Specialist language degrees (25 Nov 05)

Date: 25 November, 2005
Location: Goodenough College, London
Event type: Seminar

Location map | Programme | Event report

workshop attendees

Past event summary

The aim of the day was to examine current trends and curriculum innovation in schools in order to inform the future design of specialist language degrees.

Workshop fee

Please note there is no charge for this event but we reserve the right to charge a £20.00 non-attendance fee.

Programme for 25 November 2005
Time Session
10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee
10.30 - 10.40 Welcome
Liz Hudswell, Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies
10.40 - 11.20 Implications of recent curriculum developments from KS1 to KS4 looking at the skills they have acquired, problems with progression etc
Ros Mitchell, University of Southampton
11.20 - 12.00 The A level curriculum
Adrian Ash, CILT the National Centre for Languages
12.00 - 12.10 Coffee
12.15 - 12.45 Good practice in schools - innovations in learning and teaching
Rebecca Poole, Hendon School London
12.45 - 13.00 Trends in University applications
Sarah Joy, CILT
13.00 Lunch
During the lunch break there will be the ooprtunity to view the "Why Study Languages" presentations recently created by the Subject Centre.
13.45 Short presentations on:
  • PGCE curriculum and working with departments
    Tanya Riordan, Portsmouth
  • Schools and universities working together: a case study
    Ursula Tidd, Manchester
  • Working with your local Association for Language Learning (ALL) branch
    Linda Parker, ALL
  • Why Study Languages
    the new powerpoint presentation from the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies
14.30 - 15.00 Debate and discussion "Why study languages"
Isabella Moore, Director of CILT and Michael Worton, UCL
15.00 - 15.20 Conclusions and implications for ML departments
Chaired discussion - Eric Sunderland, Chair of Governors, CILT Cymru
15.20 - 15.30 Closing remarks
Lid King, National Director for Languages, DfES
15.30 Close

Event report: Specialist language degrees in higher education

by Angela Gallagher-Brett

Issues arising from recent school curriculum developments (Key Stages 2-4): implications for Higher Education

Ros Mitchell, University of Southampton
Download: PowerPoint presentation (532Kb)

Ros began by highlighting the recent context in schools. The 1990s were characterised by a policy of languages for all. Languages were compulsory for five years as part of centralised curriculum planning, but languages are minor players in the overall curriculum and have always had to adapt to generic changes. The move to include languages in the core curriculum led to high numbers of GCSE entries with most pupils continuing a language to 16.

The introduction of the National Languages Strategy (2002) represented a significant change. Languages in primary schools became a priority but provision was reduced in secondary schools. Pupils were now required to study languages for the first three years but between 14 and 16, the statutory requirement was replaced by an entitlement. The Languages Ladder was also introduced.

Curriculum developments during this period of time have tended to be projectized with the process of curriculum renewal being fragmented. More recent initiatives have been carried out on behalf of the DfES by a range of agencies. These are as follows:

  • Primary Framework (CILT, the National Centre for Languages)
  • Key Stage 3 Framework (CfBT)
  • National Curriculum and GCSE (QCA)
  • 14 to 19 (Tomlinson Committee and Pathfinder Projects)
  • Languages Ladder (DfES/UCLES)

The thinking and theories of learning behind these projects were very different.

So where does all this leave us?

The specialist language colleges are doing well but there are not enough of them (approximately 200). The lack of opportunity to learn modern languages is a major issue in widening participation. New schemes such as the Languages Ladder/ASSET Languages can create greater coherence but are they too skills-focused?

It was suggested that this raises a number of implications for HE:

  • Languages in schools need to be supported at all levels.
  • It is going to be difficult to widen participation in HE languages in the context of the shrinking social base of languages in schools.
  • The best learners coming into HE should be very good now because they should have a sound grasp of grammar, language learning strategies and some will have been entered early for public exams. HE has to be ready for this.
  • HE students may want more opportunities to learn ab initio languages.
  • Asset Languages/Languages Ladder could potentially link all sectors and raise the profile of languages in HE. It could provide more flexibility of accreditation and it could help with issues of continuity and progression.

The A-level curriculum

Adrian Ash, CILT, the National Centre for Languages
Download: PowerPoint presentation (1.9Mb)

Adrian highlighted proposed changes to the A-level language curriculum which are taking place against a backdrop of huge overall curriculum change at 14 to 19. There is an increasing emphasis on vocational qualifications at 14 to 19. French and German entries at both GCSE and A-level have been declining for a number of years, while entries in Spanish and other languages have risen.

