Saturday, 18 May 2019

Network for Languages May 18th 2019

I was privileged enough to be asked to deliver a Keynote at the recent 'Network for Languages' event held in Bush House and organised by Language Acts.

It was a good opportunity to network with language teachers across all sectors.

Here is a link to my presentation: 'A Constructive Response to Curriculum Change'.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

BBC Languages Survey 2019

The BBC has conducted a survey into language learning, and today they published their report on their website.

Points I made in in the secondarymflmatters Facebook group:

Be prepared for BBC coverage of this today.

And can I urge language teachers not to take the blame for it or believe those who say it is down to our teaching skills. Of course we are not complacent. Just as those in other subjects, we are constantly reflecting, seeking to improve our skills. But we are not on a level playing field. We have one hand tied behind our back. Whatever metaphor you want to use, pupils taking a language are at a disadvantage because of severe grading.

The over-riding issue facing modern languages in schools is the severe grading of French, German and Spanish at GCSE. Going right back to the days of O-level, there is a historical anomaly that pupils from similar starting points putting in similar effort achieve on average over half a grade less in ML than in History and Geography ( i.e. other comparable EBacc subjects, "traditional academic" subjects). There should be a level playing field.

In the survey ASCL / ALL conducted in Nov 2017, over 2500 people responded in a week which is in itself a matter of significance. Colleagues from Higher Education are very strongly supportive of a one-off adjustment, Ofqual are currently undertaking a review and I would urge everyone to support ALL, ISMLA, ASCL and many other organisations in pressing for this one-off adjustment

Severe grading of ML is fundamentally unfair, and is misleading for pupils and teachers, undermining public confidence in the grading and hence the examination system itself.

Sorting severe grading will be enable us to be enthusiastic and innovative without effectively having one arm tied behind our backs.

BBC Radio Essex interviewed David Blow and me.  Here is a link to the recording (thanks Carol Hughes!)  if anyone is interested.  The points we made in response to their questions:

  • The main issue is severe grading (see above).  This combined with the climate of harsh accountability in the last 15 years has led to the dramatic decline in French and German.  Although Ofsted and DfE have recently said that they will focus on the quality of education rather than simplistic performance data, the damage has been done. 
  • It's an issue of fairness to resolve and make grading comparable in Fr/Gn/Sp to Hi/Ge
  • Teachers make lessons enjoyable - interactive - use of technology
  • It is very worthwhile learning languages at school.  You never know which one you will need in adult life, and having learnt one or two, you can more easily learn the basics of another one.  (You have learnt how to learn a language).
  • French, German and Spanish are good languages to do at school.  They share roots with the English language, and it is feasible to visit the countries.  Mandarin is more of a 'niche' language.  It is harder to learn (different sounds, different script, no link with English).  We encourage keen students to learn it and they have had experiences in China which are 'life-changing'. But we need hundreds of thousands to be doing French, German and Spanish

Thursday, 16 August 2018

A Level ML results 2018

Fall in GCSE entries in 2016 leads to fall in A level entries 2018

I attended the JCQ Briefing for the summer 2018 GCE AS and A level today.

It is no surprise in the light of an 8% drop in GCSE entries for French from 2015 to 2016 , that there should be a similar drop of 8% in A level entries from 2017  (9,468 entries)  to 2018 (8,713).

The drop in GCSE in 2016 was a clear consequence of having severe grading in modern languages together with the new Progress 8 accountability measure.   (The EBacc 3 bucket meant that schools would choose to encourage students to take science, history and geography rather than modern languages because of the grading.)

We also know that funding pressures mean that post-16 institutions are under pressure not to offer subjects where numbers are dropping.  This has particularly affected German, where there was a greater drop (16.5%) so that there were only 3,058 entries in 2018 (3,663 in 2017).  Spanish saw a drop (4%)  in the number of A level entries with 8,255 (8,601 in 2017).

Separately, languages where the entry will be predominantly from native speakers have collectively increased by 3.1% with 9,673 entries in 2018 (9,386 entries in 2017). Within this there are significant variations within the various languages, Chinese having the largest increase (up 8.6% to 3,334) and Russian also up 3.4% to 1,160.  It will be interesting to have more information about the entries from independent boarding schools.

The good news from the perspective of students and teachers is that the grade distribution has remained consistent from 'old style' to 'new style' specifications.  Ofqual have made decisions that are right for the students; in particular, the percentage of A stars has been broadly maintained following the necessary adjustments over the last couple of years to achieve comparability with other facilitating subjects.  (See my post for A level L results 2017).

Teachers have had to work very hard to prepare for the new specifications with unhelpfully compressed lead-in time.  Students have had to cope with the issue of having two years' worth of work being assessed at the end of the course. 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

My MBE experience (1)

Thanks so much to all those whose kind words have led to my appointment to the Order of the British Empire and to those who have shared my pleasure in the whole experience!

I will write more about what happened over the coming weeks, but meanwhile I am uploading a picture so that the lovely lady who works on a Saturday at Felicity Hat Hire, West Wickham, can see my delight at her recommendation!  I know that you are planning to join the teaching profession, and I am sure that you will do well, but the hat shop will be losing an excellent employee!  Thanks SO much for your patience and your excellent advice.  (And thanks to Susan Bullock who recommended this wonderful shop to me!)

This is my photo, so can be embedded somewhere else if needed:

These photos prove it really happened!  They are supplied by a different photographer.  I have paid to be able to display them here as 'news', but they should not be copied / embedded anywhere else.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Letter to Ofqual July 2017

Here is the letter sent to Ofqual in July 2017 by ALL, ISMLA, ASCL and HMC following the publication of Ofqual's position paper on Inter-subject comparability.

