Education in England
The British school system, governed primarily by the Department for Education and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, made some changes to the curriculum that took effect in September. These changes are geared towards making modern foreign languages compulsory and providing continuous learning experiences throughout the students’ years in school.
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A bit of a background for non-UK teachers
The UK education system is divided into 3 parts: Early Years, including ages 3 to 4; Primary, ages 4 to 11, and Secondary, including ages 11 to 18. These are referred to as key stages. At the present time, children are required to attend school until the age of 17, but, beginning in the school year of 2015, that age will be raised to 18.
In addition to this change, a decision has been made that the study of Modern Foreign Languages is now compulsory for all primary school children, as of September 2014. This is causing concern among some teaching professionals, however the change benefits the students greatly.
Modern Foreign Languages in Key Stage 2
What is the aim of the Modern Foreign Languages curriculum? According to a document published by the Department of Education, it should “foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world.” It also endeavours to make students think, write and speak in other languages for practical purposes of communication.
Ultimately, it should encourage pupils to continue further language study, enabling them to study and eventually work in foreign countries. Students should be able to communicate in speech and writing, on routine and practical matters, and the brain’s capability to learn languages to fluency level starts to deteriorate at age 12. Teaching modern languages before this age should lay the foundation for further, advanced language study at Key Stage 3.
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Modern Foreign Languages in Key Stage 3
Modern Foreign Language teachers in this stage should build on the foundation laid in earlier years, with a deeper understanding of grammar and tense usage. Pupils will learn to communicate on a level beyond their immediate needs, in order to discuss various topics with greater accuracy. The aim in continued modern foreign language teaching is to maintain regular practice, attain fluency, and hopefully encourage further study.
Competing in a Global Job Market
The first major study of language skills placed English teenagers at the bottom of the heap on a variety of levels, including reading, listening and writing in a foreign language. This is the main impetus for the government’s decision to change the curriculum. Education Minister has stated that fluency in a second language will make English students competitive in an increasingly global market, pointing out that Mandarin, in particular, is the language of the future, spoken by hundreds of millions in the world’s largest economy.
French, German, and Spanish will be emphasised, as well as Latin and ancient Greek, on which much of the English language is based. This means that there will be more foreign language teaching roles available across the UK.
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Public Support, but Teacher Concerns
85% of people surveyed have expressed strong support for the new curriculum, many citing the belief that sending graduates out into the work force with a foreign language is crucial for the economic growth of the country, as well as for the student’s personal growth.
Some Teachers, on the other hand, are not quite as enthusiastic. According to a report from the British Council and CfBT Trust, many schools feel they are not equipped to meet the requirements of the new curriculum. While schools are largely in favour of the concept, there is a belief among some MFL teachers that they will be unable to deliver the curriculum to its full potential.
Another issue is the perceived lack of cohesion between primary and secondary teaching levels. Nearly half of primary schools report little or no contact between their secondary counterparts.
It remains to be seen in this new school year how successful schools and teachers will be at implementing the new curriculum. One thing, however, is clear: if England wants to compete in the global job market, this change is inevitable.
Are you a Modern Foreign Language Primary Teacher in London affected by the change in the UK teaching curriculum? Visit the Language Show Live this weekend 17-19 October to seek advice and resources to help with the new curriculum.