Our end of year news: looking back to look forward

19 Dec 2013

William Hague opens FCO Language Centre

2013 has proved to be year of mixed fortunes for languages. In terms of our overarching S2F campaign objectives, there is good reason to be cheerful but no reason to be complacent.

Please scroll down to read our full update, or select a section below…

1. Changes to Statutory Orders support greater diversity
2. Languages from age seven from September 2014
3. EBacc makes a difference – but for how long?
4. BCC call for compulsory languages to 17
5. Ofqual recognises severe grading of languages at A Level
6. Highly qualified linguists are in demand.
7. S2F to partner the London Language Show 2014
8. Take the 1000 Words Challenge
9. Inspiring languages – Speakers for schools
10. Languages in the headlines

1. Changes to Statutory Orders support greater diversity

September 2013 was a promising month for the future of home and community languages. The original policy proposal to restrict the choice of languages in the primary sector to the 5+2 list of modern and ancient languages was abandoned. The Statutory Order laid before Parliament on 11 September, defining the meaning of ‘foreign language’ and ‘modern foreign language’ for the purposes of Section 84 of the Education Act 2002 states that any foreign language can be offered as a foundation subject in the National Curriculum for KS2 and any modern foreign language can be offered in KS3.

This will allow schools the freedom to teach any modern language they choose. Not only with this provide opportunities to reflect the needs and cultural interests of our communities but it could encourage greater diversity of languages in our country as a whole with the potential to recognise that every language should be valued as an asset.

This good news was tempered by the fact that many community languages have been left with no form of accreditation since the withdrawal of ASSET languages. S2F is now working with representatives from a number of language communities, universities, schools and other organisations across the country to develop accreditation mechanisms to fill the vacuum. If you would like to support this vital work and join our network, please contact info@speaktothefuture.org.

2. Languages from age seven from September 2014

The introduction, so long awaited, of primary languages to the statutory national curriculum from 2014 is very good news. However, there are unanswered questions, which need urgent clarification at national policy level. Will there be any national training for primary teachers to implement the new Programme of Study? Will there be opportunities for language up-skilling for classroom generalist teachers? We know from international research that England provides one the lowest amounts of teaching time to modern languages in primary and secondary schools of all of the OECD countries.  How can we guarantee that sufficient time will be allocated to languages in primary school for children to make substantial progress?  Can we assure continuity and progression at the point of transfer from primary into secondary school? In the absence of National Curriculum levels, how will parents, teachers and ministers know what children have achieved?

For this very welcome government reform to succeed, there must be a coherent experience of languages for all children in primary school which can be reliably taken into account by the receiving secondary schools. S2F is currently gathering models of inspiring primary practice.

Look out for our online Primary Spotlights in the New Year. If you would like to feature your school, your network or your local authority, please contact info@speaktothefuture.org.

3. EBacc makes a difference – but for how long?

August 2013 figures showed a pleasing rise in the number of students taking GCSE languages with an overall increase of 16.9%. But events earlier in the year with regard to performance measures in schools could seriously undermine the EBacc effect.

February saw the dramatic climb down over the scrapping of GCSEs in favour of a new EBacc qualification. The EBacc as a performance measure in the core subjects of English, maths, science, computer science, languages and humanities remains but its status and long-term impact is questionable as it is set to become one of four accountability measures for schools in England from 2016.

Inevitably, head teachers are likely to focus on results in English and maths and the average grade achieved by their pupils from the best of 8, as these results will contribute to their Value Added rating. The percentage of pupils achieving the EBacc will be in the public domain but will no longer be the central driving force to the shape of the curriculum for the majority of students that was originally forecast.

Meantime in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government is proposing to remove the compulsory element of language learning from the Welsh Baccalaureate. S2F has expressed its concern. There is an online survey, please respond and voice your support for language learning in Wales.

4. British Chambers of Commerce call for compulsory languages to 17

There is plainly no shortage of support from employers for language learning in schools. In June, the BCC released a survey on the language skills gap which showed that our lack of language know-how was holding back our export potential. They recommended that languages should be compulsory to 17.

If you agree, why not ask the views of your MP and join in by supporting languages through S2F’s The Write Way.

5. Ofqual recognises severe grading of languages at A Level

With the number of A Level language students at its lowest ebb since the 1990s, we have to address the issue of severe grading which is preventing so many students from continuing with languages in the Sixth Form. Through the astute use of data analysis and supported by the advocacy of Baroness Jean Coussins in the House of Lords, campaigners from ALL London and ISMLA have succeeded in persuading Ofqual to review the situation. In October, Glenys Stacey the chief regulator acknowledged the crisis, saying that it was ‘so pressing that changes may be made before the planned exam reform in 2016.’

S2F will be keeping this agenda live and pushing for action to be taken forward.

6. Highly qualified linguists are in demand. Every graduate must be a language graduate.

S2F was delighted to attend the symbolic reopening of the Foreign Office Language School in September.

