Promoting the study of languages in the South East through school-university partnerships: the Aimhigher Kent and Medway Languages Project

Author: Matilde Gallardo


The Aimhigher Kent and Medway Languages Project was initiated in 2005 as a response to the growing concern about falling numbers of students choosing languages at GCSE and continuing with post-compulsory language study in an area (the Thames Gateway and the Channel area) where demographic changes and the proximity to the rest of Europe makes international opportunities relevant to its economic regeneration. The aim was to raise awareness of the potential of language learning and the importance of intercultural awareness among KS3 students in Aimhigher schools by increasing motivation and self-confidence through a programme of activities including interactive workshops and online social learning platforms. It also aims to raise aspirations and understanding of progression and careers in MFL among students and their families. The project is currently led by the Open University in the South East under the Aimhigher consortium, in collaboration with the University of Kent and eleven schools in Kent and Medway.

This paper describes a number of initiatives developed by the project, the results achieved so far, and the findings of the research into language perceptions that has been carried out in partner schools. The Languages Project aims to create a model which can be replicated elsewhere.

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Table of contents

Languages in Higher Education Conference 2008: transitions and connections

This paper was originally presented at our conference: transitions and connections , 8-9 July 2008.


This paper describes the Aimhigher Kent and Medway Languages Project, an initiative that brought together eleven secondary schools, one FE College and two HEIs, plus collaboration with local Children and Families Services departments in Kent and Medway. The project aim was to raise awareness of the potential of language learning and the importance of cultural awareness among 14-19 students. The project began in 2005 as a response to the growing concern from schools, local businesses and industry about the decrease in the take-up of languages at GCSE. This decrease has been particularly notable in Aimhigher schools in low socio-economic areas (Languages Review 2007), and has had a negative impact on employees’ skills in an area where demographic changes and the proximity to the rest of Europe makes international opportunities relevant to its economic regeneration.

An initial survey, conducted in 2005 by the Aimhigher Kent and Medway Office of 332 year 7 students and their parents, about perceptions of learning and using languages revealed the following facts:

Student attitudes to language learning

The 2005 AH initial survey.

Parents' attitudes

Students on their parents' attitude towards languages.

  • Most students had experience of one or more languages.
  • Languages were perceived difficult but also useful by the majority.
  • About equal proportion or respondents thought languages to be “boring”, “fun” or “not bothered”.
  • Languages were perceived to be less important than other subjects.
  • Half the students were interested in being fluent in another language.
  • Language learning in school was not enjoyable.
  • They had few opportunities to meet native speakers.
  • They thought that one or both their parents “spoke” another language.

(Aimhigher Kent and Medway 2006-07 End of Year Report)
These findings coincide to a large extent with reports from QCA, CILT and the most recent Languages Review among others.

On the basis of these results The Open University, on behalf of Aimhigher Kent and Medway and in collaboration with the University of Kent, launched the Languages Project 2006-08 with an initial consultation with representatives from local schools, colleges, MFL Advisors and regional HE providers. The aim of the consultation was to discuss the framework for a project that would promote the study of languages and would raise aspirations of progression into HE, while developing students’ understanding of the world and build up their confidence as learners.

The outcomes of that consultation laid out the foundations for the work carried out over the next two years, taking into account the following aspects:

  • The benefits of targeting KS3 students to increase GCSE take-up, working with focus groups of 15 students in a range of Aimhigher schools.
  • The importance of creating school networks, involving local specialist language colleges and non-specialist schools, to promote collaboration and sharing of resources.
  • The need to design a programme of activities which would include face to face workshops by Student Ambassadors and online resources to facilitate collaborative learning and peer support .
  • The production of language and cultural awareness materials, relevant to the programme of activities, which would be made available for schools.
  • The chance to experience life at a HEI by inviting participating students to a “Languages Day” at the University of Kent.
  • The need to involve parents and guardians with the process of motivation and encouragement by organising family learning events.

The production of promotional and language learning materials and the dissemination of the project outcomes were also part of our aims. In short, our objective was to create an innovative project that would develop initiatives already recognised in national language reports (QCA, Languages Review, Davis, P) such as the Mentoring scheme and Student Ambassadors scheme, together with the use of online and VLE resources for collaborative learning. The idea was to develop a model which could be taken forward by schools and colleges in the future and replicated anywhere.

