years. The objective of this specific part of the National Strategy tailors to the needs expressed by industries. Indeed, professionals admit that they lack of competent linguists on their rolls. Often, the proficiency that employees have, does not allow them to carry out a business conversation with a potential European partner. Some companies even admitted that they lost some business opportunities due to the incompetence of their staff in languages.

To motivate adults and to give credit to people for their languages skills, the Government wants to develop a national, voluntary recognition system, to supplement existing qualifications. They plan for the general public to be able to self-assess and record their achievements by using ICT. The Nuffield Feasibility Study commissioned in 2001 suggested the development of "Learning Ladder for Languages" which could be used to recognise and define language proficiency. However, there would be a possibility to take a test for people who would like to gain a certification.

II.2.c. Languages at Key Stage 4

The Green Paper "Languages Learning: Extending opportunity, raising standards" takes also a route that seems to be contradicting all the other educational reforms proposed to improve the status of languages in the United Kingdom within this specific document. "We do intend to amend the statutory requirements at Key Stage 4 so that schools will no longer be required to teach Modern Foreign Languages to all pupils. All schools will be required to ensure as a minimum that they are available to any pupil wishing to study them" (Dfes, 2002: 26).

This statement was the first step in which the Government revealed its intention. It was followed by the creation of a Working Group for 14-19 Reform, chaired by Sir Mike Tomlison. A final report was published in October 2004. The Working Group set out a whole new vision for the future of languages learning in Britain, starting the learning process early, by teaching Modern Foreign Languages at Key Stage 2 and entitling students to more flexibility and choice, especially for the 14 to 19 years old.

This decision implies that Modern Foreign Languages becomes a requirement as schools have to cater for each individual student, but also an option. All students in the United Kingdom are given the opportunity to decide in Year 9 whether they want to carry on studying a language. It is not longer a core subject alongside Maths, Science, and English. The status that Modern Foreign Languages had since the 1996 reform "Languages for All" has been completely transformed. This governmental decision has had a huge impact on the Modern Foreign Languages teachers' community.

The Government is prone to develop the vocational strand of education, and for students to undertake work related learning during Key Stage 4. Modern Foreign Languages are also part of this process, as some new qualifications are developed and currently tested in pilot school. An alternative to the traditional GCSE French is worked upon by the examining body Edexcel. This new generation exam is called GCSE in applied French. The objective of this qualification is to enable students to develop skills which can be applied to professional context such as business, tourism, media and communication. Students are assessed by sitting external examination, which are mainly ICT based. There are 60 pilot schools across the United Kingdom testing this revolutionary exam, and the first formal examination will take place in 2006.

II.2.d. Implementation

Most of the aspects of the National Strategy for Languages are an on-going process that should have reached its climax by 2012, when all primary schools will be expected to provide languages lessons to their pupils. However, in order to launch this Strategy the Government invested £1.2 million to start a Modern Foreign Languages pilot. This was to provide a Framework of teaching objectives and guidance, training and network meeting. An additional investment of £10 million was planned by 2005/2006 to sustain the Strategy. The funding is to be allocated to introduce the primary school entitlement, to increase of the number of Modern Foreign Languages teachers, to provide staff training and development, to promote best practice and to develop international partnerships.

A National Director for Languages was appointed to overview, expand and deliver the Strategy. The Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research lead by Dr Lid King plays also a major role in the implementation of the Strategy. Their knowledge of the evolution of the educational system and also their link with professional makes them a valuable source of information and advice. Local Education Authorities should support the Government in the application of the Strategy. They are closer to schools and communities and are able to obtain more easily feedback about how the decisions are perceived and implemented.

The success of the "Languages for All: Languages for Life; a Strategy for England" is to be measured against a set of outcomes amongst which, whether the needs of businesses are met, and whether the standards of teaching are better at all Key Stages. Other factors that will validate the fulfillment of the scheme are the increase of the demands for adults' language learning, the flexibility of the routes into learning a Modern Foreign Language, and more importantly the quality of the entitlement provided at Key Stage 2.

II. 3. Framework for Teaching Modern Foreign Languages: Years 7, 8 and 9

The Framework for Teaching Modern Foreign Languages is designed to support most languages taught at Key Stage 3. It is built on a similar pattern to the framework for Primary Schools, which is a recent scheme to enhance the level of achievement of students in English at Primary School level by creating a Literacy hour. This Hour consists in teaching the whole class for 75% of the time, and is shared in 10 minutes of reviewing, consolidating and introducing new objectives, 15 minutes of work on the word level, and 15 minutes on reading and writing. The remaining 25% of the time is dedicated to group work on guided tasks or independent work. The lesson ends up by a plenary session which is included in the time dedicated to the whole class work. This way of managing time appears to set a routine and makes it easier for pupils to make the transition from one year group to the next. A similar framework exists for English at Key Stage 3, which means that the government wishes to bridge the gap between primary and secondary school education.
The National Framework for Modern Foreign Languages is a non statutory document published in spring 2003 and was available nationally from September 2003. The Government provided training for all Modern Foreign Languages colleagues from autumn 2003. In order to achieve this necessity to train all teachers the government provided money to supply cover teachers.