In a review of subject criteria for A-level, the following changes have been proposed:

  • To reduce the number of units that students are required to study from six to four;
  • To introduce elements which stretch the more able candidates;
  • To improve the balance between AS and A2;
  • To ensure smooth progression to HE;
  • To provide opportunities for suitable coursework.

It is acknowledged that progression at all transition points needs to be improved. HE staff need to be aware that the move towards fast-tracking able students at GCSE means that AS is increasingly being taught in Key Stage 4. Many students coming into HE seem to be unaware that languages can be studied on IWLP programmes and need more information about the opportunities on offer. Additionally, IWLP programmes need to ensure appropriate progression for students entering courses at vastly differing levels of proficiency.

Finally, Adrian concluded by referring to the recent White Paper for Education and stressed that its implications for languages would need to be considered.

Innovations in teaching and learning

Rebecca Poole, Hendon School, London
Download: PowerPoint presentation (387Kb)

Hendon School is a specialist language college in North-West London where pupils are offered either French or Japanese as their first foreign language in year 7.

Rebecca outlined a series of positive and negative factors which have an impact on innovations in teaching and learning at Hendon. These are as follows:

Positive factors:

  • Key Stage 3 Framework
  • Key Stage 3 National Strategy
  • Key Stage 2 entitlement
  • ICT
  • Assessment for Learning

The Key Stage 3 Framework in particular has resulted in pupils who can use language independently by year 10.

Negative factors:

  • Pupils' motivation
  • Optionality in Key Stage 4
  • Teaching and Learning Responsibility Points
  • Appropriate curriculum
  • Lack of take up
  • Competition with other subjects
  • Exams

In this context the approach at Hendon is to focus on developing linguistic and social skills which underpin innovative activities in the classroom.

Examples of activities in Key Stage 3 are team games, circle time, beat the teacher, speed dating, grammar through role play and odd one out.

Examples of activities in Key Stage 4 are internet TV, white boards, board games, mastermind, grammar through role play and peer assessment.

Examples of activities in Key Stage 5 are have I got news for you, board games, internet TV and radio, DVD assessment, debating, internet investigation, peer assessment, self assessment and drawing response (with poetry and short stories).

Linguistic skills:

  • Risk taking
  • Accurate pronunciation
  • Decoding skills
  • Understanding of how language works
  • Written accuracy from language understanding
  • Cultural understanding

Social skills:

  • Communication
  • Working with partners
  • Working independently
  • Listening effectively
  • Working as a team
  • Supporting others in their learning
  • Understanding how to improve
  • Consciously refining learning strategies
  • Understanding cultures other than their own

Trends in university applications

Sarah Joy, CILT, the National Centre for Languages
Download handouts:
Summary of trends in university MFL acceptances, 1996 to 2004 (Word, 363Kb)
Trends in Language students at Higher Education Institutions in the UK, 1998/9 to 2003/4 (Word, 174Kb)

Sarah presented statistics on student acceptances onto HE language courses compiled from UCAS and HESA data.

In 2005 there was an increase in acceptances across the board in languages. This needs to be put into context as there was an 8% increase in acceptances in all subjects as this was the last year before the introduction of variable top-up fees. Of particular interest was the 9% increase in German, reversing the decline of previous years and the 45% increase in uptake of Chinese.

An overview of data between 1996 and 2005 reveals that French and German acceptances have declined but there is an indication that this has levelled out in the last few years. Russian also seems to have levelled out after years of decline. Italian has continued to show decreasing numbers. Chinese and Japanese both suffered decreases in the late 1990s but are now showing significant increases in numbers. Spanish and Middle Eastern Studies have both grown during this period. There have been fluctuations in other less widely used lesser taught languages.

PGCE curriculum and working with departments

Tanya Riordan, University of Portsmouth
Download: PowerPoint presentation (3.7Mb)

Tanya provided examples of partnership between the School of Languages and School of Education and Continuing Studies working in collaboration with schools in the Portsmouth area.

Able Linguist Days are hosted by the School of Languages and enable 500 local school pupils to spend a day in the University being taught enrichment activities by PGCE students from the School of Education . Schools on the widening participation list are included. Funding for goodie bags for pupils is provided by Aim Higher.

