Sunday, 15 July 2018

Survey 2018 - the results

In May 2015 I carried out a survey of languages provision in Key Stage 2 in schools in England and also examined what happened to children on their transition to Key Stage 3.  This gave a snapshot of how things were going towards the end of the first year of languages being a compulsory part of the national curriculum from age 7 to age 11.

Over the last two weeks I have carried out a virtually identical survey with a view to finding out if and how things have changed after another three academic years.

The surveys have now closed, so here are the results.

First of all, the number of respondents:

Key Stage 2 teachers
Key Stage 3 teachers

So, roughly speaking, twice as many teachers responded this time round.  Many thanks to all those who took the time to respond.  I posted the survey links on Twitter, on four different Facebook groups (Languages in Primary Schools, Secondary MFL Matters, MFL Resources and Ideas, and Primary Teachers), on the primary and MFL TES fora, the MFL Resources email group and here on my blog.  Once again, I acknowledge that the numbers of respondents represent only a very small percentage of all the schools in England.  However the findings appear to back up anecdotal evidence that can be read in the various fora and on social media.

I asked respondents to give their role in school.  For Key Stage 2:

More than half of the KS2 respondents are specialist languages teachers, either visiting (working for another company or franchise) or employed directly by the school.  This is an increase of nearly 20% based on the 2015 survey, where specialists made up 45% of the total and class teachers 35%.  It is unclear if this is because schools are employing more specialists or because fewer class teachers responded.  The numbers of TAs / HLTAs remains pretty much the same, and the percentage of visiting secondary teachers has only risen very slightly.

For Key Stage 3.  There has not been any significant change in these figures.

I also asked respondents to say in which region of England they are based:



The South East and North West provided the most respondents in each survey, a pattern which was largely followed in 2015.

Question 3 asked about the languages taught.  In both surveys it was possible for respondents to select more than one language.  It is noticeable particularly in the KS3 responses that some schools teach more than one language to Year 7 students.  

I asked which language or languages are currently taught to KS2 children in the respondents' schools:

I asked KS3 teachers which language or languages Year 7 children currently learn in their schools:

The headlines here are the German figures.  There has been a considerable amount written in the press in recent months about the drop in numbers of students taking German GCSE and the comparative rise of Spanish, with some sources even going as far as to say that Spanish is set to overtake French.  The KS3 German figure has dropped from 36% to 23.5% over the last three years, but, interestingly, KS2 German has risen from 2.5% (less than Mandarin in 2015) to 7.7% in 2018, putting it in 3rd place behind French and Spanish. 

French shows a drop of a couple of percent in KS3, while Spanish has climbed 7%.  Spanish's climb is not as great as German's fall.  French in KS2 shows a rise of only 1.5%, while Spanish has fallen 1.5%.  I find this interesting, as it seemed that more schools were switching from French to Spanish in KS2.  It is certainly the case in my local area.  Mandarin has fallen in both key stages, while Latin has increased 2.5% in KS2, and 2.7% of KS3 respondents mention it in the "Other" section.  Russian, Bengali and Urdu received twice the votes of Arabic and Hebrew in KS3.

I asked KS3 teachers if the 2018-19 Year 7s in their school will study a different language to this year's.

Most schools appear, therefore, to do the same each year.

I also asked KS2 teachers if languages are taught in KS1 in their schools. This is not statutory, but something that schools can choose to do.

These responses only differ by 1% - 1.5% to the 2015 results, and show that nearly 50% of children may arrive in Year 7 having studied a language for not just 4 years, but 5 or even 6.  Language learning for these children will be a normal part of school life, something that they have grown up with.  Is this something that KS3 teachers are aware of?

Next I wanted to find out who does the KS2 languages teaching.

Of the 117 respondents who commented in the "Other" section, 71 (nearly 25% of the total respondents) mentioned a language specialist.  If we add this to the "Visiting language specialist" figure, that gives a total of just over 63% of children who are taught by a specialist teacher.  The TA / HLTA total has risen very slightly, while the percentage of respondents who say that children are taught by their class teacher has fallen by 10%.

I also wanted to know how often children in KS2 have a language lesson.

As in 2015, the vast majority of children have one language lesson a week.  But how long are these lessons?

By far the most common, again, is a lesson of 30-60 minutes.  It can also be seen that some lessons are less than 30 minutes.  It is very unlikely that these children will be making the required progress.

I was interested to find out what training, if any, KS2 teachers have had to help them in their work.

Nearly half of respondents have attended a conference, and nearly 32% have attended meetings at their local ALL primary hub.  In 2015, Language Co-ordinators delivered training in 17% of schools.  This times it was just 6.5%.  In 2015, 7.5% of schools had welcomed external trainers, while this year it has been just 4%.  The number of teachers accessing online training remains more or less the same. There were 127 comments to this question.  58 of those comments stated that the respondent had received no training at all.  That is 19% of the total respondents.  Others spoke of finding their own CPD by reading books and engaging with social media.  A number of respondents stated that they don't need CPD as they are subject specialists or secondary trained.  Personally I wouldn't be able to cope in the primary classroom without CPD and support of some kind.  That's a subject for another blogpost.


The results of the 2015 survey were not good as far as transition is concerned.  56% of primary schools admitted to not sending languages transition information to the children's secondary schools, and secondary schools said that they did not receive information from 48% of their primary feeders.  20% of primary schools had not been able to get in touch with the secondary teachers, and 28% hadn't even tried.  17.5% of secondary departments hadn't been able to get in touch with their primary feeders to find out about language learning, and 19% hadn't even tried.

I was really hoping that the 2018 survey would show that things have changed since then.

They haven't.