II.3.a. Aims and objectives

"The framework and its objectives are designed to give teachers a mental map of languages learning over Key Stage 3. The framework should not be seen as a dry menu of linguistics. The grammar is not a separate heading but is to support work at various levels. A key function of the Modern Foreign Languages Framework is to encourage a rethink of where the emphasis should be in languages teaching and learning." (Dfes, 2003:16). The purpose of this framework is to raise standards by improving the quality of teaching and learning.

The teaching has to be focused by planning lessons according to objectives and ensure pupils are fully aware of those. Students need to be challenged and teachers therefore have to set high expectations so that students try to surpass their current level of achievement. The learning needs are to be structured with lessons beginning with a starter activity to catch students' attention as soon as they enter the classroom. Then, they should be a variety of activities delivered with pace. The lesson should end up with a plenary to ascertain whether the objectives have been met and provide formative assessment in order to inform the planning of subsequent lessons. The learning needs to be motivating and engaging by integrating fun activities where appropriate. Teachers should seek students' ability to do independent learning by providing frames and learning strategies. It is also necessary to build pupils' reflection by teaching them to think about what they learn and how they do so. They have to be involved in setting themselves targets whilst they expand their learning. Pupils have to be more aware of the curriculum. It needs to be more accessible so that students are engaged in their learning, and become independent in doing so.

There are five main strands within this Framework which are a focus on the word level, the sentence level, reading and writing, listening and speaking and cultural knowledge and contact. It moves away from topic dependence to concentrate on the skills students need to develop in order to apprehend a language and to master it.

The Framework systematically builds progression and is designed to give the teaching and learning focus for each year; Year 7: foundation, Year 8: acceleration and Year 9: independence. The training programme provides guidance to teachers and Heads of Modern Foreign Languages departments on planning schemes of work, which should be amended and strengthened but not necessarily rewritten.

In the United Kingdom, teachers at different stages of their career are involved in writing schemes of work. This enables them to have a better knowledge of the curriculum. Using the Schemes of Work published as a guidance by the Department for Education and Skills, and merging them with the ones produced by publishers, teachers manage to create a working document that is suitable to their department needs, but which is also respecting the governmental guidelines concerning the Key Stage 3 Strategy and Programme of Study.

II.3.c. Cross curricular themes

The framework strongly recommends a link between school subjects in order to provide students with transferable skills and effective learning strategies. Numeracy, Literacy, Citizenship, and a coherent assessment policy are to be developed in the various subjects in order to increase each student's potential.

"Numeracy is a proficiency which is developed mainly in Mathematics but also in other subjects. It is more than an ability to do simple arithmetic. It involves developing confidence and competence with numbers and measures. It requires understanding of the number system, a repertoire of mathematical techniques and an inclination and ability to solve quantitative or spatial system in a range of contexts. Numeracy also demands understanding of the way in which data is gathered by counting and measuring, and presented in graphs, diagrams, charts and tables." (DfEE 2001a: 1.9)
Teaching a Modern Foreign Language includes teaching the culture of the countries where the language is spoken. There are various ways in which Numeracy and cultural dimension are merging, as for instance, asking students to read the 24-hour clock, which is the tradition in continental Europe. Often, in role plays, pupils are asked to tell their phone number, which works in pairs in France, and this implies a lot of concentration, as naturally they would be tempted to read the numbers one by one. The postcodes as well are built up differently. Talking about the weather can become an opportunity to use maths, as you can ask the pupils to change from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

"All secondary school teachers have a responsibility to teach key skills in addition to their own subject" (Tanner, Jones and Davies, 2002: 189). If the bridge to be made between Numeracy and Modern Foreign Languages does not appear obvious at first, a thorough knowledge of the curriculum and schemes of work prove the link that Modern Foreign Languages departments managed to build in their teaching. Therefore they respect the government guidelines, but also fulfill their responsibilities as teacher, that is not only teaching a subject but also teaching learning tools.

Literacy is integral to all learning. Every school in the United Kingdom is supposed to have its own Literacy policy. It has to be part of a whole school approach, and roles and responsibilities are clearly dispatched throughout the staff. The task of the director of learning is to monitor that the policy is implemented, in each department, and he gives guidance to all the staff as how to teach literacy. Each department is expected to identify literacy skills to focus on in their department and include suitable strategies in the schemes of work.

Most school policies group four main skills, that is to say speaking, listening, reading and writing, which form the foundation to elaborate principles and precise targets in working upon literacy. For example, pupils should be taught in all subjects to express themselves correctly and to read accurately and with understanding.

