Pedagogy review offers help to revitalise languages education

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Modern foreign languages are “at risk” and face becoming the domain of “certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population”.

The warning has come from Ian Bauckham, chair of the Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review, which published its report into MFL teaching at key stages 3 and 4 this week.

The Teaching Schools Council, which set-up the Review, is now encouraging schools to use the findings, alongside related evaluation documentation, to review and improve their MFL provision.

In 2016, only 34 per cent of key stage 4 students scored a C grade or better in an EBacc foreign language, and only 49 per cent of students chose to continue their languages study to GCSE in the first place.

Ian Bauckham, who is the executive headteacher of the Bennett Memorial Diocesan School and a former president of the Association of School and College Leaders, warns in the report that action is needed to stop the decline in languages.

He states: “Modern foreign languages in our schools are in a very fragile state. We heard many examples during our inquiry of schools restricting their languages curriculum in recent years, and these decisions were more often than not driven by small or falling pupil numbers. Without concerted action, languages in our schools are at risk, and may become confined to certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population.”

Mr Bauckham further warns that languages beyond GCSE are “in crisis”, with the report adding: “The very low number (of students) proceeding from GCSE to A level threatens the continued supply of teachers and professional linguists.”

The review report itself makes 15 pedagogical recommendations aimed at improving teaching and pupils’ interest. There is also specific advice for headteachers and curriculum leaders. Alongside the report, aids have also been produced to help schools evaluate MFL teaching and to plan and evaluate their MFL courses.

Most of the 15 recommendations are related to teachers adopting clear, planned and sequenced direct teaching of vocabulary, grammar and phonics right from the start of key stage 3.

For example, the report questions the practice of organising language courses around themes such as “the environment” or “home and family”, warning that this leads to vocabulary becoming too specialised and “teaching relatively rarely used words at the expense of common words”.

The report also recommends two if not three hours per week of teaching time for MFL, “spread over frequent lessons of between 40 and 60 minutes duration”. It says that a GCSE course should have at least 10 per cent of curriculum time.

And it includes a series of questions to help non-language-specialist school leaders to engage and work with their language departments.

Mr Bauckham said: “Language teachers are highly committed and hard-working. Nevertheless, outcomes in languages present us with some significant challenges. Good teachers continually review their pedagogy and this report offers recommendations which they can use for this purpose.

“This report recommends direct, sequenced teaching of vocabulary, grammar and phonics, planned practice leading to fluency and accuracy in use, and horizon-widening subject matter. It also lays special emphasis on high-quality subject-specific teacher training and development.”

Carolyn Robson, vice-chair of the Teaching Schools Council, added: “This report provides advice which is intended to lead to courses being more enjoyable and effective so that greater numbers continue studying a language beyond key stage 3. With GCSE specifications recently changing, now is the right time for teachers to consider whether their courses provide pupils with the essential knowledge they need to succeed.”

To download the report and related evaluation documentation, visit


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