Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Lost in translation

Lost in translation

The enthusiasm at the SHA/DfES Post-14 Modern Languages conference in February was mixed with concern from delegates that the government is giving mixed messages.

In his keynote address in London, John Dunford set out the purpose of the day: to learn about alternative strategies for getting students interested in languages, now that it is no longer a post-14 requirement.

Ofsted chief David Bell said that studying foreign languages helps improve citizenship, not to mention students' job prospects.

However, many agreed with one delegate's comment during the question and answer session: "It doesn't make sense to say 'languages are very important' but to say to pupils, you no longer have to do them. This is a backward step."

In response, Lid King, the DfES Director for Languages, stated that choice and individualism are here to stay in education. The issue going forward should be not whether to make languages mandatory but how to make them more exciting and relevant to students.

The case study presentations in the afternoon did just that.

Kingsford Community School, London, explained why and how they have introduced Mandarin Chinese as mandatory for all pupils. It has increased language competence and multicultural tolerance and has shown some benefits in raising boys' achievement.

Another seminar session showed how sixth formers at Bridgewater High School in Warrington, a performing arts college, are helping teach languages to feeder schools through a drama outreach project. Although languages are now optional at Key Stage 4, the uptake has remained strong and French and German are offered to A level.

The Vocational International Project in Sheffield has been adopted by 17 schools as an alternative qualification pathway based on the NVQ model. It uses a business languages course with vocation content to motivate students.

Above all, these seminars demonstrated that with the right encouragement and content, students can be convinced of the value and life-long worth of modern languages.

© 2019 Association of School and College Leaders | Designed with IMPACT