Saturday, 16 June 2007

Are you ready for PMFL?

As a secondary specialist, I can still appreciate how daunting a development like PMFL must be.
In its June 2007 issue, The Headteacher Update, a magazine circulated to all UK primary school headteachers, includes some tips from Helen Groothues, Primary Language Teaching Advisor from CILT, The National Centre for Languages. This makes interesting reading as it presents different ways to integrate languages in the curriculum taking into account the uniqueness of the primary school context.

By 2010, all children in key stage 2 must have the opportunity to learn a foreign language. According to Helen Groothues, every English primary can create its own model for delivery. “Learning a foreign language motivates children, helps them develop general oracy and literacy skills and to grow in confidence as learners, as well as broadening intercultural understanding, ensuring an international dimension in learning and developing understanding across the curriculum.

Primary language teaching is inclusive of all learners, and can benefit learners with special educational needs and learners for whom English is an additional language, as well as children who have newly arrived in England.

While some 70% of primary schools in England are planning for delivery or are already teaching primary languages, according to a recent Headspace survey, headteachers play a vital role in establishing a clear rationale, vision and strategy for primary languages.”

There is a great deal of flexibility in terms of planning and delivery, which means that each school can create their own ‘best-fit’ model. Planning for and delivering primary languages must be seen as a step-by-step learning process for all, and collaboration between schools (both primary and secondary), local authorities and key agencies is surely the recipe for success.
Other recommendations include:
Ø Conduct a school languages audit
Ø Contact your Local Authority advisor
Ø Appoint a subject co-ordinator for primary languages (PL)
Ø Find out about your closest NACELL Regional Support Group
Ø Make links with local secondary schools and Specialist Language Colleges
Ø Visit the NACELL website at
Ø Contact the NACELL advice desk at with any further questions
Ø Explore the possibility of taking on a PGCE student with a language specialism
Ø Once a language has been decided on, organise a senior management team meeting to discuss possible curricular models
Ø When appropriate, organise a meeting for all staff to launch primary languages

A school languages audit is a very useful way of identifying expertise and capacity within the school, not only among staff, but also among parents, children and the wider school community. It also shows that the school values languages other than English and raises awareness of the different languages spoken in the school community.

The audit will help inform the decision on which language to teach and can also feed into the School Improvement Plan in terms of future planning and training needs.

Other factors that might influence your choice of language are:

_ Contacts with the country or countries where the language is spoken
_ The languages which are taught in neighbouring primary and secondary schools
_ The availability of specialist support in Local Authorities, Specialist Language Colleges and other secondary schools and from other sources, including native speakers
_ The writing system of a particular language
_ The expectations and ambitions of parents and pupils
_ The language policies of the Local Authority
_ The capacity to sustain and resource the teaching of a particular language across Years 3 to 6. (Part 2, Key Stage 2 Framework for Languages, DFES 2005)

The Framework recommends that schools plan for at least 60 minutes of language provision per week. However, there are many ways of planning for this. Primary teachers are in the ideal position of being able to embed the new language into daily classroom routines, as well as integrating the language into other subjects across the curriculum. Children can use language for real purposes as well as learning language incidentally through activities combined with other subjects.

This does not mean, however, that there is no place for designated language lessons, but that provision of language teaching does not have to be planned exclusively through such sessions. Schools could, for example, plan language input in 20 minute sessions, three times a week and then supplement this with ‘planned incidental’ language, for example when greeting the class at the beginning and end of the day, when taking the register, when moving from one activity to the next. Mental maths activities can be very effective when conducted in the language, as can warm-up sessions for P.E. Intercultural Understanding (one of the three main ‘strands’ of the Framework objectives) can be taught very well through topics where it is combined with, for example, geography or history.

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