New funding for MFL or a political stranglehold on teaching and learning?

So is this good news?

Well it may be for some…

But let’s ask some questions

  1. Who saw the tender?
  2. Why do this just 5 years after closing down the former, internationally respected National Centre and destroying its resources and expertise? In a time of austerity?
  3. Who, these days, is advising the DFE and in particular Nick Gibb?
  4. National and regional spread?
  5. Who has the time to make it work?

Let me make it clear. I play little part in MFL these days. But I do know there is a whole new generation of teachers and trainers and academics who are brilliant and whose efforts are being derided. Were any of them aware of this? Looks like croneyism to me.

What I really want to do is just to remind readers of what has been lost to the world of language teaching. Lost because it would appear that certain Ministers and others close to Ministers had a personal dislike of what thousands of languages professionals across primary, secondary, FE and HE saw as sensible, well researched and practical support. Support for teachers that had a positive impact on Languages Teaching, research, pedagogy and most importantly engagement, motivation, take-up and exam results. None of the work was politically biased and had been produced under both Labour and Conservative administrations over 5 decades.

All of this work was funded with public monies – £millions – carried out by teachers for teachers. It seems to me scandalous that the present government has adopted a scorched earth policy. That it has taken away from teachers and learners well crafted and internationally recognized support systems. This is not about CILT.  Life moves on and times and need change. It is about the destruction of what was good and the idea that just because a previous government created “things” that these “things” must at all costs be destroyed! Scary! Some of these resources may have needed culling or updating but actually not that many as we had got rid of the less usable stuff on a regular basis in ensuring that everything in the public domain was of exceptional quality.

So what has been lost?

A National Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research – Yes, CILT the National Centre for Languages (also known as the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research) was ahead of ResearchEd (and I love these people!) in making the links between academic research, action research done by teachers in schools and classroom practice

The national resource library with precious thousands of precious texts – though rumour has it that it lurks somewhere in the depths of a Cambridge Library..maybe we could be told the answer?

The secondary websites full of thousands of resources to support MFL teaching in secondary schools and Post 16

The Primary Languages Training Zone – thousands of film clips and CPD materials to support primary languages teachers. Many of whom are not specialist linguists and were using these resources to merge their excellent understanding of primary pedagogy with sound language teaching

Hundreds of well researched, well crafted and easily usable materials designed by teachers for teachers to support transition in languages

Language Improvement materials in French, German and Spanish to support primary teachers foreign language skills

A fantastic phonology module to teach non-specialist teachers and thus their pupils accurate pronunciation in French, German and Spanish

A virtual home for all language teachers, state and independent

Real links to and between ITE, HE and languages

A comprehensive national and regional “training trainers” programme so that schools would not need to spend money on Consultants! Good financial sense this one just in case anyone is worried about money.

And the above were just the tip of the iceberg!


Many people have made various efforts to salvage some of these materials but it is an impenetrable task.

Of course there is much good work still going on. ALL does what it can with limited funding but so much depends on goodwill and time given freely.

Brilliant individuals such as Janet Lloyd

and Clare Seccombe

are remarkable and share everything they do via their websites.

The Ensemble Languages project funded until April 2016 by DFE is doing great work as are other funder projects but this was short term! And little to no assistance given to ensure national dissemination

As one of my Twitter friends put it – and she is not a language teacher – “seems to me like the educational curriculum is now a bargaining tool in trade & business deals. Whatever next?”



Suis-je bovvered? Oui! Very bothered and why…

From 1999 until 2011  I worked as a Senior Adviser and Head of the Secondary Team at CILT the National Centre for Languages. Between 2011 and 2013 I held the same role within CILT@CFBT.  May be worth pointing out that I had cut my teeth as a NQT and then Head of MFL in 2 challenging but well run inner London truly comprehensive schools. And then as a LA Languages Adviser in an Inner London Borough. Oh and for my sins I am OFSTED trained but by choice lapsed. I played a prominent role in the National Association of Language Advisers for many years too. Not boasting but I think I do know that of which I speak!

During the last two to three years of that time at CILT, and prior to our move to CFBT, an individual who shall remain nameless became an early blogger. We at CILT were much too busy with our work of supporting MFL teachers, primary languages teachers, Headteachers, ITE, HE, writing, publishing, research, leading conferences and providing high quality and painstakingly evaluated CPD in MFL to bother much about these things called blogs. We also believed in professional dignity and keeping the moral high ground.

But this one individual had for reasons that we did not know a huge grudge against the organisation and their blogs became increasingly vitriolic. So much so that to be honest we more or less dismissed them. Bad Mistake. The blogs attacked other curriculum areas too – reading, mathematics and indeed educators who were dead, for instance Ted Wragg. This person would attend our conferences and events – usually free of charge and blog about all the awful things we had said and done.