The work involved

The programme of activities, ranging from questionnaires to online forums and face-to-face workshops designed by staff at the Open University, the University of Kent and the Aimhigher Kent and Medway Office, was tailored to individual schools’ characteristics and needs. The pedagogical rationale behind the different activities was to increase motivation and build up confidence by means of participation in interactive and fun learning tasks. These tasks followed the four orientations of travel, friendship, knowledge and practical goals (Noels, Pelletier, Clement and Vallerand 2000) as highlighted in the 2006 Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report. The aim was to encourage students to develop functional learning strategies to help them with vocabulary, grammar and cultural understanding through reflection and observation but also through peer and shared learning.


Workshops were delivered by undergraduate Student Ambassadors or Sixth Form Mentors on a monthly basis using resources created by the Language Project team. The sessions were 1 to 1.5 hours long and took place during citizenship lessons, language lessons or even at lunch breaks. The timetable and programme would normally be arranged with the MFL department or the school Learning Mentors in advance.

The aim was to provide interactive activities to make the study of languages more meaningful and to develop students’ curiosity about other countries, cultures and peoples. A resource pack was produced, consisting of a CD-Rom, a presenter’s guide, PowerPoint presentations, activity sheets, games, drama activities, and portfolios, always integrating the use of ICT and online resources as recommended in the DfES (2005) e-Strategy report. These activities are not language specific but they refer to the concept and variety of languages and cultures overall. They also draw on the students’ own linguistic knowledge of their mother tongue(s) and of other languages, their curiosity to learn and their ability to make associations and apply strategies to new linguistic and cultural challenges, as illustrated by themes and topics such as “Languages and the Wider World”, “Lost in Translation”, “Imagine your Manga Character”, “Careers in Languages” and “International Christmas”.


Students were encouraged to research travel, food, traditions, sport, places and aspects of everyday life in different countries and to produce a range of materials such as posters, guides, slides and short drama performances in the workshops. They were also asked to use their copies of the adapted CILT, Council of Europe European Languages Portfolio to give their feedback and to keep copies of the materials produced during the sessions.

Student research

Collaborative work using a Moodle VLE Platform

In line with the recommendations from the 2002 National Languages Strategy for England for schools to use ICT and engage with e-learning, and the Languages Review 2007 for schools to develop virtual learning communities to stimulate and motivate young language learners, the Languages Project established an online learning platform where students from different schools could explore different resources and tools such as forums, blogs and quizzes. Via the VLE, students can share knowledge and information about a specific language, ask questions and get advice from Sixth Form students. The VLE also offered students additional resources for revision, the chance to contribute to a glossary of words in different languages, tests on country, grammar and vocabulary knowledge, and the ability to record their own strategies and thoughts on language learning using blogs. It also included an area for teachers with resources and information. Forums were created around specific topics on language and culture covered previously in the face-to-face workshops.

VLE activities

VLE activities

Monitored by the Project Worker and the Student Mentors, the online platform has provided a valuable space for students to express themselves and be creative: they could design their own quizzes and set up their own discussion forums, as well as to engage in dialogue and to work and learn together.

The FE strand

This pathway within the Languages Project was developed in 2007-08 after consultation with representatives from FE colleges and the Lifelong Learning Network in Kent (LLN). A study carried out in 2007 by Aimhigher Kent and Medway showed that a) the language provision for students in vocational courses in Kent and Medway was limited and sometimes non-existent, b) some colleges offered languages in combination with other subjects and c) that most language provision was geared towards adult learners in the form of National Open College Network (NOCN)-accredited evening and Saturday classes. At the same time, the need for accredited modules of study in linguistic and intercultural awareness was recognised by teachers, especially since these skills are very highly valued in the professional and business environment and are also in demand by employers.

The aims of the FE project were to increase the motivation for language learning within the FE sector and to highlight the benefits in terms of employment and progression opportunities:

  • Creating resources that are meaningful to students in vocational courses by using authentic materials related to the fields of hospitality and catering, business, travel and tourism, etc.
  • Developing teaching and learning guidelines to help teachers use these resources.
  • Developing units of study on Language and Intercultural Awareness which are accredited by the National Open College Network.
  • Piloting the resources and units with students in the Hospitality and Catering departments in a local college and evaluating the outcomes.

