Following on from the Mandarin Excellence Programme: Opportunities for Arabic
Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum policy conference, Assistant Director of the DfE, Leilah Tott, speculated that Arabic represented a potential opportunity to build on the model established by the Mandarin Excellence Programme. There is, however, a current lack of infrastructure and demand inhibiting progression in this area. In particular, she cited the lack of PGCE options for Arabic teachers, noting that only one UK institution offers an Arabic language PGCE.
Opportunities for German
Similarly, another speaker made a case for a German opportunity programme, to be spearheaded by the DfE. This programme would be a stepping stone in combating the decline of German as a GCSE language that we have seen over the last 20 years.
Aiming to run for an initial four years, the German opportunity programme would meet the costs of The Latin Excellence programme funded by the DfE. However, higher pupil targets mean the predicted cost per pupil would be less than that of the Latin programme. Aiming to reach 40 schools across four years, the Latin Excellence programme hopes to enable wider teaching of Latin, which has been taught in limited school spaces and shows regional disparity. One speaker acknowledged the different reactions to the proposed programme regionally, wanting to move away from a focus on London and the South of England.
Introducing language learning earlier
Language education in the UK suffers due to how late it begins. One speaker noted the importance of language learning in primary schools and its significance as a predictor of students’ enthusiasm for continued language learning when they reach secondary school.
Introducing a second language at an earlier age would help establish a foundation of knowledge for students before they reach secondary school, in turn allowing MFL teachers to foster students’ desire for language learning as they progress to GCSEs.
Shifting perceptions of MFL
A representative from the British Council discussed recent research on perceptions of MFL. It found that while a variety of factors influence whether students choose to study languages, the strongest predictors are the perceived practical value of a second language and the extent of parental encouragement. The research suggested that students view languages as more difficult than other subjects, and boys are less likely than girls to see themselves as ‘good at languages’.
Shifting student perceptions of language learning, and its impact on their future prospects, could be achieved through interventions such as peer-to-peer support, improved in-school discussions about languages, and language trips where students can be culturally immersed.
The future of MFL demand and MFL education is hard to predict. Although Arabic and Mandarin are priority languages, they do not have the same teaching infrastructure as French, German, or Spanish. Despite this, forum participants emphasised Mandarin, Arabic, and German as important languages for the UK which should be prioritised moving forward.
November saw the government announce the Autumn Statement, featuring major commitments to MFL teaching including the creation of 25 language hubs following the success of the English and Maths hubs. The project is designed to increase the uptake of Mandarin, Arabic, French, German and Spanish. This supports the DfE’s ambition for 90% of year 10 pupils in state-funded schools to study a combination of the core academic subjects as part of the EBacc by 2025, which includes a language.
A 2019 report by the Confederation of British Industry found that French, German, and Spanish were the most in-demand languages among employers, with demand rising year on year since 2016, while the British Council’s 2017 Languages for the Future report also identified Mandarin, Arabic, French, German and Spanish as priority languages for the UK. The Languages for the Future report takes into account existing linguistic competence as well as economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational factors to predict language demand.
Ofqual’s three-week consultation, which closed on the 20th October, invited students, teachers and educators to share views on the proposals for the 2023 MFL GCSEs – a response to a separate consultation by the DfE. Following the removal of vocabulary not included in exam board specifications as a temporary response to Covid-19, Ofqual’s consultation seeks educators’ opinions on carrying forward current arrangements into the upcoming exam season.
- Our first piece on the MFL GCSE reforms and how they have been received
- Ofsted’s research review exploring the factors that create effective practice within the field of foreign language education
- This article from the DfE signalling the importance of reforming education to change perceptions of MFL
- The British Council’s Language Trends 2022 report’s findings of language learning in ‘slow recovery’
- 2021 LO-C 30 Report
- 2021 Cambridge & RAND Europe report