A few of us began to get worried – at first I confess selfishly – when we became individuals under attack. But we agreed that to make a song and dance would give this person more airtime which they clearly craved, that it was impossible to reason with them and that actually they had little influence. Their job was not entirely clear as the title seemed to be different depending on whom they were talking about. Independent Adviser, OFSTED Inspector, Independent Languages Consultant. Someone once said ‘unemployed MFL teacher’ but we thought that a bit unfair. We were driven by a number of principles about how you treat and refer to others.

Freedom of Speech was of paramount importance to us. But we then noticed that this person had close links to the new Government. Fine. No problem. CILT had worked successfully with Labour and Conservative administrations for years. Politics was not part of our corporate DNA. But suddenly this person was popping up all over the place and was quoted in dispatches, invited to high level meetings over and above other LA Advisers and teacher trainers, and was, it seemed, a clear favourite of a Schools Minister. We were intrigued but professionalism dictated and the Minister could quote and invite whoever he wanted really. It is a long story but the Minister made his feelings clear. We at CILT had for nearly 5 decades been responsible for poor MFL teaching, destroying the teaching of Grammar, having a particular aversion to the pluperfect tense and failing to make sure that primary children were fluent by the end of Year 6. The early blogger according to the Minister had the right ideas on MFL teaching and had successfully fed them to the DFE. The blogger later boasted on a public forum that they personally had been instrumental in the closure of the National Centre for Languages. We had a short 18 months retrieval as a part of CFBT – after we bid for and successfully won in an open and transparent process the only bit of central funding ring fenced for MFL.  Said blogger also put in a bid. Apparently Gove and Gibb were a little miffed when CILT won the bid. But I cannot possibly comment – that would be a whole other blog. But at the end of this time the damage had been done. The work we did was great and so appreciated by schools but who listens to them? In 2013 all central funding was withdrawn. All websites were scrapped. All national and regional support for primary and secondary languages teachers was withdrawn. Training Trainers programmes scrapped. Millions of public monies that had been  spent on Frameworks, Language Improvement Modules for Primary teachers and so much else went up almost literally in flames. And of course we were told the monies would in the future be going direct to schools!

I personally had to watch as our websites were switched off and decades of rare texts either put into storage or into skips. It felt like book burning had become the norm. Yes I confess many of us were filled with horror, anger and sadness but being the professionals we were we bit our tongues.

For me personally it made little difference to my life. I had a glorious three or so years in ITE before a long planned move out of London and into a new idyllic lifestyle.

So why suis-je bovvered?  Because I see parallel situations going on as I type. Some bloggers are revered by a schools Minister. He does not, it would seem, question their credentials or the veracity of what they are saying. He seems to like what they say about how bad our schools are and how badly some subjects are taught. He praises and name checks them thus adding to their credibility. But it is the same old story. People saying – “don’t give them airtime, no-one listens to them,” “they are so ridiculous that no one could take them seriously, ” “shall we seek legal advice? It’s just not worth the money.”

All I can say is that I wish I and colleagues has been a bit more forthright in our views and not taken the attitude of  don’t worry – it’s all posturing. You really don’t know what you have lost until its gone. If I seem a bit obsessive about this, maybe I am. I make no apologies.  When you have witnessed how personal prejudices can influence education policy and know that so many teachers and children have been deprived of so much support to enhance the joys of teaching and learning for all in your subject then I think to try and alert others to what may be round the corner is important.

Language and identity – who are we if not our name?

“Your language is your home and your country is your language and your language is your flag” Hugo Hamilton – The Speckled People

As a linguist of sorts I truly believe in the power of language to solve so many of the world’s problems.

I didn’t much like my name when I was growing up. I longed to be Susan or Cheryl. Fortunately in my primary and secondary schools in South Wales there were lots of children who had ‘unusual’ names. We were the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants – Irish, Scottish, Italian, Caribbean, Indian, Polish, English (!) German, French, Lithuanian, Czech, South African and more. Not in equal quantities but all there.  And of course we were in Wales which added an extra rich layer of culture. And all our parents or grandparents had chosen to move to a beautiful part of the UK that offered good jobs, good housing, good schools, fresh air, great opportunities for leisure time, world famous sports stadium with a “tartan track”, the boating lake, the mountains, the seaside not far away…of course it wasn’t Paradise. But we had by and large quietly aspirational, supportive families…and religious freedom. And even fun.

Sometimes new teachers struggled to pronounce some of these names. But most I seem to remember wanted to get it right. Nicknames tended to be things agreed amongst peers. A totally different issue. Though I would never allow Caramel and screamed at the first spell check that changed my name to Carmen O’Clock.

We may not all have liked our names but we were comfortable with them and would have protested vehemently if anyone had tried to demean us by using them to label us in any way  – as would our parents. We knew without it ever being explained to us that our names were our identity.

All this leads me to wonder why, just last night, it appeared to be ok for a few teachers on Twitter to be joking about the names that are always “trouble.” This was descending into stereotypes, possibly of class and parents’ rights and choices. It is not within our gift to mock what anyone decides to name their precious baby. It could so easily have descended into racism. Educators, of all people, should know better. I also thought of a number of friends who adopted young children who already had names. I am not qualified to talk about this but I think it is worth pondering…I would love to hear the views of others.