Indeed, Modern Foreign Languages are in direct link with literacy skills, as pupils are taught a foreign language mainly throughout their knowledge of their native language. Besides Hawkins suggests (1996: 21) that "one of the most effective ways of understanding the structure of a language is to compare it with the structure of another language". Examples of elements studied in a language classroom should highlight this idea: basic and advanced grammar skills, grammatical terminology, parts of speech, sentence construction, listening for gist and detail, guess the meaning of a word thanks to the context, ability to use a dictionary and glossaries. In addition pupils are encouraged to read for their own pleasure from KS3 onwards.

Most of these activities are included in the Programme of Study for Modern Foreign Languages. Furthermore, the National Curriculum for Modern Foreign Languages says simply and clearly that "Since standard English, spoken and written, is the predominant language in which knowledge and skills are taught and learned, pupils be taught to recognise and use standard English", even if on another hand, target language should be used as often as possible. Also, in the same source, there are specific references to the English programme of study in the areas of grammar, drafting written work and knowing the technical vocabulary of a language (DfEE / QCA, 1999: 16 17).

"Citizenship gives pupils the knowledge, skills and understanding to play an effective role in society, at local, national and international levels. It helps them to become informed, thoughtful and responsible citizens, who are aware of their duties and their rights... it also teaches them about our economy and democratic institutions and values; encourages respect for different national, religious and ethnic identities; develops pupil's ability to reflect on issues and take part in discussions." (DfEE / QCA, 1999:183)

The Programme of Study for Citizenship divides in three strands, which are:
- Knowledge and understanding about becoming informed citizens.
- Developing skills of enquiry and communication
- Developing skills of participation and responsible actions.

Each school decides to deliver the statutory and/or non-statutory guidelines for Citizenship, Careers Education and PSHCE in a way that suits them best. In Modern Foreign Languages, several topics can lead to conversations about citizenship. In Year 7, it is already possible to include the concept of "citizen of the world", when pupils are taught Nationalities. In Year 9, pupils learn about the environment. It can lead to a debate about what they should do to "save the planet". In Year 13, pupils talk about global matters like politics and racism. They are about to be allowed to vote, and preparing them to the topic "Crime and Punishment" for instance, is a good opportunity to make them think about their own country, through comparing it to France or Germany.

"Assessment is a crucial part of the teaching process... it enables the teacher to gauge whether what has been taught has in fact been learnt by the students. It provides information for the student on his/ her progress. It provides information for the parents". (Morgan and Neil, 2001: 107).

At the start of a lesson, pupils need to be set clear objectives, in order to know and understand the purpose of their learning. At the end of the lesson, teachers have to check whether these objectives have been met. Plenary activities are useful in this matter, as it is often a way of reinforcing the learning but also evaluating pupils.
The teacher training provided in The United Kingdom advises teachers to set differentiated learning outcomes in three different strands. There are to be expectations for "some students", which represent more or less the top third of the pupils in a class, and the goals are higher. The group labelled "most students" are the average pupils in term of achievement. Teachers should be more lenient for some pupils experiencing difficulties in learning a new language, or pupil having special educational needs. They belong to the last group entitled "all students" on a lesson plan. "Formative assessment is an ongoing assessment, conducted at regular intervals by the classroom teacher. It enables the teacher to take stock of what the students have learned". (Morgan and Neil, 2001: 107).

Four main ways of assessing have been listed in Teaching Modern Foreign Languages, Morgan and Neil, 2001: 108 "diagnostic assessment...used usually to identify particular areas requiring work....evaluative assessment is based on feelings and experience rather than objective criteria... motivational assessment is designed to provide learners with short-term achievable goals...summative assessment is the final stage assessment and the term is usually applied to end of key stage tests or GCSE."

Assessment is vital to ensure an effective learning for pupils. Formal written assessment seems the easiest to handle as it leaves to the teacher more time to think about the performance as he marks the paper. Listening and speaking appear to be more difficult to assess. Every school has its own marking policy and tries to be consistent across the subjects. In school X, students' book have to be marked every 2 weeks, giving a grade for effort which can be excellent, very good, good, unsatisfactory or weak; and awarding a mark for the content between 1 and 5, 1 representing 90% or more of the task completed accurately. This way of assessing students' work is used to grade their homework or class work. This enables teachers, alongside with end of unit assessment, to give students a level of achievement, and to set for them long and short term targets.

Teachers are provided with loads of prior data concerning each student in their groups. Students in the United Kingdom take various formal assessments, and schools are provided with Software which manages to infer predicted grades for examination such as GCSE thanks to the results students obtained at these tests done in Year 7. These predictions are said to be rather accurate and students are aware of them.

Cynthia Frey, Masters in English Language, Literature and Culture, and PGCE educational adviser in Egypt, Head of French Department, Teacher of French and German.

By Cynthia_Frey