Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Slightly appeased

Following the news over the weekend that the overhaul of the National Curriculum has been delayed until 2014, the DfE released yesterday two documents covering what has been done so far.

First, the Summary report of the Call for Evidence.  The Call for Evidence ran from January to April of this year, and altogether there were 5763 responses.  2359 of these were primary and secondary teachers.  81% of the 2679 respondents who completed the MFL section said that it should continue to be a National Curriculum subject.  The other points arising from the Call for Evidence and regarding MFL were:

  • learning a foreign language not only helps pupils to understand their own language more deeply, but also helps them to respect and understand other cultures around the world.
  • children in many parts of Europe begin to learn at least one foreign language at the age of 7. For England to be competitive in the European business market, it is therefore important that when young people leave school they are able to converse in at least one other language
  • GCSE must not be the sole outcome at Key Stage 4.
  • The few respondents who said that MFL should not continue to be a National Curriculum subject were mainly talking about KS1 and KS2.  In their opinion, the learning of another language takes vital time away from other subjects and is not suitable for children who are just starting to read and write English.   
  • 13% were of the opinion that pupils need to begin learning as soon as possible.
  • Children have recently made good progress in learning languages at Key Stage 2. Respondents were concerned that the work that had been done to introduce languages into primary schools would be curtailed.

The second document is the Report by the Expert Panel forthe Curriculum Review, the results of which “will be subject to further consultation and discussion”. 

The report recommends that MFL should be a Foundation subject in Key Stages 2-4, although "It is worth noting at this point that the optimum age at which to introduce modern foreign language teaching remains a contested matter that requires careful consideration of evidence; this is not yet fully resolved and we therefore present modern foreign languages in lower Key Stage as a query .... However, we do believe because of its importance that it should be included in the National Curriculum at upper Key Stage 2, which represents a change to the existing arrangements."   It adds in a footnote: “We are aware, for instance, of the arguments in favour of teaching language awareness in primary schools to avoid language choices which cannot be continued in secondary education, and the counter-proposals of those who believe that more specific capability in a language should be developed from as young an age as possible.  

Therefore it recommends compulsory MFL for Years 5-11, but maybe not for Years 3 and 4, Lower KS2.  I hope that provision is extended across KS2, as in my experience Y4 is the optimum year for language learning.  The proposed Foundation Subjects will have “refined and condensed Programmes of Study and minimal or no Attainment Targets”.  

This table is a summary of the recommendations made:

The list of aims for the recommended new curriculum is also an interesting read:

Provision should be developed to:
  1. Satisfy future economic needs for individuals and for the workforce as a whole, including the development of secure knowledge and skills in communication, literacy and mathematics and confidence in acquiring new knowledge and skills; (recognition needs to be made of the valuable contribution that MFL makes to literacy and maths.)
  2. Appreciate the national cultures, traditions and values of England and the other nations within the UK, whilst recognising diversity and encouraging responsible citizenship;
    (the Ofsted team that inspected one of my schools in September were looking for evidence of this.  Where will MFL’s intercultural understanding fit in?)
  3. Provide opportunities for participation in a  broad range of educational experiences and the acquisition of knowledge and appreciation in the arts, sciences and humanities, and of high quality academic and vocational qualifications at the end of compulsory schooling;
  4. Support personal development and empowerment so that each pupil is able to develop as a healthy, balanced and self-confident individual and fulfil their educational potential;
  5. Promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally.

So this is cautious good news for the languages community, especially at the primary end.  The previous plans to make primary languages compulsory were abandoned in April 2010, after which schools started to abandon language teaching.  The funding ceased in March 2011 causing many Primary Languages advisers to be made redundant.  In 2014, when it is intended that the new curriculum will be in place, some schools will not have taught a language for 4 years, and many local authorities will have been without the necessary support and expertise for 3 years.  It’s still going to be a long, hard slog.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Outraged from Tyne and Wear

While catching up with Twitter this afternoon I saw some references to the Curriculum Review.  Now I've been waiting anxiously for the publication of the conclusions of the Review, mainly to see what the Coalition's plans will be for languages in KS2.  We had been told that we could expect it at the end of this year.  So now, in fact.  But I had seen no reference to it in the press or elsewhere.  I consulted one of the #MFLTwitterati:

I read the article with interest.  It concentrates on English and maths, and you have to read between the lines for the rest.  It was this paragraph that was of particular concern:

"The conclusions of the review had been expected in the new year, but wholesale reform of the curriculum will now be delayed by 12 months.
A final report by an expert panel is unlikely to be published until the end of 2012, with specifications in the core subjects to be introduced in 2014 rather than 2013."
So the timetable on the DfE website no longer stands, and we will have to wait  even longer for some kind of decision about the future of Primary Languages.  This is infuriating given its already precarious position.  I am also outraged by the fact that this information has come out via a newspaper article (no mention of the information is made on the DfE website) over the weekend and after most schools have broken up for the Christmas holidays.  This appears to me to be underhanded and cowardly on the part of the DfE and of course of Gove himself.  But then I suppose I'm not really surprised about this.  It's not like it's the first time it's happened.