Here are some of the names in our family currently – all chosen carefully and with joy. In no order of age or status or preference of course! First names and middle names all mixed up and let anyone dare to mock one of them. They do not fit neatly into generational stereotypes either. Don’t make assumptions. There are so many ways we label and define children that are just so wrong. We tend to blame government policy for much of this. But names? That is not government policy. That is just uncaring and unprofessional. If anyone wants to change their name by deed poll, that too is fine but not something I can comment on. I tend to stick to what I know.

Carmel, Jane, Sheelagh, Hannah, Christopher, Max, Patrick, Mary, Lily, Mae, Hope, Imogen, Iona, Rose, Lisa, Esther, Paul, Elizabeth, Felix,(big family name long before it was trendy) Maureen, David, Robert, Mary, Eli, Maisie, Jake, Callum, Daniel, Rachael, Lewis, George, Veronica,  Catherine, Iona, Oscar, Nicola, Theresa, Lianne, Evan, Annabelle, Margaret, Mark, Jacqueline, Terence, Eden, James, Alexander, Anna, John, Annabelle, Michael, Marie, Ellen…

Let me recommend some books about language names and identity for anyone who might want to think further about this;

The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd

The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding

And finally for any primary MFL teachers who don’t know this book – have a look at “Homme de Couleur” based on a poem by the first President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor. It exists in French, German, Spanish and Italian. And English of course. Low linguistic challenge, high cognitive challenge and all backed up by pictures! The power of language!

Homme de couleur




Why now…

I have written this blog in response to Old Andrew’s recent goading of me from his Twitter account. He has long blocked me and I him. I have family members well versed in the laws of libel, defamation and cyber-crime who when they are deeply concerned about this blogger’s unprovoked attacks on my character and good name alert me to these. Last week Mr Smith sent out messages that he was celebrating that after one year I had still taken no action against him. Today he apparently reposted his original blog in which he falsely alleged that I had deliberately bullied a NQT off Twitter. Here is what has happened legally to date. I apologise for the length but I need to be accurate and above all truthful. Thank you for reading.

Just over a year ago as some of my followers will remember I had the temerity to challenge what I perceived to be a blog denigrating openly and publicly the staff, young people and families in a school in a part of London I know well. My own PGCE trainees who were always much more social media savvy than me had told me many times how they avoided the public use of Social Media on the basis that “once it’s out there…”

The blog was based around the fact that a NQT had been refused permission to visit another London School by her own HT and DHT. She had however visited the school, was highly impressed by what she saw and learnt and then blogged about it. Her blog was then ReTweeted by the SLT of the school she had visited in order to showcase their school. I had and still have no problem with any of that. Except that the NQT’s blog made some serious and denigrating comments about the students and staff at her own school and I personally would have thought twice about RTing these. Having worked in London Schools for over 2 decades I knew how easily just a few of these blogger’s comments would identify her school if anyone were to read her blog. Which is presumably why she had written it in the first place.  For those who need more background do click on this link

and the floodgates opened…

I had been thinking about my own trainees and their knowledge of social media and just wanted to alert the NQT to the fact that she might not be making things easy for herself with her present and future employers. Actually it turned out she was not a NQT at all but a Teaching Assistant looking to train as a teacher in the future through Schools Direct. This in my opinion made her even more vulnerable. Many of those who saw my comments and a number of experienced HTs and members of disciplinary panels said that I had given her excellent advice.

So what happened next?

The personal backlash from a number of big hitters and many others was horrific.  I have a full record of these.  I was accused of doxxing, of showing an unhealthy interest in this woman’s writing and of bullying her off Twitter. Her initial blog had prompted me to read several others she had written. I saw nothing wrong and peculiar about this. A blogger writes to be read. I was advised to go the police and to take legal action.

A particularly prominent blogger repeatedly made a number of false accusations against me on his well-known blog. As did a number of his followers and supporters. As I had never had any communication with any of these people bar the blogger himself I was more than a little surprised that they felt they could be such good judges of my character.

You may want to look at some of these comments in the comments section of the blog.

I asked him, courteously, to withdraw the false accusations or produce the evidence several times. He refused in no uncertain terms:

You will see that my comments were courteous throughout and simply asked for the false accusations to be removed. That is all I wanted. Quietly and without fanfare. These requests were met with increasingly belligerent responses from the blogger.

“I have listed in this blogpost the bullying behaviour that drove Teacher Newbie off Twitter and to hide her blog.  If you refuse to see anything wrong in what you’ve done, then that is your problem.  The fact remains that you did do it.”

After I published I tried hard to follow my own advice and remain calm and dignified in the face of the most extraordinary on-line abuse from people I had never even heard of. Some of them senior staff in schools in both the State and Independent sectors. They did not challenge me in a professional manner which I could have dealt with. This was pure, unadulterated, bitter abuse.


