Interventions to raise attainment in MFL

Written by: Karine Buffon | Published:
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A project focused on raising attainment in French and Spanish saw Karine Buffon introduce a number of interventions, especially targeting disadvantaged and underachieving pupils

I joined Jo Richardson Community School, a secondary school in Dagenham, London, in 2010. At the time, the number of students getting A* to C grades in French was low – just 39 per cent. However, we believed that students of French who achieved a grade lower than a C in their GCSE exam would have been able to pass their exam if they had received more focused interventions.

When I joined Teaching Leaders in 2014, a leadership development programme, I began to work on an impact initiative – an improvement strategy that I could implement as part of my new role as head of MFL (French and Spanish).

I wanted to focus on the students who began at our school with a Level 4 in English and maths and were therefore expected to get Cs, but who weren’t achieving this. In 2014, eight out of 52 French students and 23 out of 54 Spanish students in this group were not achieving a C or above.

I set myself a target as part of my impact initiative: to ensure that at least 80 per cent of students studying an MFL in the current year 11 achieved A* to C at GCSE in 2016.

More widely, a key aspect of my impact initiative was improving the attainment of disadvantaged students in French and Spanish in order to help close the attainment gap. In 2014, only 50 per cent of the free school meal students at the school achieved A* to C. However, I wanted the disadvantaged students in the cohort to be in line with the target of 80 per cent by August 2016.

These results would place the MFL department in a favourable place (as an EBacc subject) to attract more key stage 4 students in the coming years.

In addition to closing the gap, I also wanted to include high-achieving pupils, so arranged for advanced grammatical and lexical skills from the A level standards to be taught to offer additional challenge to higher ability pupils.

A number of quick wins

The first thing I tackled was the fact that we had students who could not always explain how they learnt and what the best strategies were for them to develop their skills. This was often the case when students needed to prepare for their speaking assessment by memorising a lot of content, and as a result, started to panic about it.

I researched ways to overcome this barrier and found that in order to develop oral language skills, a good strategy is meta-cognition. This means students talk about their learning experience explicitly in classrooms. This also develops collaborative approaches, as pupils talk and interact in groups.

I implemented this successfully by encouraging pupils to discuss their revising strategies in an open forum, resulting in increased results in the speaking and writing exams.

I also found research which indicated that participating in after-school clubs improved academic achievement. Not only this, but attainment can improve when they are taught in smaller groups. With this in mind, we introduced focused intervention sessions for small groups of students after school to help raise the attainment of targeted students.

In my own practice I have noticed that letting students know what they are going to learn in after-school intervention sessions in advance made it more attractive to students. I therefore achieved continuity by closely linking the content of the lesson to what was reinforced in the after-school intervention – alongside explaining what they could expect from the session – which increased attendance.

Giving the students immediate feedback on the work they had done so they can easily remember and learn from mistakes is an approach that proved to be effective in raising attainment of students.

A joint vision

One of the biggest potential challenges to having good and focused intervention could have been a lack of collaboration. A way to overcome this issue in my department was to make sure that my team members shared the vision and knew the key aspects of my impact initiative. Happily, I was able to work with an effective and passionate team of practitioners.

To monitor the impact, the intervention programme was structured so that all teachers were involved with regular reviews as to the progress of target groups and sub-groups. Pupils had access to this programme based on teachers’ weekly information and I monitored weekly attendance for French and delegated to my second in charge to monitor attendance for Spanish.

The results speak for themselves – 86 per cent of pupils achieved A* to C in French and 73 per cent achieved A* to C in Spanish (an increase in Spanish of 32 percentage points).

All the students who came to intervention managed to secure the results they expected and very often those grades were above expected targets. The students who received support said that being able to discuss their learning strategies with others was an “eye-opener” and that they will continue to use these skills in other subjects.

The MFL results were the best in the borough and I was appointed as Specialist Leader in Education, a position in which I facilitate seminars and do outreach work in other schools as well as in my own school when the opportunity arises. I achieved my NPQML in August 2016 and I was awarded the Pearson Prize for Pupil Impact, which is part of the Teaching Leaders programme.

In my department, we were still using and developing focused intervention in the run-up to the exams this month and students felt much more confident than in previous years. These strategies are now also integrated in the curriculum with younger students from year 7 onwards.

From doing my impact initiative, I have learnt that in order to unite your team around continuous improvement and attainment, it is vital to have a shared vision and a common goal that appeals to individual team members.

I have also learnt that the first important strategy to put in place when deciding on an initiative was to enquire: “Who, why, what and when?” I broke this down as the following:

Who? Who were the students who would receive the intervention? It was also necessary to identify the teachers who would run the sessions.

Why? Why was the intervention session needed for that particular student? The tracking sheet that the MFL teachers used to track students’ data was very useful in identifying the students who needed the intervention, as well as regular meetings with teachers who could give an update on their classes.

What? What content or topic would need to be covered with each particular student to close the attainment gap? This ensured the interventions were targeted to each student.

When? When was the appropriate time during the year to ask a student to attend focused intervention? This step was to ensure that intervention was done in a rigorous way, and so that support was in place for pupils who needed it the most.

  • Karine Buffon is head of MFL at Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham and she is a graduate of Ambition School Leadership’s Teaching Leaders programme.

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit


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