Thursday, 7 February 2013

All systems go for 2014

You could have knocked me down with a feather when the consultation on the new National Curriculum was launched today.  I really was expecting it on a Sunday in half term, as that is the DfE's usual way.  The cynical among us would say that Mr Gove had an ulterior motive for making sure it was released today.....

Anyway.  The main bit of news is that this latest document confirms that the teaching of a language will be statutory throughout Key Stage 2 from September 2014.  By "a language", the DfE means French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Latin or Ancient Greek.  This matter of the choice of language was the subject of the last consultation, the results of which are also reported today.  

This consultation had 601 responses, of whom only a third agreed that children should be taught one of the above list of seven languages.  The majority of respondents, therefore, were not in favour of teaching one of a set list of languages.  They argued that we cannot predict what will be the important languages of the future, and that there are other, culturally significant languages that should also be taught.  The Government has decided to proceed with the Order making languages a compulsory subject in Key Stage 2, but has decided "on balance", and despite the responses to the consultation, to keep the list of 5 modern and 2 ancient languages.  The rationale is:
"The proposed list provides a sound basis for primary and secondary schools to work together in clusters on languages provision and effective transition between the key stages. The list is therefore an important building block for introducing languages successfully in the primary phase."

In addition: "We are working with a range of stakeholders, including publishers, educational suppliers, teaching schools and subject associations, to make sure that high-quality support and adaptable models of Key Stage 2 foreign language teaching become available for schools."

The draft National Curriculum Programmes of Study can be accessed here.

First, a look at the overview of the subjects that will be offered:

The thing I noticed about this overview straightaway was that the only two subjects which will be compulsory in only two Key Stages will be MFL and Citizenship.  

About Key Stage 2 languages specifically, the bold highlights are mine:

"Teaching should focus on enabling pupils to make substantial progress in one of the following languages: French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek. The teaching should provide an appropriate balance of spoken and written language and should lay the foundations for further foreign language teaching at Key Stage 3. It should enable pupils to understand and communicate ideas, facts and feelings in speech and 
writing, focused on familiar and routine matters, using their knowledge of phonology, grammatical structures and vocabulary."  

It is acknowledged that the ancient languages will have a different emphasis, but that they can contain some oral components.

Pupils should be taught to:

  • listen attentively to spoken language and show understanding by joining in and 
  • explore the patterns and sounds of language through songs and rhymes and link the spelling, sound and meaning of words
    Songs and rhymes have long been one of the main features of primary languages, and their inclusion here comes as no surprise as it was mentioned in previous government press releases.

  • engage in conversations; ask and answer questions; express opinions and 
    respond to those of others; seek clarification and help*
  • speak in sentences, using familiar vocabulary, phrases and basic language structures
    One of the difficulties with primary languages thus far has been that teachers, especially those non-specialists, have tended to concentrate on lists of vocabulary and short phrases rather than building up to longer utterances and sentences.  This is one of the reasons that training and upskilling for teachers is crucial if this is to work.
  • develop accurate pronunciation and intonation so that others understand when they are reading aloud or using familiar words and phrases*
    The study of phonics have been an integral and successful part of primary languages.  Again more training will be needed.
  • present ideas and information orally to a range of audiences*
  • read carefully and show understanding of words, phrases and simple writing
  • appreciate stories, songs, poems and rhymes in the language
  • broaden their vocabulary and develop their ability to understand new words that are introduced into familiar written material, including through using a dictionary
    Children studying a Romance language would find selective study of Latin, and - in the case of Spanish - Arabic, to be extremely useful in understanding new words in the foreign language and, of course, in seeing links with their own mother tongue.  There is a very strong argument for its inclusion for building language awareness and links with literacy.
  • write phrases from memory, and adapt these to create new sentences, to express 
    ideas clearly

  • describe people, places, things and actions orally* and in writing
  • understand basic grammar appropriate to the language being studied, such as 
    (where relevant): feminine, masculine and neuter forms and the conjugation of 
    high-frequency verbs; key features and patterns of the language; how to apply 
    these, for instance, to build sentences; and how these differ from or are similar to 

    Yet again, this is where the non-specialist teachers will need considerable input and training.
One of the successes of primary languages, due in large part to the KS2 Framework for Languages, has been Intercultural Understanding.  MFL appears to have been the only subject where this has been made explicit.  Yet there is no mention of Intercultural Understanding in this Programme of Study.  Having had, just this week, Year 5 poring over a book about Chile and Easter Island, and Year 4 learning a song from Mexico, I for one will be raising this in my response to this latest consultation, which closes on April 16th.

September 2014 is only a school year and a half away.  For some schools, MFL business will be then pretty much as it is now.  Others, though, have a very long way to go in a very short time.  There is not much time for major stakeholders - primary schools, secondary schools and what is left of the local authorities - to meet together and thrash out how it is going to work for them.  It is still my opinion that Year 6 to Year 7 transition will make or break this move to compulsion for Key Stage 2.

I am determined that compulsory languages in Key Stage 2 should succeed.  I have invested too much of my career in it and enjoyed too many lessons in it with the children to see it fail now.  Who's with me?


  1. Clear common sense blog post as we have come to expect Mrs S.
    I will be joining you in terms of highlighting e importance of IU - as you well know it is one of my particular bug bees in that it is the one aspect of MFL L&T which often goes by the wayside.

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