Similar to the main project, a programme of workshops was created based around activities that do not require language proficiency. Rather, the workshops focus on the learner’s own cultural and linguistic experience as the initial step to learning about other cultures through their languages and customs. Each workshop includes opportunities for group discussions, role plays, CV writing, mock interviews, and role-plays in international contexts.


The impact of the Languages Project on GCSE take-up and on raising general interest and motivation in languages among secondary and FE learners has been acknowledged by teachers, learning mentors, parents and students themselves as shown in the analysis of questionnaires carried out by the Aimhigher Kent and Medway Office in 2007 and 2008:

Language attitudes (2006-07)

Language attitudes (2006-07)


Number who agreed out of total of 5 responses

Total of 4 responses

Students’ feedback shows the value of the cultural input as well as the opportunity for informal peer learning:

“I really enjoyed it. It was very interesting and I collected a lot of knowledge”
“It was good to find out about the different origins of words.”

“I enjoyed learning the culture, working in the group and finding out important information.”

“Only having one language is useless in everyday life because if you moved away to a foreign country you wouldn´t make any friends and wouldn’t enjoy life.”
“Many cultures are different in big and small ways, the things I love about them is their colours, clothes, food and traditions.”

In addition to the positive impact on students’ attitudes towards languages, the following outcomes have also been achieved as a result of the project:

  • Resource packs with the materials developed in the project (available by request).
  • Accreditation through the Medway Progression Compact for the Sixth Formers who have delivered workshops and acted as mentors to younger students.
  • Online school collaboration network between a specialist Language College and three non-selective schools.
  • NOCN units. Six units (2 at entry level, 2 at L1 and 2 at L2) on Language and Cultural Awareness have been created and accredited by the NOCN. They are currently available as part of their provision and can be offered by any educational organisation.
  • Kent and Medway Languages Forum. Set up by the Aimhigher Kent and Medway Office as a result of the project.
  • Online platform for MFL teachers and professionals. The Online Languages Project website offers the opportunity to access all the resources developed by the project as well as to share ideas and good practice through forums.
  • Dissemination opportunities through national and international conferences.

These two years have not been free from difficulties, most of which were due to the busy school environment and the fact that schools operate differently, with different priorities and level of resources available. However, this has been a joint venture in which many people have tried to make a difference, to inspire students and to give them an opportunity to learn in a different way.

Students in this project had shown a positive disposition about the world outside, about other people, languages and countries. Critical reflection on their own culture and environment is also perceptible in the work produced by these children. This in turn has positive implications for the students´ own learning processes.


Aimhigher Kent and Medway (2006) Strategy and Plan 2006-2008.

Aimhigher Kent and Medway Languages Project 2006-07 End of Year report.

CILT (2006) Language Trends 2006. London: CILT, the National Centre for Languages. Available from:

Coleman, J. A., Galaczi, A., and Astruc, L. (2007) Motivation of UK school pupils towards foreign languages: a large-scale survey at Key Stage 3. Language Learning Journal. 35 (2), 245-281.

Davis, P. (2006) Outreach in Modern Languages: a DfES-Funded Report Mapping Cross-Sector Collaboration. Southampton: Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies.

Dearing, R. and King, L. (2007) Languages Review. London: Department for Education and Skills. Available from:

DfES (2004) Languages for All: From Strategy to Delivery. London, DfES. Available from:

 --- (2005) e-Strategy: Harnessing Technology – Transforming Learning and Children’s Services. London: DfES. Available from:

Mitchell, R. (2003) Rethinking the concept of progression in the National Curriculum for Modern Foreign Languages: a research perspective. Language Learning Journal. 27, 15-23.

Noels, K.A., Pelletier, L.G., and Vallerand, R.J. (2000) Why are you learning a second language? Motivational orientations and self-determination theory. Language Learning. 50 (1), 57-85.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (2006) Pupils’ Views on Language Learning.

Related links

Languages Project

Aimhigher Kent and Medway Language Project

Aimhigher Kent and Medway Resource Centre

CILT Support for Secondary Education

HE sector work to raise demand for languages