Bridging the Gap: University of Manchester

Authors: Julie Lawton, Annie Morton, Thomas Despositos, Susana Lorenzo and Elena Polisca


The University of Manchester's Bridging the Gap project to help students transition between GCSE, As and A2 level is described. Various forums and committees were set up to identify gaps in their respective syllabuses and events days were run at a Language College to help fill these gaps. Feedback on the events was good and it is hoped that this type of event will encourage more students to take languages at university level.

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (, 30 June - 1 July 2004.

1. Project outline

In summer 2003, the University of Manchester hosted its first 'Bridging the Gap' days: a series of events designed to help students make the transitions from GCSE to AS and from AS to A2 level, in French, German and Spanish.

2. Justification of the events

In addition to the traditional difficulties facing students moving from GCSE to A level studies (already documented - see bibliography), students now have only one year to acclimatise to their new learning environment, to prepare for their next set of examinations and to make choices regarding further study.

In 2002, the University Bridging Events Steering Committee (UBEST) was formed, to organise events which would help equip students to meet these challenges more effectively. These events could be either hosted 'in-house' or by a partner institution. They were not conceived as recruitment oriented, but were tailored to the 16-10 curriculum. Nevertheless, the days have clear recruitment potential and they have succeeded in attracting large numbers of language learners onto the campus.

3. Aims

Advice from LATCOF partners, (Language Teacher's Consultative Forum, an initiative involving the University and local secondary language teachers, relevant literature and our own experience led to the identification of the following gaps at the GCSE/AS stage:


  • Lack of explicit grammatical knowledge, including sentence structure, parts of speech, terminology.
  • Problems manipulating verbs and tenses.
  • Lack of reading and listening skills, particularly for the longer texts encountered at AS level
  • Lack of confidence in using language outside the controlled GCSE environment, particularly in speech.
  • Little spontaneous language.


  • Lack of cultural knowledge of the target language country and or communities, knowledge of which is vital for AS level.

Study skills

  • Lack of independent learning skills: time management, self-discipline, organisation, difficulties in taking the initiative, problem solving and researching.

At the AS/A2 stage, grammatical accuracy problems become more specific, (e.g. difficulties with subjunctives in French and Spanish); cultural challenges widen and deepen; and study skills become increasingly vital for researching presentations and longer coursework tasks.

In summer 2003 we ran two days at each level, one of which was hosted by Standish Community High School, a Language College in Lancashire. Sessions were delivered by university staff, school-teachers from partner institutions, the Conserjería de Educación and the Instituto Cervantes.

4. Design of the programmes

The events' programmes took account of different needs at each transition level.

The GCSE / AS events consisted of the following sessions:

  • Ab initio language.
  • Grammar.
  • 'Be your own Boss' (CALL).
  • Civilisation.
  • Oral.

The AS / A2 event replaced the ab-initio hour with a session on languages and careers and offered sessions on topics forming part of culture and civilisation units (e.g. cinema, music, literature) as optional alternatives to the scheduled classes.

These sessions enabled us to address variations between different examination boards and curriculum options at A2 level, and permitted individual students to exercise a degree of personal choice.

5. Evaluation

Overall, feedback was extremely positive: 74% of respondents rated their day as "good" or "excellent" (gd/ex).

Aspects especially well-received included:

  • at GCSE/AS level, the Ab Initio classes, grammar classes and oral classes: 85%, 76% and 87% (gd/ex) respectively;
  • at AS/A2 level, the grammar classes and alternative cultural sessions: 72% and 84% (gd/ex).

76% of respondents on the GCSE/AS day and 72% on the AS/A2 days agreed that the event had helped them feel more confident about the next stage of their course.

6. Future perspectives

Feedback showed the need to address the following issues:

i) balance between target language and English

ii) requirements of different examination boards

iii) specific targeting for languages less widely studied pre-HE

iv) logistics and organization


Pre- GCSE, teaching tends to be through the medium of English, notably for grammar explanations. Sixth-form teaching, by contrast, tends to maximise use of the target language. Practice, however, differs widely: students from different backgrounds have different levels of familiarity with the terminology involved. Feedback suggested that some tutors had pitched the language too high. In future, so as to enhance confidence amongst visitors, tutors will be aware of the need to react more flexibly and classes will be accompanied by handouts in both English and the foreign language.


The themes addressed were not always optimally compatible with the requirements of different examination boards. Further research will enable future events to focus on common areas.


One of our aims is to encourage more students to study languages in HE. Students who do so often begin a new foreign language at university. With this in mind, we ran "one-off" sessions in several languages rarely studied pre-HE. Though these were very popular, their presence reduced the time available for curriculum-focused. In future, we shall explore the feasibility of organising separate event, dedicated to samples of unfamiliar languages.

iv) Organizational issues:

  • Future GCSE/AS events will include a careers talk, previously only provided at the AS/A2 event. This will enable careers advisors to put across an important message that languages can be studied in HE alongside other subjects at an earlier stage of learners' choices.
  • We shall be adapting the ICT sessions to incorporate a greater degree of flexibility into the tasks and amount of guidance offered by our ICT facilitators.
  • Central funds enabled us to run the 2003 events at no cost to visitors. In the future, we shall most likely need to make a small charge to cover minimal catering provision and any necessary outsourcing.
  • Finally, the key to the successful organisation of any event lies in balancing demand with supply: providing what sixth-formers need, within our own resources of time, staffing, materials. Preparation entailed a large additional workload during the busy academic year. In future, we will concentrate each year on only one transition level. Partnership arrangements will also be reviewed, following analysis of the balance between advantages and disadvantages (lack of logistical concerns/lack of control).


Shaw, G and Anciaux, A. (1996) 'Bridging the Gap between GCSE and 'A' level, in Shaw, G. (ed), Aiming High: Approaches to teaching 'A' level, London: CILT

Thorogood, J and King, L. (1991) Bridging the Gap between GCSE and 'A' Level, London: CILT

Related links

'GCE Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A) Level Specifications Subject Criteria for Modern Foreign Languages'

'Bridging the Gap GCSE to AS and AS to A2'

Examination board specifications:


- Edexcel