I spoke with friends and family within the legal profession and/or with intricate knowledge of on-line abuse and cyber crime. But I wanted to be totally above board and needed impartial advice and was perfectly willing to pay for this.

I employed a firm of highly experienced litigation lawyers to process my claim that someone whom I knew as @oldandrewuk – Mr. Andrew Smith –  had repeatedly defamed my reputation on his blog, on Twitter, which in his case is linked to his FB account, and possibly on the Echo Chamber, another educational blog that he edited or co-edited. He used at least one account other than his own on Twitter to call me a bully. And then made light of his mistake.

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 21.27.08

My solicitor, having analysed all my tweets and comments and believing that I had a very strong case against this man then sent a letter to him. This person had several times over the last few weeks, and with a degree of pride, issued tweets declaring that he had not yet received a solicitor’s letter.

When Mr. Smith received the letter – there was no doxxing by my lawyers, it was easy to find contact details on his blog he immediately took to Twitter to ask for pro bono legal help. He was given advice by many – some saying such things as –  and do forgive me “tell them (i.e. me and my lawyers) to fuck off!” However Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas and Spiked fame offered to talk to him by email. That of course was her prerogative. But it indicated that I might be up against a different morality from mine and most of the people I know.

My solicitor’s letter was detailed, forensic and unequivocal. It asked Mr Smith to remove all references to me across all his SM accounts, take down his blog pages and apologise. And pointed out exactly which particular laws he had broken. Here are the key points that he communicated to Mr. Smith. At no point did I or my solicitor mentioned suing him.

  1. Labelling and accusing someone publicly of being a bully could cause them to suffer serious damage to their reputation.
  2. You appear to have attempted to justify the comments you have made publicly about our client by stating that you were describing the behaviour of someone which you considered to be bullying.  It is clear from your comments that you were not just accusing our client of engaging in bullying behaviour but you also accused our client of being a bully.
  3. Our client did not state nor imply in her tweets that she was going to “out” ‘Teaching Newbie’ to her employers.  Our client was doing nothing more than trying to warn someone who appeared to be reasonably new to the profession and possibly new to blogging of the dangers of posting blogs which contain content that would allow an employer or future employer to identify her.
  4. Whilst people are allowed to have opinions, the law is there to protect a person’s reputation.  In accordance with Section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013, a statement will be defamatory if its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to a person’s reputation.  Our client is a well-known education advisor and teacher trainer with over 35 years in the profession.  Clearly, an accusation of bully and/or bullying behaviour is likely to cause serious harm to her reputation within the industry.  The comments that have been made have been made on a number of public forums which can be viewed by an unquantifiable number of people.
  5. Whilst you have attempted to justify the publications you have made, we do not consider that you would have any defence under the Defamation Act 2013; this is not a true statement, it is not a fact which an honest person could have held the opinion of, nor is this a matter of public interest.
  6. As stated above, our client would like this matter to be resolved.  We therefore request that you remove your comments in relation to our client from your blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts and provide our client with an apology.

I was clear from the outset that I did not want this to go to court. I simply wanted Mr Smith to remove the comments from his blog, in his Tweets and on FB in which he falsely accused me of bullying and ideally apologise for the stress this had caused me. Actually I did not care about the apology. I wanted the lies removed.

My solicitor then received a letter from Mr. Smith’s pro-bono solicitor. It made all the same false accusations that Old Andrew had made on his blog. It was threatening and basically said “see you in court.”  It failed to address any of the points in the letter sent by my solicitor but simply reiterated the false claims made by Mr Smith in his blog.

I know that I can now share publicly the counter arguments to my claim. These were that:

  1. There was a clear intention on my behalf for there to be an implied threat. This was supported by the fact that the individual in question had not only stopped blogging comments of the nature I had complained of, but had in fact removed her account from twitter entirely. These were the actions of someone who felt sufficiently threatened by my actions.
  2. I also appeared to be trying to silence my critics through unjustified threats of legal proceedings. Furthermore, it was noted that I had on four occasions described other people’s behaviour as bullying on social media. 
  3. Mr Smith’s solicitor also advised him that he had the defence of qualified privilege. It is imperative that anyone in the teaching profession should be entitled to air their views of the profession without fear or threat that their career will be in question. It is often the case that new people to a profession bring new and modern ways of thinking. The fact that I had been in this profession for 30 years does not mean that mine was the only view which can be correct, despite my actions indicating that this was my view. It was clear to Mr Smith that my actions in trying to force him to retract this statement further reinforced the argument that I was behaving in a bullying fashion.
  4. They concluded that in the circumstances Mr Smith had no intentions of offering any apology or retraction. Should I wish to ask a jury to determine whether this was a defamatory comment, with all the publicity which comes with the same, then I should need to issue proceedings forthwith.
  5. And the final line was that my solicitors would have no doubt forewarned me of the cost and reputational issues that bringing an unfounded claim of this nature would result in.

