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.





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