Monday 1 June 2015

Languages 7-14: Survey results

On 16th May I set up two surveys in SurveyMonkey, with the intention of finding out about the current status of Languages in KS2, KS2-KS3 Transition, and what happens to learners in Year 7.  The surveys closed yesterday evening, and I would like to thank all those teachers who took the time to complete them on behalf of their school or schools.

The survey for KS2 teachers received 159 responses.  The first thing to point out is that this figure represents just under 1% of the nearly 17000 primary schools in England, not a valid sample for any statistician.  I think, though, that the responses, which have come from all over the country, are representative of the situation in all schools.  The survey for Year 7 teachers received 120 responses, which again is just a very small percentage of the total number of secondary schools in England.

Two thirds of the KS2 survey responses came via its weblink, which respondents will have accessed from here on my blog, from Twitter or from the TES Primary forum.  The other third of the responses came from the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group.  All the Year 7 survey responses came from the weblink, which I posted here, on Twitter, in the MFL Resources group, on the TES MFL forum and on Facebook.

In this analysis of the results you will find graphs showing the responses.  Those with a white background are from the KS2 survey, those with a grey background are KS3.

First of all I asked the respondents to describe their role within their school(s):

and then I asked which region they were in:

Question 3 in both surveys asked about the language or languages that students learn:

As expected, French was the most popular language in KS2, followed at quite some distance by Spanish.  Also as expected, figures for the other languages were much lower.  This will be a reflection of teacher expertise and experience as well as resource availability.  Despite the requirements of the KS2 Programe of Study that children make "substantial progress in one language", 17 teachers said that children in their school learn two languages, and 5 teachers said that their children learn 3 languages.

The gap between French and Spanish in Year 7 is not very different, but it is interesting to see much more German in Year 7 than in KS2.  40 teachers said that their Y7s do two languages, 25 said that their Y7s do three, some of them as part of a carousel.  I asked KS3 teachers if the next cohort of Y7s will be learning a different language to the current one:

Question 4 on the KS2 survey asked about KS1 language learning.  This is not statutory, of course, but it is interesting to see how many schools are doing it.

There is roughly a 50:50 split between those schools which do offer a language in KS1 and those that don't.  KS3 colleagues should note, therefore, that 50% of their Y7 may have done a language for 6 years prior to their arrival in secondary school.

My next question to KS2 teachers was about who does the language teaching in their school:

31 respondents selected more than one answer.  The most common combination was Class teacher / Language specialist, followed by Class teacher / TA/HLTA.  The "Others" included music teachers and language assistants.

I wanted to know how often, on average, KS2 children have Languages lessons:

Once a week is obviously the norm.  It is interesting to see that hardly any schools have subscribed to the "little and often" method of having several short lessons a week.  So most children are having one lesson a week, but how long are these lessons?

It is refreshing to see that Y6 language learning appears not to be suffering from SATs overload and similar.

Let's move onto Transition.  I was interested in finding out how much primary schools and secondary schools are communicating with each other to make children's language learning experience seamless and continuous.  I asked similar questions to the KS2 teachers and the KS3 teachers:

So there you have it.  The majority of primary schools do not send any kind of Transition information to the secondary schools for Languages, and slightly more than half of the secondary schools don't receive any.  Why not?  Surely this is crucial to the continued success of our KS2 linguists?  The following questions may shed some light on the nature of the relationships between primary and secondary schools, and the reasons that this exchange of information does not take place:

 Because the bars have chopped off part of the choices:

  • We work well together
  • They are really helpful
  • They advise us on schemes of work and resources
  • We are confident that our children's KS2 experience will be taken into account in KS3
  • We have not been able to get in touch with Languages teachers at the secondary schools
  • We have not tried to get in touch with Language teachers at the secondary schools

And because some of these have been chopped off too:

  • We work together
  • We advise them about schemes of work and resources
  • We provide some of their language teaching
  • We have not been able to get in touch with the primary schools
  • We have not tried to get in touch with the primary schools
So on both sides, a significant number of schools have not made contact with each other, either because they have tried and failed or because they simply have not tried.  This contact is crucial.  How else will Y7 teachers know where and how to start, what sort of activities their new students like, and what they have already covered?  How will KS2 teachers know what the secondary schools need to know and what it is best for them to cover?  This is something that Headteachers, KS3 Managers or Transition tutors need to be informed about, so that they might help.

These questions produced a lot of comments.  Some primary teachers pointed out that they are in 3-16 schools, and so transition as we know it isn't an issue.  Others report that some schools in clusters are keen, others not.  Making contact and working together, for some, doesn't seem to be a secondary priority, and that secondary teachers are "too busy to meet".

The main problem cited by secondary teachers is a very large number of feeder schools.  They say that they have good relationships with some feeders but not others.  There is resistance from some schools, and they think that primary schools are not willing to put in the effort.

Finally I asked KS3 teachers what happens to their new Y7s, by asking them to agree or disagree with four statements:

Secondary teachers are divided over whether their new Y7s have had any language learning experience in KS2.  More alarming is that the vast majority appear not to be able to continue in KS3 the language that they started in KS2.  How important is this?  Does it make Transition easier if all students use in Y7 their Knowledge about Language and Language Learning Skills and apply them to a new language?  Perhaps this is the role that German could play, if we look back to question 3.

