The following article comes from secondary school teacher Silvia Bastow, who shares her experience and insight on how her school is working to increase GSCE uptake.

With the languages uptake in British schools and universities on the decline, what can we do to reverse the trend?

The British Council in its annual Language Trends England 2021¬†report found that more than half of primary school pupils and 40% of secondary school students didn’t do any language learning during the first national lockdown and 20% didn’t have any language education during the second lockdown!

With the government’s ambitious target of 75% of students taking a language GCSE by 2022 and 90% by 2025 as a part of the English Baccalaureate¬†and the falling trend, this seems to be highly unlikely to happen. The lack of language education during the Pandemic will inevitably impact the already decreasing uptake of languages at GCSE and A-Level even further!

The entries for modern languages continue to fall

“Analysis of official figures by the Guardian shows that in schools in England, entries for language GCSEs have dropped by 41% since 2003, the last year that taking a modern foreign language in year 10 was compulsory.

The position of German is particularly precarious, with only 36% of English secondary schools teaching it. Provisional German GCSE entries were down 66% on 2003 levels.

Overall, just 5.8% of GCSE entries in England in summer 2020 were for MFL, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications.

Students working hard

A-Level numbers also continue to dwindle: Ofqual figures show that provisional entries last year for MFL were down 17% from 2020 figures.”

We, as many other secondary schools, are also fighting the battle of trying everything possible in order to increase the uptake of language GCSE. We believe that having the ability to communicate in another language, even at basic level, improves students understanding of other cultures, broadens their horizons and provides wider employment opportunities, ‘particularly as the UK renegotiates its place on the world stage.’*

To tackle the issue of languages…

  • being perceived as too difficult
  • learning them is too boring
  • can’t see the relevance/won’t need them

… we have redesigned our Curriculum and delivery method to make them more engaging, to give students the opportunities to succeed in their learning and to develop their self-efficacy.

Like many other schools, we organise competitions, give out praise cards and certificates, pen pal exchanges, create little events and tasting sessions to bring cultural awareness in, as well as speak to our students and parents about the advantages that languages can bring to their personal and professional life during the Options Evening.

During ‘normal’ times we run language trips which have always had a huge impact on our uptake and students’ motivations to take languages further. The inability to run a trip abroad due to the current circumstances has had a huge effect on our uptake!

As a result, this year, I am trialling something different, an idea that has been inspired by my colleague (and my NQT mentor – a very long time since I have been an NQT) a science teacher.

We have been talking about the issues of lower uptake of languages GCSE and he was telling me about his Science Aspire group for year 11 – a group of students he has targeted with the potential to achieve a grade 8/9 in their science GCSE, the programme he has created for them and the impact it has had on their motivation as well as commitment.

We started to ponder that I could try something similar with my year 9 top band students – students that we would expect to take a language GCSE, if they were compulsory (as our school doesn’t follow two different pathways – academic and more vocational one, unfortunately, not all of them do).

In October, my Year 9 Aspire group was ‘born’!

With the recommendation of my colleagues, we have selected our 30 target students, I wrote a letter and I sent it to the parents with the date of TEAMs meeting, stating that I would like to meet with them and explain the purpose of the group and its programme. I was amazed how supportive our parents were!

Prior to my TEAMs meeting, I also met with the targeted students and briefly explained to them what was happening and also asked, if there are any of them there, who are certain it wasn’t for them as I had other students on my ‘waiting’ list. Three students stood up! Out of 30, I thought that was a pretty good so far.

So what happened since then…

The group meets with me every week on Monday from 08.10h – 08.45h, students spent time practising speaking in TL, ensuring they are secure in the knowledge of the core grammatical structures, working with variety of texts including literary texts and expanding their vocabulary. They are tackling tasks within the GCSE course specification. The atmosphere is nice and relaxed and I take students’ interest into account too.

I have high expectations from my students and believe that, if students invest extra time and energy into their language learning outside their normal lessons, are keen to be a part of this Aspire group, they are likely to choose it in their Options, plus it seems that the ‘exclusivity’ is ‘infectious’ as other students have been asking me whether they can still take languages at GCSE, even though they are not attending the Monday morning sessions.

Every session, I also take a register! Students know that if they don’t attend on more than three occasions without a solid reason, they will be replaced by another student. So far, attendance has been very good, despite Covid, every Monday, I have on average 26-27 students attending and it seems to be popular as well.

This is our first year trialling this programme therefore, after students have chosen their Options, I am very interested in the impact it has had on our uptake. If the impact has proven to be positive we will consider the possibility to run 2 groups next year.

Our Option’s pathways are not restrictive as they are opened to all of our students, regardless of their prior attainment or whether they attend the ‘Aspire’ programme, any student can chose to take a GCSE language for their Options.¬† I am aware that there are schools across the country that will consider only their top band students for GCSE because of the pressure of obtaining good results, I believe that any student who would like to take language GCSE, regardless of their target grade should be able to do so, as a result we teach mixed classes every year.

Update to follow after our Option’s process…

Please, share your ideas and strategies that you are using/have used which are/were successful to increase your GCSE uptake.

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Author

Silva Bastow

Silvia Bastow is a German teacher with over 17 years of experience in secondary education, subject leader for MFL, research lead with a specific interest in Retrieval practice, SLE, GCSE examiner, a proud member of the Association for Language learning (ALL) council, ITE mentor and Fellow of Chartered College of Teaching (FCCT). She writes a successful educational blog https://fraubastowmfl.blogspot.com/ and is very passionate about evidence-based and evidence-informed practice to ensure high impact teaching and learning. She has been providing webinars and CPD on MFL pedagogy for ALL, Seneca and Linguascope and presented at various Language conferences

Follow Silva on Twitter – @SisaSilvia4

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