Other schemes at Portsmouth include:

  • Student associate scheme
  • German extension courses (to enable linguists who only have one language to enter teaching)
  • Continuing professional development courses for primary teachers
  • Free language classes for local primary teachers (as part of the IWLP programme)

Case study of cross-sector collaboration

Ursula Tidd, University of Manchester
Download: PowerPoint presentation (645Kb)

The School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester coordinates a variety of projects.

Sharing Words involves Erasmus students providing conversation classes in schools.

Keep Talking consists of undergraduate ambassadors visiting schools; school pupils visiting the University and symposia for teachers.

Bridging the Gap provides assistance to school students at transition points (e.g. those in years 11 and 12) through language enhancement days.

6th Form Days enable students to visit the University to find out what a language degree is all about and to meet current students.

University of Manchester Insight into Languages Programme (UMILAP) involves visits to the University from pupils in Key Stage 4 to raise awareness about languages.

Language Teachers Consultative Forum enables teachers from both sectors to get together and discuss particular themes, for example the teaching of grammar or pupils' motivation.

Foreign Language Awareness Groups (FLAGS) involves second year undergraduates going into schools, acting as peer mentors and promoting less widely used lesser taught languages.

A number of future projects are in the pipeline.

Working with your local ALL branch

Linda Parker, Association for Language Learning
Download: PowerPoint presentation (569Kb)

ALL is the major UK subject association for teachers of languages in all sectors. Among its activities are the organisation of a large annual national conference, publication of six journals and participation in a variety of projects. ALL is in a position to broker cooperation between its members, national partners and key agencies.

Linda provided examples of several projects in which ALL has recently been involved. These include the Innovation Exchange Project which was funded by the DfES, led by ALL and explored the potential of ICT to provide safe environments for mentoring relationships between undergraduates and school students. Two universities and several secondary schools were also involved in this initiative. Making Languages Work For You was a languages and careers day for year 9 and year 11 pupils in Leicester and involved cooperation between ALL Leicester, the University of Leicester , East Midlands Comenius, Regional Languages Network Goethe Institut and a local specialist language college.

ALL can help universities make useful contacts, fund activities, help with organisation and provide links with schools in their area.

Debate and discussion: Why study languages?

Isabella Moore, CILT, the National Centre for Languages and Michael Worton, University College London

Isabella Moore

Isabella stressed how languages can help individuals to have a more interesting and varied life but also highlighted the economic rationale for languages by drawing attention to the following points:

  • There is evidence that companies will pay more for language skills;
  • Employers want to employ people with good communication skills;
  • Where English is the language of our customers, we sell more than we buy. We buy more in countries where English is not widely spoken;
  • Only one third of UK graduates feel confident enough to go abroad to work compared with two thirds of their European counterparts;
  • There is a shortage of translators into English. Non-native speakers of English have to be used.

Michael Worton

The last decade has seen education driven by arguments of supply and demand. Universities are concerned with making people think but must also recognise that the world of work is part of individual development. Languages are a key element in graduateness. As yet, in Modern Languages we are not good enough at explaining the complex nature of the skills developed by languages students. We have also not been that successful in working with Careers. Cultural issues in careers need to be emphasised as profoundly important. Learning about difference and cultural otherness helps graduates to enter the world of global citizenship. For example, in negotiating we have to be sensitive to our own use of language. We need to make sure our students are sensitive to linguistic difference and are aware of how they are defined by language. The significance of sociolinguistics could also be stressed.

Languages are a wonderfully hybrid set of disciplines that help us to understand being in the world. Languages are about trying to make things better. This is important to our young people. Modern Language students are multidisciplinary students who are engaged in complexity skills. We need to explain to them just how complex what they do is.

Conclusions and implications for ML departments

Eric Sunderland, CILT Cymru

Eric concluded that languages in schools and universities now face greater competition from other subject areas than in the past, in particular from fashionable subjects. The major issues facing languages concern what happens in schools and how students can be retained later on at university. A great deal can be done to make the case for languages as useful and important. Languages need to be seen as significant across all sectors.

Last word

Lid King, DfES

Lid brought proceedings to a close with four words:

  • Motivation/Rationale (in recent years the instrumental has been oversold in languages. It is now time to think of the wider context).
  • Linkage
  • Collaboration
  • Reconfiguration.