The flaws in the above are:

  1. The teacher whom Mr Smith accused me of bullying off Twitter reappeared on Twitter within a few days of the so called bullying incident around May 10th under a new name. She has been blogging since then under the new name it seems. I would not know. She has also admitted apparently that she was not traumatised and bullied off as Mr. Smith claims but simply needed “to regroup.” 
  2. Of these 3 occasions over at least 5 years one had been a general question about bullying on Twitter which for me is an issue, 2 others had been challenging Mr Smith and the other had been to do with ginger hair, hair products and make up whilst laughing with women friends.
  3. Qualified Privilege. This is usually reserved for journalists and is about threats to the national interest or similar.
  4. Why would I want to risk my reputation and credibility because one blogger and a few Tweeters were trying to defame me?
  5. Why would I want to risk my home, savings, lovely gentle lifestyle and peace of mind because one blogger and a few Tweeters were trying to defame me?

Implications of a court case against Mr Smith

The fact that some key players from Spiked were involved may mean little. It may mean that the blogger/tweeter had big finance behind him from Spiked or Institute of Ideas and wanted to fight this case with all their resources to prove a point. I really didn’t know. But given their very public track record they would undoubtedly be fighting this on the Freedom of Speech issue. For me it was not about FoS. It was about libellous defamation pure and simple.

I had been clear from the outset that I did not want this to go to court. I had no intention of throwing more money at it and frankly I value my husband, family and friends too much to let this take over my life which I and my family run on the basis of dignity and privacy but also standing up for our values and principles.

Support and offers of financial assistance.

The amount of support I had from fellow tweeters was enormous both on the main thread and by DM. A number of people suggested crowd funding. Others, including some highly respected “big names” offered me generous sums of money. The finance was not the issue except as I and anyone with a modicum of common sense knows I was going to pay thousands out of my own purse and others’ purses if I went ahead. Mr Smith had pro bono legal advice and seemed to be spoiling for a fight free of charge to him. We are not particularly wealthy but how could I accept donations from others when this would simply line the pockets of lawyers and I have lots of jokes on Twitter about how much we travel and how many scarves I buy on each trip? So donate the money to MSF, Amnesty, The Howard League or other charities was my response to many of those kind and brave people. I will forever be in their debt for the moral support they gave me.

I don’t regret any of this – even the money that I personally paid to get my solicitors to act – but I am disappointed that the same blogger seems to continue to make people want to go underground. I have evidence of this. In the last few days he has dragged all this up as a cause for “celebrations” in the belief that the Statute of Limitations is over.

I have thought long and hard about whether I should publish and there will be many, even friends, who will say just let it go. There may even be a “pile- in” and attempts to smear my character. I will have to deal with this but I have weighed it up.

I never wanted a fight. What was the point? Mr Smith may be celebrating. So am I. I am celebrating a moral victory. That is all I ever wanted. But I think it is about time to use my own rights under Freedom of Speech and Qualified Privilege maybe. If only one  person gains any strength from this I will be happy.


If blogs such as that of Mr Smith are acceptable under the auspices of FoS and QP then that is essentially a charter to allow anyone to say or write anything across social media. For those of us in education this is threatening and indeed chilling in the times we are living in. How on earth do we ever explain this to young people who are terrified of on-line abuse and bullying? No wonder people just stop tweeting and are terrified of sharing their stories.

And if we all stay silent because we want to be dignified and mature, who will speak up when “they” come for us?







ITE – just one picture.


When I was growing up we lived not far from a well thought of Teacher Training College at Caerleon in South Wales. I harboured no desire whatsoever to become a teacher and had little or no interest in what went on there. I assumed it was mainly to do with learning to write nicely on the board. I think I must have been ahead of my time in my “philosophy”  because as far as I could see there would be nothing else to learn if you wanted to be a teacher.  “Just Tell ‘Em” I believe it is now called. Teachers were clever people, they knew things. All they had to do was tell others about these things e.g. dates in history, maps in geography or explain how to do things e.g. sums. Just tell the children what to do and they will do it and they will enjoy doing it. I did.  Sometimes the teachers from school went on training days and this led to exciting things like curved stitching in maths and Jackdaw packs in history. Life was very straightforward. Sometimes we even had student teachers who were so clever that they could teach science as well as the recorder.

I taught English as a Foreign Language for a year in Dakar Senegal. I was untrained but had classes of motivated adults, desperate to learn English and we had some hilarious times. There was a textbook. We followed it. I was a native speaker of English and who cared about my abominable board work. They thought I said one day that Joan of Arc was burned as a steak! Lots of laughing. I tied myself in knots teaching phrasal verbs. To cut up, to cut down. Easy. To get on a bus. To get off a bus. Easy. To get on with someone. To get off with someone! More laughing. Language really is fascinating.

Fast forward to the IoE (UCL) early eighties and my wonderful MFL PGCE tutors. If only I had known all that they taught me when I was trying to teach EFL…the rest is history and enough of me.

