In case you missed it, the much-anticipated government response to the findings of the public consultation on the implementation of the EBacc, Implementing the English Baccalaureate, was published in July.
In its response, the Department for Education reconfirmed its ambition for the vast majority of students to study core academic GCSEs and the EBacc hit the headlines again as schools broke up for the summer.
The government’s ambition to see 90% of pupils starting to study EBacc combination GCSE subjects remains in place, but the timeline has changed: 75% of year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools will start to study GCSEs in EBacc subjects by September 2022, increasing to 90% of pupils in 2025. The EBacc plan will therefore become a reality if 90% of year 11 pupils (exceptions are detailed in the response) sit a GCSE language in 2027.
Against the background of the continued fall in the numbers of pupils studying languages at GCSE and A Level (Ofqual, June 2017) the language teaching and learning community (including the Association of Language Learning whose response to the government response to consultation can be read here) has welcomed the EBacc as part of the need to encourage wider participation in and uptake of languages in our schools.
In the face of the challenges related to the recruitment and retention of language teachers faced by some schools, what can be done to help them become EBacc ‘ready’?
Much time is spent on monitoring and assessing the quality of teaching in schools, but how much is spent on considering the impact of curriculum design? In a deliberate move away from a ‘topic-based’ approach to language teaching and learning, the programme of study for key stage 3 focuses on the language skills pupils need to be taught. This allows departments considerable creative latitude in curriculum design which is not always reflected in schemes of learning. Could more time be spent on designing motivational contexts for language learning that still prioritise high-frequency/highly transferable structures and promote grammatical and phonetic progression to engage a wider layer of pupils? Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman announced a review earlier this year with a view to determine whether routine inspection needs rebalancing in favour of the curriculum. Now may be a good time for departments to review their languages curriculum in terms of engagement and impact.
While headteachers cannot reshape the narratives that produce negative attitudes in wider society, they can influence attitudes within their school. In the same way that it has become unacceptable for teachers to stymie pupil resilience and perseverance in relation to subjects such as maths (e.g. with well-meant attempts to show empathy or self-deprecation), it should be unacceptable for non-linguist teachers to say they were ‘no good’ at languages. School leaders can raise the profile of languages through displays (languages spoken by staff and children at the school) and promoting the daily use of languages (e.g. simple greetings), making languages visible and audible in their schools. In the same way that teachers share titles of books they are reading with pupils (e.g. on display boards in classrooms or on doors), active teacher language learners could share their linguistic goals (Mr So-and-So is learning Spanish). Or why not organise a Duolingo competition for staff (other language learning apps are available)?
CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC CAPITAL
While no one doubts their value, traditional language exchange visits are on the decline. Schools Online has produced a school exchange starter kit to help schools think about the necessary steps to plan and run a safe and successful trip. However, not all families have the spare capacity in terms of accommodation, time or energy to host an exchange student and increasing pressure on household budgets can mean that study trips become more expensive (or unviable) as uptake falls. A solution is to ask departments to work together to plan trips abroad. An art trip to Paris could be opened up to French students, a football tour to Spain could bring Spanish GCSE students along as interpreters. What does it say about the importance of languages if travel abroad does not draw on the linguistic expertise in school? Inevitably, all trips exclude some. It is important that departments find other ways of enhancing cultural and linguistic capital in school, particularly for disadvantaged pupils. Organisations such as Routes into Languages, UKLO and Business Language Champions can help.
In our last blog, we looked at the decline in the number of Language Assistants (LAs) in schools as budgetary pressures increase. If you have an assistant this year, there are some simple things that can be done to increase their impact on learning and on the way languages are perceived in school. Encourage your LAs to use target language around school as much as possible and in staff briefings teach/encourage (willing) colleagues to exchange simple greetings with them. This creates more spontaneous language encounters for pupils and non-linguist teachers become excellent role-models for linguistic courage and intercultural competence. If you are interested in other ways to increase language assistant impact in your school, you can find details of our language assistant induction programme here.
CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Among the most successful strategies in attracting and retaining language teachers cited by headteachers in the DfE response to the public consultation was offering staff ‘good continuing professional development’. Effective CPD includes training that is relevant to subject-specialism. The Herts for Languages team offers quality subject-specific training and events such as our languages NQT training and our annual conference for Secondary Leaders of Languages. We have also supported cross-phase language networks across Hertfordshire for the last ten years. See our Facebook page @HertsforLanguages for details.
The Languages team at Herts for Learning will continue to play an active role in supporting headteachers and language departments as they work towards meeting national EBacc targets. For training, conferences and events or for a specialist support and advisory service to help construct an exciting and challenging five-year programme for languages, contact Yvonne.Kennedy@consultant.hertsforlearning.co.uk