Downloadable from a link on this ALL London page.

A level MFL results 2017

I attended the JCQ briefing on A level results on Thursday 17th August.

Amidst the continuing concern about the decline in numbers studying A/L and GCSE Modern Languages, and the serious impact of severe grading, one positive step has emerged with the correction being applied to grading this year to take account of the impact of native speakers.

On Ofqual's page for the AS and A level results for England 2017
one of their 3 Key Points is:
3. In A level French, German and Spanish, outcomes at grades A* and A are up following an agreement with exam boards to make an adjustment to take account of native speakers in these languages.

So the percentage of candidates gaining grades A and A* has risen from 2016 to 2017 in all 3 of those languages:  French 37.3% to 39.0%; German 39.6% to 41.4% and Spanish from 34.4% to 36.9%

This adjustment is in addition to the highly technical correction made last year to redress the incorrectly low (ever since the introduction of A* grade in 2010) percentage of candidates gaining an A* grade.  The proportion of A* grades relative to the number of A and A* grades in total  is now around 26% meaning that ML candidates are being treated comparably to other "facilitating" arts subjects such as History.

Both of these adjustments have been made by Ofqual following research undertaken after joint representations by ALL (Association for Language Learning), ISMLA (Independent Schools Modern Language Association), ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) and HMC (the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference).

All 4 organisations recently wrote a Joint Letter to Ofqual welcoming the action they proposed to take this year regarding grading at AL ML this year linked to the issue of native speakers, as they did to the action taken effective in June 2016 to address the anomalies in the proportion of A* grades in A/L ML.

They also welcomed the offer of further work to address grading issues in A level ML, but expressed their deep disappointment that Ofqual's announcement about inter-subject comparability (ISC) does not address the issue of severe grading at GCSE.


Further information:
Joint Council for Qualifications: Press release and full Results:

Department for Education: Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb congratulates students on A level results day

Ofqual Guide to AS and A level results for England, 2017:

Evening Standard: A-level language marks improve after criticism exams were too hard for non-native speakers

The Telegraph: Number of top grades awarded in language A-levels increases amid decline in students taking French and German

TES : Foreign languages set for less ‘harsh grading’

ALL London: How do grades in languages compare with grades in other subjects?

Sunday, 4 June 2017


This afternoon I was passed an article in PC Pro: 'Profile: Lingvist.  We meet the Hadron-Collider scientist whose app can teach you French, Spanish or Russina in record time.'

How could I resist not logging on immediately?  I did so, and 90 minutes later, here I am sharing my experience in case anyone is interested.

My conclusion is that it is a wonderful app, especially suited to reasonably intelligent learners who can spell, and who appreciate or need to learn the real language heard, spoken, read and written in the 'real world'. I will be trying it out next week with some of my older learners, and I recommend it without reservation to sixth form and university students or to eachers who may want to 'up-skill' themselves, whether in their specialist or supplementary language.  Or it may suit people who just enjoy solving clues.

If you’re interested, I am now on level 48 of 51, having made deliberate mistakes to test the app (not that I'm competitive, you understand …!).  Many of the words are not ones which I learnt at university where I studied mainly 17th century - 20th century literature.  The PC Pro article talks about learning language from 'movie talk', and I certainly recognised many expressions from a range of scenarios.  I personally try to maintain my skills via watching France 3, especially the soap opera 'Plus Belle La Vie' and cooking programmes.  (I don’t cook - I just like watching the clear French and the rapport between the hosts).

Why do I like it so much?
• It is very easy to log in and create an account
• It is very intuitive.  You can work out quickly what to do whether on PC or smartphone (but there appear to be more functions on the mobile e.g. telling you which words to revise).

The language really is up-to-date and relevant covering formal and informal contexts.  The language chosen has clearly come from high-frequency language encountered through watching TV, (for example cookery,  fitness, political,  documentary programmes) and films (e.g. crime stories), as well as languages used by businesses, industry, medicine, entertainment channels, the Internet, employment and finance.

• The machine pronunciation is accurate,  e.g. 'mars' was correctly pronounced sounding the 's' at the end of the word
• I only spotted one very minor omission (not an error) in translation where a word was missed out .. and there is a way of signalling this to the developers.
• It is not fussy about capital letters or accents. You are not penalised for missing them out.  (I realise this may not suit everyone's purpose).
• I note that the default is the masculine when translating first person sentences - but I can see that it would be tricky to change this

• It naturally moves you to language to match your ability and provides a challenge
• The algorithm used clearly picks up the words where errors were made and reintroduces them regularly

• It teaches language in a context: you work through 'cards' where you have to supply the translation of a specific word which will then fit in a target language sentence.
• You are given useful 'clues' as to the word required: exact number of letters, synonyms for the words needed which may well be cognates
• There are no 'short cuts' to avoid learning: If you fail or make a mistake, you are given the answer and you have to type it in before you can proceed; if you do not turn off the sound, you have to listen to the whole sentence read aloud before being allowed to proceed [This is the part which will put off some more impatient learners!]
• If a verbal error is made, a grammar window automatically opens to show the conjugation of the verb.
• If you are 'nearly there' the program seems to recognise this, and highlights in red the letters missing from your attempts
• You feel a sense of achievement as you go through the levels.  (Though when I used my PC I was not aware of this ..)

• You can get through it much quicker with Swype set to French and audio muted.
• Show the translation at all times to improve translation skills.

I look forward to trying this out with a language I do not know.  I will be interested to see how it meets the claim to adapt the learning programme to my individual needs by taking account of what I can do in French.
I could understand if this product were to become monetised, but it would be great if, like Duolingo, there were a way of keeping it free!

Thanks to Mait M√ľntel for this innovative product!

Some screen shots