So why, I have been asking myself for some time, has the term PGCE tutor seemingly been used almost as a term of abuse by some Tweeters and Bloggers?

I decided that we needed some positive memories of ITE. So I sent out a tweet.

“I would love to hear some memories of things people found inspiring and replicable on their PGCE courses. Apparently only bad things happen.”

Now I know that the way you phrase a question will to a large extent govern the replies. But I am not a researcher and neither are some much louder voices on Twitter who ask a loaded question, get the answers they like and then hope that these may influence government policy. I am unashamed in saying that I just wanted some good news to share – particularly with ITE tutors whatever phase they teach and in whatever structure; HE PGCE, SCITT, undergraduate level, Schools Direct, Schools Direct Salaried, GTP…all were free to comment. I thought I might, if lucky, get about 25 replies. I deliberately avoided asking the wonderful #MFLtwitterati coordinated by @joedale as I know lots of them and they know me so I thought this might seem a bit overloaded in favour of MFL.

Well…I received, and in rapid time, over 150 replies including on the main thread and by DM. Overwhelming. All positive and all so warm and many extremely tender in talking about the level of gratitude they owe to ITE tutors, school based mentors and to the schools who let them make mistakes. And many showing such respect for the children and young people who have supported them along the way in their desire to get better.

I am not attempting deep analysis or data processing. That is not my forte. Just feel good factor for me. Call me an intellectual lightweight but I leave the hard stuff to the experts.

ITE was only ever a part of my professional life and I stuck to what I know – primary and secondary languages. This is why I have, I think, a more detached view and at first did not realise that anyone was referring to me when they vilified PGCE tutors. Moi? What did and continues to strike to me is that ITE people spend so much more time than we would ever know out of hours in developing teachers – working with schools, counselling trainees, their own research, evenings spent counselling trainees and mentors by phone and email from home. Early morning coffees with struggling trainees, wobbly trainees, trainees supporting young families or with sick parents, trainees who have just lost their confidence a bit. And all the time maintaining a professional and adult relationship with those in their charge. As for the diplomacy involved – ITE tutors could offer training to the UN.

At the heart of it all is subject knowledge, phase expertise, knowledge of the deeper issues of education and society and in abundance humanity and emotional intelligence. And of course established, professional, open and supportive relationships between ITE institutions and schools.

Thank you to the following from me: David Harris, MFL lecturer, IoE (now UCL) Peter Saunders, MFL lecturer and wonderful colleague and partner in crime at Roehampton University. Sue Short – the  most decent and the most creative MFL person to work with at Roehampton University. Ali Messer, Head of Secondary PGCE at Roehampton University with whom I had many a run-in about structures but never about values and who so often brought me a coffee when I was looking grumpy, Marilyn Holness at Roehampton who despite being so senior and so clever was always up for a laugh. And finally Jane Jones MFL PGCE  at Kings College London – simply the best. There are many, many more…sorry to the anonymous. You are no less highly thought of.

And thank you to the marvellous @sdupp for putting in to one picture so many words

I cannot share all the replies but here are some. I could have used them all and have saved them all if anyone is interested. What is significant for me is that they do not focus solely on activities but on subject knowledge, underpinning principles of education, values and impact. Thank you everyone who contributed.  Read them all at once. Read them a few at a time. It’s up to you but above all just feel good. And sorry about the formatting in places but sometimes ok just has to be good enough. and I need to share this before it is old news.

So in no particular order…

My SCITT training SEND mentor was inspirational – he taught me that the best teaching comes from getting it wrong sometimes. Learn always.

B.Ed instilled imp of giving children voice. Morag Styles taught this through poetry -amazing lecturer & beautiful results using her methods.

If it weren’t for the PGCE, I’d be a really rubbish teacher. It wasn’t until I got my first job that I had to perform for tick lists.

Best thing about PGCE was having the space to reflect at uni with people who’d been through the exact same thing. I trained at Sunderland.

My first mentor was the best. Gave critique in a positive way from which you grow from and gave me so much that I use in my teaching

Mine was absolutely brilliant at Roehampton with Peter Saunders (2002) Focus on creative ideas, behaviour support…and so much more

My tutor the late Barry Canham was inspirational. Honed my skills thru a shared passion for Spanish/LatAm music. Good guitarist too!

Dad died during PGCE. Tutor Alison Taylor (hero) supported in dark days & even got me sharing my ‘lively learning’ ideas with 80 teachers!

Really enjoyed (after the fact) being left with a drama studio for a science lesson with one hour notice. Drama teacher & I thrashed out great lesson.

Went on residential with Y6 placement class. 1st time at the sea or sleep in a bed for some of the kids. Shaped every teaching encounter since.

I loved Sussex_ITE Such a range of support. Our History tutor/course Director utterly inspiring with content, style, humour, significance.  

I had the most amazing #music course from Rod Paton at West Sussex Institute of HE.

I did team teaching with an English PGCE who taught same class. So great to plan together and teach two X-curricular lessons.   PGCE secondary maths at Chichester. Fab experience. Learned that attitude is everything. Adrian Pinel great tutor. Helped with MA too.