With regard to adapting schemes of work to take KS2 learning into account, there is again a rough 50:50 split.  KS3 schemes of work cannot remain as they are.  Yes, we can cover the same grammar points and structures, but let's look at them in a new context, that the Y7s are unlikely to have come across before.  Let's choose some more mature, meatier themes.

The fourth of the four questions is the most alarming.  75 secondary teachers admit that KS2 language learning is disregarded and that students start again regardless in KS3.  I heard two weeks ago that one of my last year's Y6, who had five years of language learning behind him with me, had gone to secondary school and started from scratch in Y7.  I know how he feels about it because his sister has told me.  From a good level 3 in Y6 to saying hello and my name is again in Y7.  Is that fair?  In the middle of Year 8 when he finally switches off from Languages, who or what will be blamed?  If students can't see that they are learning something new and making progress, you will lose them.

Secondary teachers need to make sure that they are familiar with the new curriculum for KS2 Languages, as well as with the KS2 Framework, which gives a structure within which we can build the language up.  

It is not possible to work successfully with primary schools on ensuring a 7-14 continuum if you are not aware of what the KS2 children are expected to do.

My final question to KS2 teachers was about training:

This was not a compulsory question on the survey.  33 people added in the comments that they have had none of the training outlined above to help them to deliver KS2 Languages.  Others commented that they don't always know where to access help and support.

So there we are.  What do you think?  I would be interested to hear your comments.  If you think I have been deliberately provocative in some of my comments, I have, and deliberately so.  We need to think more about this and make it better.


  1. I don't think you have been provocative at all. You have made the results clear and concise, and it paints a rather depressing picture. In particular, the transition from primary to secondary is a real mess in far too many cases. We need to start doing something about this really soon...

  2. Now this is what I call a survey! Well done Clare. Spot on questions and answers and analysis by someone who understands the terrain as a practitioner. I will look in more detail over the next couple of days and try to,be helpful! I wonder what a similar survey for another subject would look like? There is so much in this and it all needs to be given careful consideration. A worrying picture in many ways so the focus will be on how to make things better.Mmm

  3. Interesting read!
    We teach languages to tinies with their parents. They learn so quickly. I hope once they reach school age the progress they've made does not disadvantage them!
    My own primary age children can recognise and identify five languages but I'm not aware they have structured imput on this at school

  4. Great blogpost. Sometimes we need some provocation to sit up and take notice. Transition has been a problem for ages and I am as guilty as many of those secondary school teachers who have disregarded KS2 language teaching. However, I have known for a long time that something has to be done and do intend to tackle it in my dept....

  5. SCILT conducted a similar survey in 2011 (in anticipation of the new 1+2 language policy), and there are definitely some similarities in our findings. Here is the link if you want to find out more:

  6. I learned French for four years before starting secondary school, where we began French from scratch. Although this was rather boring, it did not put me off languages, and I now hold a degree in languages. There is lots that could be done to improve the transition from KS2 to KS3; a good starting point would be for secondary schools to find out which language pupils have studied at primary, and for how many years. Perhaps schools could stream pupils in Year 7, so that those who have had several years' exposure to French could start their KS3 learning beyond the basics.

  7. So interesting to read, and a great piece of work - interestingly I've just left a meeting where we debated the same issue!
    I agree that secondary practitioners need to be aware of the KS2fw and the PoS, and it would be wonderful were they to have an awareness of their Y7's prior experiences of language learning, to seek to discover this from their new classes in September, and to approach teaching and schemes differently.
    I'm not sure the time to do this is available (nor an appreciation that it's needed).
    However, secondary MFL teachers having knowledge of the framework or PoS won't assist if the KS2 teaching hasn't been effectively based upon these.
    Providing secondary teachers with a level or description of what learners can do doesn't necessarily help either, nor a list of the language they have covered- not least of all if your feeder classes are made up from 70+ feeder schools, and you simply don't know how to start planning your lessons within the scheme you're given.
    For the same reason, liaison between primaries and secondaries can prove a challenge logistically., too many to meet.
    Undoubtedly it would be good practice for a Y6 teacher to be able to articulate each July the substantial progress individuals have made, and to specify the skills they have developed and the language they have acquired. I hope that we reach that point.
    I'm not sure yet that we have a secondary audience for that information, and in instances where we do have someone listening, knowing what to do with that information seems like a mammoth challenge.
    I feel that we need to ensure that all secondary language teachers have access to training, opportunities to witness the beauty of what is taking place in our primaries, to develop an appreciation of this (& a sensitivity to it) so that "Secondary Ready" is less about primary schools being told what they must do to prepare learners for KS3, and more the sort of skills and knowledge that secondary teachers can be seeking to tease out and harness from learners....perhaps let's call it "Primary Aware" instead?!
    Finally, subject leaders in secondary need to be brave and visionary, to encourage their teams to develop exciting schemes, to throw off the shackles of the approaches we know are not working, and to find ways of using modules, projects or stories which enthuse the children, enable beginners to participate and learn, allow those with prior learning to progress further and to shine, and allow the teachers to teach the key grammar, features or language that they see as appropriate within their scheme.
    How do we get this training in place, and how do we ensure we all hear about the wonderful practice that IS demonstrated by those secondary teachers who buck the trend in your survey?!
    Dan Alliot
    Languages trainer & teacher (Y3-Y11)

    1. Thanks so much for taking the trouble to write this comment, Dan. Following your comment, Jane B on FB has suggested the slogan "We are secondary ready, are you primary aware?"

  8. Or "they're getting secondary ready...are we getting primary aware?"