David Walker, Head of Modern Languages, Kingswood School
Part of my role as Head of Languages at Kingswood School is to show pupils the value of acquiring a long-term language skill and to foster an appreciation of different cultures.
I am fortunate that they have to take at least one modern foreign language through to GCSE. However, numbers at A-Level have fluctuated in my 13 years of teaching here. For example, currently in Year 13 we have 15 pupils doing Spanish, 8 doing French and 5 doing German. This is a great year in terms of take-up! Next year we’re down to 5 for Spanish, 7 for French and zero for German (the first time this has happened).
Pupils are increasingly opting for Maths, the Sciences, Business Studies, Geography and Psychology. They are influenced by their parents, who often see the aforementioned subjects as those that will lead to success. I have had so many brilliant linguists at GCSE who have not continued with language as it doesn’t “fit” their long-term goals of being a doctor, an engineer and so forth. They don’t necessarily see how actually a language could complement their skills in the future.
I have long thought that a way of encouraging pupils to continue with a language would be an alternative to the A-Level. The vast amount of content covered in an A-Level language syllabus is not suitable for all pupils. Literature, for example, is often the area that some pupils cite when explaining why they’re not keen on continuing with a language. Likewise, they may feel trepidation about analysing film, studying politics, etc.
All the above led me to investigate whether there was an alternative course pupils could take beyond GCSE to continue their language learning. What I discovered was the Accreditation in Languages for Business (Certificate in Languages for Business – The Language Alliance). I had a conversation with the team behind the course, contacted some of the schools currently offering it, and was impressed. Essentially, pupils learn their chosen language within the context of business scenarios. They work on tasks such as job applications, interviews, sales presentations, attending conferences, customer calls and so on: real world, functional language. The course involves 1-2 hours of contact time per week and there are numerous options at the end of the academic year in terms of what level pupils can achieve.
I launched the course a few months back at Kingswood and was delighted to see that 8 pupils had registered for the Spanish option, with 2 signing up for the French equivalent. So although the A-Level take-up for Spanish is 5, we can say that in total 13 pupils are continuing with the language in some form. It’s also pleasing that several of the eight pupils are not necessarily the strongest linguists (ie less well-suited to the A-Level course, perhaps) but they are really keen on the language and want to continue. Ultimately, that is what we want – pupils learning languages for real-life situations.
I do think that the current A-Level could do with some changes, and perhaps give pupils more options in terms of what areas they focus on. Incorporating aspects of technology, business and geography might help boost pupils’ interest in modern languages, given that these are areas of increasing popularity.
If you like the sound of this option, please let us know. Whether you are a Year 11 GCSE student considering an A-level in Modern Languages or an A-level teacher or university lecturer specialising in Modern Languages, please fill in the survey, which follows this article.
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