The Rose and Crown, Knights Hill, next to our hostel, proud of successes, putting perceived failures into perspective.The start of lifelong CPD

It was a great privilege and helped crystalise the understanding of what I was teaching for. Educating for fairness ever since.
She (the mentor) never realised I was struggling as much as I was. She just kept being kind and firm and resolute. Exactly what I didn’t know I needed.
Team teaching with another student. Planning together and then observing the impact – brilliant learning experience.
I had a great PGCE year at Newcastle University in the late 80s. David Westgate was the MFL tutor, he was excellent. Good placements too, with some amazing teachers. Owe them so much.
Mine was great, learned loads about delivering English knowledge and skills, great placements too. 2007/8
I loved being able to discuss lessons with a wide variety of fellow trainees all at different schools with diff experience
Visit to Linden Lodge school. Inspiring. (Linden Lodge is a school for visually impaired pupils 2 – 19 in Wandsworth)
Lots of facilitated discussion – and sometimes friendly disagreement! – amongst the cohort. Forced me to sharpen my sense of purpose
It’s where I met my wife so they’re not all bad!

Great mentoring and inspiration 2. At time great thinking and practice 3. Fieldwork research to Conwy and battlefields

We did a whoosh (performance) of The Tempest as a class seeing what active learning strategies could do for kids studying shakespeare

Having my ideas/resources taken seriously as well as giving some brilliant advice and ideas. Nothing was ever off limits.

I had heard so many horror stories about PGCEs before applying. I’m still grateful to this day that I listened to the positive!

It inspired me to become an SEN teacher! Without that freedom to explore my interests I might not have done it.
The opportunity to deliver CPD to whole staff cohort whilst on my second placement. One of the most daunting, yet valuable things I’ve done. Great experience that has helped me enormously in my albeit short teaching career so far
Loved my BEd at Nottingham Trent.. Inspired me and gave me my ed philosophy…

My tutor Patrick McCormack, quietly instructive and supportive. Museums and Galleries as a resource in education specialism. Fabulous year.

Taught in quite a challenging school in my first placement. Was dreading it. Turned out to the making of me

Mine was great. Geoff Hayward made me think: challenged loads of preconceptions about science ed & education generally

I had a wonderful time . Brilliant tutors (inc Andy Hudson – where is he now?) and schools that broadened my mind and experience.

An induction into the pure and unadulterated love for physics education. There are too many things to name but I’m a better teacher …because I have what feels like the continuing  support of the camp pgce. People like Mark, James and showed me different facets of what is a good person and teacher.

Great mentoring from Ros Ashby, Adrian Berger and Stuart Foster at .

Primary PGCE at Goldsmiths 10 years ago was so creative, lots of practical knowledge and support, and rigorous testing of our literacy and numeracy skills.

Inspirational teachers, great ideas, confidence boosters, critical thinkers, reflective practitioners, cheerleaders for one another, still great friends!

The importance of underpinning my teaching with theory. Thanks !
Have to say I’m grateful for mine. Exposure to bold intellects and outstanding classroom practitioners. Gave me the confidence to teach…

Would love to describe the occasional inanity that there was for you, but that would be cheap.

My tutor was the wonderful Barry Jones at Homerton who made every lesson magic, also Ann Swarbrick came and did great sessions

I loved my PGCE. I enjoyed the reading esp & we were expected to undertake quality research. Met lovely people & no daft tasks at all.

Was challenging/hard work. Big emphasis on subject knowledge & addressing gaps. Broadened my reading & knowledge of lit from other cultures.

Having my creativity encouraged. When will I get the time to do a 5-lesson medieval French l literature project with SEN year 7s again? It inspired me to become an SEN teacher! Without that freedom to explore my interests I might not have done it.

Learning is not linear & differentiation includes ensuring the students

I really enjoyed mine – having the space to try risks/ideas I’d seen on Twitter & felt supported by every1, even in a non-specialist dept.

At IOE early 80s. Gave me a confident voice, taught me to analyse effectiveness and a placement at the BM! It was the best start possible.

Visiting places of worship for different faiths in London as part of our enrichment half term brilliant experience. Fab at Chester 2004

Being able to spend time understanding pedagogy behind teaching was also inspiring. Thinking about how to help students learn effectively. 

Inspired by Jenny Henderson at Sheffield Uni 91/92. -1st observation feedback “I saw you set your jaw and knew you could do it”. Still counts

My PGCE was eons ago but it was a great year! Ian Gathercole & Elis Lazarus were fab tutors

My PGCE was one of the best educational experiences of my life

Continue reading “ITE – just one picture.”

New funding for MFL – second hand fairy dust


So the present Government has decided that we need more MFL teachers in secondary schools.

So in their wisdom they throw some money at the problem. Just to whet your appetite..

“As a lead school, you can apply for up to £30,000 funding for teacher subject specialism training in MFL. This can help you address workforce challenges to support the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).”

