Page 16 - Independent Schools Magazine
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The reformed speci cations are
a vast improvement on their predecessors, with  lm, literature, history and politics at their core, making for exciting and engaging courses. Moreover, Ofqual’s decision to review the grade boundaries in MFL from this year to take account of native speakers has meant
higher grades for able, non-native students. Finally, while the jury is out on the merits of the Ebacc,
this measure, coupled with the decision by universities such as
UCL to require all undergraduates to have a GCSE in a modern language, will mean a larger pool from which to select linguists at A Level. Combined, these three system changes could be game changers.
So what can we
do in schools?
At senior leadership level, the curriculum and timetable need to be arranged so that time is not wasted at Key Stage 3. School leaders need to appreciate the cognitive demand of learning a language and allocate time accordingly. One or two lessons a week simply won’t suf ce. Progress will stall as students fail
to retain knowledge from one week to the next and motivation will plummet. One language studied in depth is always preferable to two covered brie y. Where possible,
this should be the same language studied at primary school; chopping and changing at an elementary stage only wastes times. At North Bridge House Canonbury, Year 7 students in 2017 will have four academic hours of either French
or Spanish each week. This will continue throughout Key Stage 3.
Heads of department need to set much more ambitious targets for their teams. As we are unleashed from the shackles of National
Curriculum levels, uninspiring content and the study of ‘what
I did at the weekend’ repeated,
in various guises, ad in nitum,
Key Stage 3 is the time to switch students on to what is to come
at A Level. Describing the role of the protagonist in contemporary German cinema or reading and writing spine-tingling horror stories in Spanish already seems much more appealing. Thanks to generous curriculum time, all students at
my school will reach GCSE level
by the end of Year 9, enabling the study of literature,  lm, art and popular culture at increasingly sophisticated levels. The curriculum must be much more than an exam speci cation; to bridge the gap between GCSE and A Level we need to enrich the menu at Key Stage
3 and 4 and demand more of our students accordingly.
Finally, as teachers we need to be buoyed by these changes, rather than intimidated by them, and rise to the challenge. We must continue to engage with networks such
as the Association for Language Learning, the #m twitterati on Twitter, the rapidly growing Global Innovative Language Teachers group on Facebook and collaborate within and between schools. New opportunities are also on the horizon. The Chartered College
for Teaching’s Languages network aims to bring together research and practice by collaborating
with teachers and academics and encouraging research-informed decision-making. The scale of
the challenge to shift the course of MFL provision is substantial,
so it is vital that we review our teaching with the best of what has been discovered in the forefront
of our mind. The  rst event,
reviewing the spectrum of effective MFL pedagogy, is scheduled
for December 2017 and will ask participants to identify their routine teaching ‘mode’, review it and make re nements to improve its effectiveness.
So, despite the seemingly incessant mood music changing ‘despacito’, I’m quietly optimistic. I know it’s not popular to say it in a climate of pay restraint, budget cuts, stunted uptake and increased pressure to deliver results, but I’m beginning to think that it’s never been a better
time to be a languages teacher in the UK. The government is behind us, universities want to help us, our courses are more engaging and pupil uptake at Key Stage 4
is on the rise. We have research and professional development opportunities at our  ngertips and a vibrant online community from which to draw support. The onus is now on us to ensure that these opportunities aren’t wasted and that they convert to more positive headlines for A level in years to come.
Vivent les langues!
It seems to have become a scheduled event in the modern languages’ calendar to lament the ever- depressing fate of uptake at A Level. Reformed speci cations have made the gap between GCSE and A Level even wider, adding fuel to the notion that A Level languages are really for native speakers only. In some parts of the country A Level MFL provision has almost disappeared and university language departments are on the brink of closure. The death knell of routine A Level MFL provision in all schools is deafening.
And yet- whisper it softly- the stars of a more illustrious future for modern languages may be coming into alignment, says Dan MacPherson...
16 Independent Schools Magazine
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Dan MacPherson is the Assistant Headteacher at North Bridge House Senior School and Sixth Form, Canonbury, a Cognita school in London. Dan also leads the UK Modern Foreign Languages network for The Chartered College of Teaching.

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