I asked KS2 teachers if they send transition information to the secondary schools that their Year 6 children transfer to.

This shows that the percentage of primary schools who send transition information to the secondary schools has gone down by 2%, and the percentage of those who don't has increased by nearly 10%.  I asked secondary teachers a similar question:

33% of secondary departments receive transition information from all, most or some of their feeder primaries.  This is down from 41% in 2015.  64% of secondary MFL departments receive no transition information at all (up from 48% in 2015), and so begin each September not knowing anything about their new Year 7 students, what they have done and what they can do.  As an aside, I sent transition information about my two Year 6 classes to the four secondary schools that, between them, they will be attending.  (I know, I know, 4 is hardly any.  It's usually closer to 8.)  I have not had a reply from any of them to my email and the information that I sent.

I asked both phases about their relationship with the other.  In KS2:

As already mentioned, 34% of primary schools haven't tried to get in touch with the secondary schools, and 15% haven't even tried.  Only 16% of primary schools consider that they have a positive relationship with the secondary schools.

The question to KS3 teachers was very similar.

16% of teachers have tried and failed to get in touch with the feeders, 28.5% haven't even tried.  30% are happy with the way they are working with their feeders.

So it looks like primary schools and secondary schools are still, generally speaking, not communicating with each other in order to ensure a smooth transition between Year 6 and Year 7, and an uninterrupted 7-14 continuum of language learning.

What should children expect of their language learning when they arrive in Year 7?  I invited KS3 teachers to show the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with four different statements.

"All of our Year 7s have learned a language in KS2":

45.46% of secondary respondents agreed that their Year 7s had learned a language in KS2, while 46.97% disagreed with the statement.  In 2015 44.78% agreed and 50% disagreed.

"All of our Year 7 students continue to learn in Year 7 the language that they started in KS2":

76.14% of respondents disagreed that their Year 7 students continue to learn in KS3 the language that they learned in KS2.  Only 17.43% of respondents agreed with the statement, and these figures are very similar to the 2015 results.  The large proportion of disagreement is difficult to understand, given that the majority of students in KS2 and Year 7 learn French.

"We have adjusted our schemes of work to acknowledge and build on KS2 learning":

Only just under a third (30.31%) of respondents agree that they have adjusted the schemes of work followed by Year 7 to allow for the learning that the students have done in KS2.  In 2015, nearly 42% of respondents agreed that they had adjusted their schemes of work.  It would appear that secondary departments are considering the prior experience of their new Year 7s less than in the past.

"We disregard KS2 language learning, and all Year 7 students start their language(s) from the beginning":

In 2015, 61.47% of respondents agreed that all Year 7s started their language learning from scratch regardless of any learning that they had done in KS2.  This figure has increased, three years later, to 71.21%.  This is more evidence that secondary departments are paying even less attention than before to the language learning experience of their new Year 7 students.

This is further reinforced by the knowledge that secondary teachers apparently have of the KS2 programme of study for languages:

63.26% of teachers profess some degree of familiarity with the KS2 programme of study, with 36.74% saying they are not familiar with it at all.    In 2015 69.42% of teachers said they were familiar with the programme of study to some degree, 30.58% said they were not.  This means that more teachers than 3 years ago are not familiar with what children are required to do in KS2 in order to achieve "substantial progress in one language".  Surely knowledge of the KS2 curriculum is vital for secondary teachers?  It should be the starting point for Year 7 schemes of work, and a key bargaining chip for communication and co-operation between the phases.

So that's it, that's the responses to all the questions.  To summarise:

  • French is still the language learned by the majority of Year 7 students and KS2 students.
  • The number of students learning German has dropped in Year 7 but risen in KS2.
  • The majority of children in KS2 are taught by a specialist teacher.
  • The vast majority of children in KS2 have one language lesson a week that is between 30 and 60 minutes long.
  • Two thirds of primary schools do not send transition information to secondary schools; two thirds of secondary schools do not receive transition information from any of their feeder primaries.
  • A third of primary schools have not tried to get in touch with the secondary schools.  Just over a quarter of secondary schools have made no attempt to contact their feeder primaries.
  • Nearly three quarters of Year 7s start their language learning from scratch regardless of their KS2 learning.
It is distressing and dispiriting to see, as a primary languages and ex-secondary languages practitioner, that very little has changed with regard to the teaching of a language in KS2 and the transition to KS3.  We have heard a lot in the press, on the fora and on social media this year that, after Brexit, languages will be more important to the UK than ever before, that this year's GCSE was difficult, that students are dropping languages in KS4 in droves despite EBacc.  Surely it is in all of our best interests that we get KS2 language learning right, and that transition to KS3 is handled effectively so as to make the most of these 7 years of compulsory language learning.  

Most of us have one week of term left.  That's 5 days to reach out to your feeder primary schools to find out what their Year 6s can do and have done.  Get on the phone, or go there in your gained time!  

Primary colleagues: your Year 6 colleagues and SMT will know who to contact in the secondary schools.  They will have seen them many times over the last term.  Failing that, go online, find the email address of the school and send them the information, marked for the attention of the MFL subject leader.  It doesn't have to be a long, complicated document.  This is what I do.  All I do is paste in different children's names for each school, the content remains the same.  

Secondary colleagues: listen to what the primary schools have to say, then think very carefully about how you will manage your Year 7 scheme of work.  You may have to be a bit creative and abandon the text book for a time.  If you do have to cover some basic content, then do it in an unusual way.  Here's your chance to ditch the pencil case and get to grips with some of those more mature and meaty topics that students will love!  " We have too many feeder primaries" isn't really going to cut it anymore as an excuse.