But please click on this link. Buyer beware.

Good idea you may think. Let me just remind anyone who is interested that this is a crazy case not just of reinventing the wheel, but trying to fit high end cars with bicycle wheels and just for good measure puncturing them before they are tested!

It is very hard to learn a language to such a level that you feel confident and competent to teach it in Key Stage 3 and or to GCSE. Let’s not involve ourselves with A level just yet..

Many will agree that even if you learn the rules of the language – grammar, vocabulary and the rules of pronunciation – to teach it with confidence is a very tall order. I think most of us would agree that in order to feel really confident in front of a class you need to have spent some substantial time in a country where the language is spoken.

We know that post University this can prove impossible once people have career and family commitments. So what do we do? How do we teach a language to adults to ensure that they can then teach it at KS3 and KS4?

It is a problem that successive Governments have grappled with. And frankly the grappling has got us nowhere. Why? Not because it cannot be done, given the right conditions but because Ministers and those who advise the DFE just do not listen and constantly want shiny new toys. They refuse to look at what has gone before and build on the past.

I do know a little of that on which I pontificate – for once. For 2 years I taught the Subject Knowledge Enhancement course in French for trained and qualified Spanish and German teachers at UCL Institute of Education. These teachers were the best groups imaginable as you can see – all linguists, passionate about languages, experts in MFL pedagogy and self -selected. They were a joy to teach. But even they found it difficult to sustain momentum when faced with parents’ evenings, extra marking, poorly children, lots of travel on dark cold evenings and rainy Saturday mornings. In my opinion these initiatives often do not work simply because teachers are too tired to learn a language after school, on the odd Inset day here and there or during their holidays.

But anyway the present Government then cut the funding for SKE courses. Clearly wanted something new.

My main concern though is that in last few years the following initiatives were funded at great expense through public monies and through the DFE by firstly Labour, followed by ConDems and most recently Conservative administrations

  1. Linguistic Upskilling modules and courses for primary teachers in French, German and Spanish
  2. Language Improvement courses for primary teachers in French, German and Spanish
  3. Language Improvement through TSAs (Teaching School Alliances)
  4. Language Improvement through LSEF (London Mayor’s Fund)

1 and 2 were fully adaptable for secondary teachers , especially reasonable linguists wanting to improve their language skills. They were written in forensic detail, and widely trialled and evaluated. National training conferences, a carefully worked out training trainers’ model and huge excitement.

But they hardly saw the light of day! Because the ConDems closed CILT –  the National Centre for Languages and sold it – I believe – for a song to CFBT who received a massive £3.5 million as a result of a successful bid to the DFE to continue the work as part of a programme in working with TSAs. Actually the incoming Government we were told told CFBT that it should forget about the original Linguistic Upskilling modules as they were written under Labour…spiteful? foolish? a scandalous waste of public monies. Not to mention the time we wasted in changing logos and nomenclature.

So the former CILT team at CFBT produced a fantastic set of even better modules that could be used for improving the language skills of both primary and secondary teachers. Again widely trialled, evaluated and very much valued by teachers. But just as these were launched CFBT decided that actually they were not that keen on keeping the CILT as the funding from the Bid had come to an end. So these modules were mothballed. What a waste!

And let’s not forget about Specialist Language Colleges who also had a remit to develop the language skills of their staff. Those seem almost to have been forgotten.

And now we have another knee jerk reaction. 

Based on my experience I have some questions

  • Who will write the materials to ensure coherent national or even regional training?
  • Who will do the training?
  • Will there be supply cover for trainers and teachers to be trained?
  • Who will ensure quality and consistency of training and resources?
  • How many hours will it take to improve teachers’ skills?
  • Will there be any residential periods abroad? If so at what time of year? Term time or school holidays?
  • Who will ensure that numbers trained match regional/national needs?
  • What kind of level are teachers supposed to reach? Common European Framework would suggest at least B2 as in all other European countries.

So why not look again at these materials and programmes? Hardly used and in mint condition. Because someone, somewhere does not like what has gone before as it was not dreamed up and produced by them. Much better to waste oodles of money in a period of economic austerity by starting all over again.

Based on experience of working with MFL teachers at all levels I would say that this latest scheme may well undermine the underpinning philosophy of good MFL teaching that the “Target Language should be the main means of communication in the classroom.” Just as we all acquire our mother tongue by listening, repeating, manipulating, making mistakes, gaining confidence and self -correcting, our learners need a learning environment that allows them to grow in this way. I have seen many lessons where if the teacher does not feel confident in speaking the language then they revert to talking about the language in English and explaining in far too much detail and for far too long “the rules.” Pupils get little chance to practise and play with language as the teacher does not/can not demonstrate with confidence and accuracy just what it takes to speak in this funny tongue!

One last question: how long would it take a clarinet teacher to learn and teach the violin?

Steve Smith – one of my favourite bloggers gives an excellent outline of many other concerns here. Please read.