Teaching and Learning Modern Foreign Languages in the United Kingdom – Conclusion

Limited choicesSince September 2004, Modern Foreign Languages are an entitlement, which means, as explained earlier, that schools must offer pupils the opportunity to study one language up to GCSE. However, in practice schools deal with this new governmental policy very differently from each other. Head Teachers of Comprehensive Schools have the possibility to implement the decision in varied ways, and for instance in Specialist Languages School the tuition of Modern Foreign Languages at Key Stage 4 is still compulsory. In School Z, where the number of options offered is limited, pupils who opt for textiles have to take a language. There are timetable constraints

, which makes any other combination impossible. Pupils are therefore often resentful, as they feel that what should have been a choice has been imposed on them.Some other Head Teachers promote the learning of a language and ensure that it is valued in the school and community, and so they manage to keep the number of candidates who decide to enter for a languages GCSE quite high. This is often the case in middle class catchment areas where the benefits of learning a language are understood and supported by families.The schools that have suffered the most from this decision are Comprehensive Schools in more deprived areas, where there is no understanding of the resource that languages can be, especially to improve Literacy skills. Some schools even withdraw pupils who have Special Educational Needs from Languages lessons, in order to provide them with extra support in English. In school Z,

(…) The existing entitlement to study a Modern Foreign Language at Key Stage 4 should be extended to 16-19 year olds.”The United Kingdom is aware of the need to raise the profile of Modern Foreign Languages. The necessity to teach pupils languages so that they become proficient users is recognised by the Government. Several business groups have expressed their concern in the last ten years about the lack of skilled employees. Although it is common knowledge, as many studies and enquiries have researched this matter, none of the current or forthcoming educational policies appear to have the potential to change durably the present situation. “Britain is Europe’s foreign languages dunce: only one in three Britons can speak a second language (…) The inquiry into exam reform by the former chief schools inspector, Mike Tomlinson,

suggested a foreign language should become a compulsory part of a new style vocational qualification such as Leisure and Tourism” (The Independent, 24/12/2004: 6). The Government strongly focuses on developing vocational studies and might integrate more specialised languages skills within the curriculum. However, the current Programme of Study for Key Stage 3 already focuses on the necessity to provide pupils with a range of appropriate transferable skills. The content of the curriculum, though, would benefit from covering a wider range of needs.CONCLUSIONTraditionally the educational system of the United Kingdom conveyed first and foremost the national language, values and traditions throughout its curriculum. Modern Foreign Languages were not a priority.The birth of Comprehensive Schools could have brought some progress. The selecting process to enter Secondary School known as the ‘eleven plus exam’ was suppressed and schools were opened to every individual, regardless of class, gender or ethnicity. Languages teaching had to be adapted to fit the new generation classrooms as the lessons were no longer attended by the elite of students. The process was not without difficulties and the exam results were not encouraging.To try to improve matters, Modern Foreign Languages became compulsory at national examination level in 1986. At the same time, business professionals and associations promoting languages, such as the Centre for Information on Language Teaching, noticed a shortage of people able to use languages in professional contexts. To research into the reasons for this, the Nuffield Foundation started an inquiry whose final results were published in 2000.

The Government was held partly responsible for the absence of coherent policies to promote languages within the United Kingdom.
The Nuffield Final Report suggested some measures which could help to develop the interest and knowledge in Modern Foreign Languages. Most government policies then followed the recommendations of the Nuffield Foundation. A National Curriculum was created in 1999. A new Strategy for teaching Modern Foreign Languages at Key Stage 3 was elaborated in 2003, alongside a Framework for teaching languages. The introduction of Modern Foreign Languages as a foundation subject within the curriculum in primary schools should be implemented by 2012. All these measures aim at enforcing the position of languages within the curriculum, as a subject that provides transferable skills and which is a valuable asset to the development of pupils’ literacy skills. However, alongside all these constructive improvements, the Government decided to change the status of Modern Foreign Languages by removing them from the core curriculum at Key Stage 4. Schools are required though to offer the option, as any student is entitled to benefit from tuition in a foreign language.The innovations in the educational system between the 1960s and the present mean that the teaching and learning of Modern Foreign Languages have had to face many changes too. The resources available to teach the subject were not suitable after the schools transferred to comprehensive schools, and so the resources had to be adapted. Changes in the examination process with the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education in 1988 also led to necessary adaptations.

Publishers had to provide resources that fitted the new standardised curriculum, as Local Education Authorities lost their control in that matter in favour of the central Government. Another evolution is that the plethora of traditional resources meets new competition from the rapidly improving 21st century technology. Information and communication technology, and interactive whiteboards, are now a common feature in classrooms.Although the future of language teaching should look positive with all these developments, there are still some detractors, but also some deeply rooted beliefs which are detrimental to the progress of this school subject. In the United Kingdom, people still do not feel a sense of belonging to continental Europe as far as traditions,

culture and languages are concerned. “In every other school subject, the model of performance is one who has followed the same learning route that both pupil and teacher must take. In our subject, the model is the well educated native speaker, whose mastery neither the learner, nor most teachers, however gifted, can hope to equal.” (Hawkins, 1996: 16). Modern Foreign Languages remains a highly academic subject and the governmental decision to make it an optional entitlement leads many students to drop this subject which is both challenging and demanding. Schools in deprived catchment areas are not encouraging students to pursue the learning of this subject and some Key Stage 3 students are already showing signs of disaffection. School budgets vary tremendously according to the way Local Education Authorities allocate their funds, and if schools do not benefit from additional grants it is increasingly difficult to provide up-to-date resources.Although the quality of published material has vastly improved, House of Commons on the 14-19 White Paper on 23 February 2005: “Historically, our education system has produced a

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