William Hague, Foreign Secretary was unequivocal in affirming the value of languages and cultural understanding to our national interests, to our longer-term prosperity and to our global influence in encouraging democratic government across the developing world, saying, ‘Diplomacy is the art of understanding different cultures, and using this understanding to predict and influence behaviour. Speaking the local language is the essential first step in this process’.

This is a start but articulating the demand cannot guarantee the supply. The number of universities offering specialist language degree courses is diminishing at an alarming rate and must be a cause of national concern.

The latest policy research report from the British Academy, Lost of Words, The Need for Languages in UK Diplomacy and Security published in November calls for the Government ‘to work closely with all parts of the education system to implement policy that ensures a consistent pathway for language learners from primary to tertiary levels.’ Read more about the need for languages in national security in the Times Higher Education.

The British Council also published a report in November, Languages for the Future – which languages the UK needs most and why.  The report argues that, while millions of people around the world are learning English, the UK is falling behind by not devoting sufficient time, resources and effort to language learning.  S2F cannot agree more and we will be redoubling our efforts in the New Year to make sure that the national need for languages is recognised more widely by the general public as well as by our decision makers.

News of the campaign’s achievements and future direction

S2F ambassadors are actively campaigning for the value of languages across the country. We are focusing on building partnerships and alliances with major organisations to ensure maximum influence and impact for our campaign. We have unified our message through our 1000 Words Challenge and while we recognise that there is much more to do, we feel that we also have made substantive progress in raising the profile of languages and in changing public perceptions.

7. Speak to the future to partner the London Language Show 2014

S2F has formed a strategic partnership with the London Language Show for 2014.  We will be jointly planning the programme for this ‘must attend’ event for the languages industry, taking place 17-19 October 2014 at Olympia.

In addition to the rich variety of live seminars, language classes, talks, demonstrations, cultural events and workshops, we are intending to develop a parallel conference programme, where high profile policy makers and leading experts will debate the major issues facing languages today.

Of particular interest to primary teachers and new for this year will be the dedicated Primary Language Theatre, where teachers can find out about all of the latest developments in primary teaching and learning resources. This new and prestigious partnership offers a direct opportunity for all of the organisations supporting S2F to contribute ideas and shape the agenda for this major annual event.

We will be in touch with as many of you as possible in the New Year to take things forward!

8. Take the 1000 Words Challenge

Speak to the Future has linked up with online vocabulary learning provider Vocab Express to give everyone the chance to take the 1000 Words Challenge for free! Since October, Vocab Express has been offering access to a free account to help learners track their progress towards 1000 words in one of 11 languages. Already 1,375 people have taken up the 1000 Words Challenge, learning an impressive 3,380 languages between them!

But coming soon is an even more exciting development!

Vocab Express and Speak to the Future are now working with Oxford University Press to develop a tailor made learning platform for 1000 Words aimed at secondary school pupils and their parents. The Vocab Express/OUP 1000 Words Challenge will provide a fun way for parents to get involved with language learning and extra practice and motivation for pupils in Key Stages 3 and 4.

The site is being launched at the Bett Show in the New Year – so make taking up the 1000 Words Challenge your resolution for 2014!

9. Inspiring languages – Speakers for schools

Speak to the Future has teamed up with the Education and Employers Task Force to promote a focus week on languages and careers during March. In the run up to the week we’ll be encouraging schools to take advantage of a free scheme, Inspiring the Future, through which hundreds of volunteers who use languages in their jobs have already offered to go into schools and talk to pupils. As we promote the focus week we’ll be encouraging more to do so, and we’ll be signing up some high profile champions to get the message out in the media that having a language is a passport to a more exciting career!

Watch out for further details of the focus week, which is being supported by Routes into Languages and key partners from the schools sector such as ASCL and ALL.

10. Languages in the headlines

Undoubtedly languages are attracting media attention and there has been a great deal of activity in the press, including the new and influential British Academy partnership with The Guardian to champion languages in the UK.

The British Academy-Guardian Language Festival was highly successful in promoting language learning through its School Language Awards announcing 13 prize winners, including seven supplementary and six state schools, for innovation in how to increase the numbers of students learning languages at higher levels. Here are the festival highlights.

The Festival concluded with the very high profile award of the first ever Public Language Champion going to Arsène Wenger, Manager of Arsenal Football Club. Arsène, in addition to being an outstanding football manager, speaks English, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese in addition to French. His passion for language learning has led to the development of the Double Club, a scheme which encourages children in primary and secondary schools to develop their language skills through football.

Perhaps with a presage of David Cameron’s recent support for the learning of Mandarin Chinese, Arsène said that he would like to learn Chinese one day. S2F will be developing closer links with the Arsenal Double Club to promote language learning in London and nation-wide throughout 2014.

So, here’s to 2014!

It only remains for the S2F team to thank all of our supporters for continued belief in the campaign. We are more effective if we can work together and combine our strengths and energies. Let us make collaboration and partnership our objectives for 2014. Together we can and we must make a difference.

If you’re celebrating Christmas, have a very Merry one and to all a Happy New Year!

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