Thursday, 17 March 2011

PLTS Training at Werneth High School, Thursday 17th March 2011

I had the pleasure to be asked to deliver a PLTS training session at Werneth High School today. This is a copy of the presentation and reference sheet I used for the training. Thank you to all present for their warm welcome and stimulating conversation-you got me thinking too... 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

My Response to The Education Select Committee on The E-Bac

writing in the journal
The original version of my contribution will be published if it is kept as evidence. In the meantime, I can only say I have contributed and present my ideas in general terms. I have also added many examples that I thought about after I sent my contribution...

A step in the right direction
I consider the E-Bac to be a step in the right direction as regards the promotion of foreign language learning in England. It has already secured a massive increase in the languages uptake at my school-where students had to make a choice between carrying on with the GCSEs in their preferred technology options or-gasp- start a GCSE in Spanish from Year 10.

For the first time ever, 70 students opted to take Spanish GCSE and we had to turn students away as our specialist staff was stretched to the limit. We currently have 11 students studying GCSE French in Year 10 and 18 in Year 11, so what happened?

We got together with the Humanities Faculty and highlighted just under 70 students who we thought would be good candidates for the e-bacc. I sent a letter home referring to the e-bacc but not giving great details as the information was due to be delivered by our Deputy-Headteacher on Option Evening.

Option evening was incredible. Rather than hearing the usual “I will think about Miss”, we had many “I am definitely doing it Miss”, which surprised everybody in the Faculty. There was no major change of SoWs, no change of staff and nothing new in terms of promoting languages apart from getting an ex-student who is now a professional linguist to come and talk to our students.

As a linguist, I am now confident that all this will re-affirm the status of languages within the curriculum but I am also concerned that the E-Bac will only encourage the more able students to study languages and not contribute to improving the UK’s language capacity as a whole.

Reporting in January 2011
I really felt that The E-Bac was unfairly used to report on schools’ achievements before schools had time to make the necessary adjustments to their curricula and staffing. In some ways, this discredited the award by highlighting its political intentions.

My school and many other schools- including language colleges -ended up with low percentage that failed to acknowledge all the opportunities offered to students within the previous curriculum set-up. In many respect, a stay-on rate would have been fairer to show the school’s commitment to increase the life chances of its students rather than resort to this crude indicator.

I am concerned that some schools are trying to implement emergency plans involving force-feeding languages and humanities to some children who had opted not to study them. This means that valuable curriculum time is wasted on understandably reluctant students. Specialist members of staff are also overstretched trying to deliver these subjects to large co-horts, sometimes as twilight lessons, so that schools can say that they provided the “E-Bac opportunity” to their students.

Impact on school performance and organisation
Although the E-Bac is presented as only one measure of school performance, most schools will not want to be seen publicly as making no improvement in their E-Bac percentage indicator-especially as the link between the new E-Bac indicator and OFSTED is still not known. A lot of schools will therefore feel pressurised into hasty sweeping curriculum changes that will be unsuccessful especially if there is a lack of specialist teachers to deliver them in the short term. Let’s not forget that Modern Languages Departments across the country were hit very hard when languages became optional post 14 in 2004...

Staffing and staff development are major issues which will not be helped by recent cuts in education and the decision to stop the funding of organisations like the Links into Languages Regional Centres.

Practicalities and Promotion
I am also puzzled about some of the practicalities of the E-Bac, such as who is going to award it and its actual recognition by universities and large employers. As a “new qualification”-especially as it is not really a qualification-I am also surprised that very little literature seem to be currently available to introduce it to parents and other stakeholders.

The need for this kind of literature was felt during our option evening as there was still some degree of confusion about what the E-Bac really is about. In some cases, the confusion even stretched to getting it confused with the International Baccalaureate.

Measure of Individual Students' Performance?
I do not believe that the E-Bac should be used as a measure of individual students’ performance as it does not include a full range of subjects. For instance, the achievements of students who have a talent in subjects like Art, Music, Sport or Technology would be totally unrecognised. It also does not take into account students’ level of attainment on entry in Year 7 and for languages in particular, this could be strongly affected by the time allocation and quality of the students’ primary languages provision.

Which subjects?
The choice of the subjects included in the E-Bac is important but as many of us will base this on our own perceptions and experiences, there is very little chance of a rational debate. My own personal view is that the E-Bac should allow for an academic core-with RE as an alternative Humanity-as well as optional subjects like music, Art, ICT or PE. In addition, ICT should be taught throughout as a core, pretty much in the same way PE is protected by a statutory requirement even if students decide not to study for a specific PE qualification at KS4.

Languages should be included in the academic core but GCSE should not be the only qualification available, as only more able students are likely to be successful in it due to a well-documented severity of grading.

International Comparisons
As a linguist who was also educated in France and Spain, I cannot see how the E-Bac can be used for international comparisons. The term “baccalaureate” will be confusing for many as it is used for a post-16 qualification anywhere else. Languages in most European countries are part of a core and might not be certified separately. The level required will be a minimum, likely to be offset by other subjects. This means that nearly everybody will have some knowledge of a language although it might not be equivalent to a GCSE level. More students will also be likely to continue with languages post-16 if it is part of a post-16 baccalaureate broad curriculum offer.

As a conclusion, I would say that the E-Bac will only support the development of languages in the UK if it is re-thought to offer different mixes of subjects with languages as a core for all students, although not necessarily at GCSE level. A recognition of the value of vocational languages is also essential to support this-The E-Bac as it stands is an exclusive award, but we cannot afford for languages to become exclusive. Languages are communication and communication is a core skill.