How we achieve whole-school MFL engagement

Neil Payne

Neil Payne is the Deputy Executive Headteacher of Chulmleigh Academy Trust.

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What is education for if not to make the world a better place? What do we need to do to understand one another? The answer lies in communication and understanding, and this is why at Chulmleigh Community College in North Devon, studying a language (French, to be precise) is a core subject.

We describe ourselves as an English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) 11-16 mixed comprehensive school in the very heart of the county of Devon. Although small, we have grown in recent years from a roll of 535 in 2014/15 to 703 pupils today, and we are still growing. In this time, we have developed our Key Stage 4 offer around the Ebacc so that everyone is entered for GCSE French, unless disapplied in agreement with the Heads of MFL, English, Maths and the SENDCO. 86% of pupils have been entered for Ebacc in Year 11 this academic year. Our objective is for 100% entry when our current Year 8 cohort joins Year 10. As a formula, it has been successful academically and culturally for our pupils, and our college is significantly oversubscribed – our families like it too.

Why though, you may ask, have we walked this path? Many schools have deliberately not promoted a language route as they go all out for the best Progress 8 (P8) score they can.

Firstly, a rising tide (of challenge) floats all ships. Ebacc lifts the school. A challenging academic curriculum is a pivotal part of our school improvement journey and keeps expectations high. It has. Secondly, we felt that there was a real moral purpose here – for two reasons. The first is that there is a sense of national shame that, according to the British Council, 62% of Britons can only speak their native tongue. Compare that to 71% of Swedes who can speak English proficiently, or 56% of French natives (Statista).

We should encourage our children to understand other nations and be inquisitive about their culture – the pursuit of a second language is key to this. The second reason is around entitlement. Language provision is a basic part of the diet in the private sector and selective schools – why not in our comprehensive state schools? Should it be only that the privileged elite expect to travel, work abroad and immerse themselves in a foreign culture? Are we so ingrained in our social status quo that the pursuit of a language is something pupils in non-selective state schools can just toss away at the end of Year 9 (or Year 8 in some schools, Ofsted allowing)? Social mobility is a big part of our thinking.

Why French? French was the dominant language of our MFL team when we looked to make a language core. It makes sense for ease of visits, and we run several residential trips to France in addition to a French Exchange. It is also, alongside English, a great advantage when travelling for our pupils and we hope that they do travel and pass on this joy to their own children. We want our pupils to be advantaged because they came to Chulmleigh and because they studied French. We want our pupils to have the advantages that the privileged few enjoy.

How does it work? With the focus on one language, we concentrate all our MFL teaching time to French. We have 3.3 FTE French teachers, and our head of department is an SLE. Pupils receive five hours a fortnight of French from Year 7 to Year 11. We do use EdTech to help us - platforms such as Active Learn and This is Language have been incredibly useful. However, we have attracted and retained high-quality teachers who teach the subject with great skill, and the confidence that this is a subject that is important to the college and therefore to the pupils. We are pragmatic about GCSE examinations - great results are important for the college, but more importantly for our pupils, and we have a significant number of pupils who transition to A Level and degree-level French. For our small rural community it is important for us to be looking outwards.

Looking for more innovative Language Apps? Check out our full list of the Best Language Apps over on the education review platform EdTech Impact.

What do our numbers say? Chulmleigh’s overall P8 score has been well above national average since P8 has been in use. 0.43 in 2017, 0.51 in 2018 and 0.43 in 2019 – our pupils do well in comparison to similar schools in similar contexts (whether they all do MFL or not). The Ebacc average point score (APS) at Chulmleigh in 2019 was 5.21.

We are focused on what is important at Chulmleigh, great teaching and learning, great behaviour and respect and high expectations. You won’t always find our staff on the circuit of courses and network events because we are in the classroom. However, you will always find us very open to visitors and very happy to share our practice.

The Power of Modern Languages | Independent School Parent

Suggestions on how schools can succeed with MFL:

  • Give it the time it needs. Pupils need practice, the subject needs status. Think carefully about splitting time across two MFL subjects.
  • Play to the strengths of your staff. Nothing beats a subject specialist, the integrity of your provision entirely rests on the knowledge and ability of your teachers. Focus on their specialism.
  • Take your pupils to the country of the language they are learning. Our French Exchange is amazing, a true once in a lifetime experience that will always be remembered. We also run residential trips during the holidays (so pupils don’t miss classes), these really support what happens in the classroom.
  • Rehearsal and testing. Give MFL the rigour it needs in Key Stage 3. Prepare and rehearse your pupils for what GCSE study is like. Give them competitive advantages as they approach Year 10 and 11.
  • Find your nearest DfE MFL Hub. There has been funding into certain schools to promote teaching in MFL and improve outcomes – there will be a MFL Hub near you, so contact them. They are funded to share their practice and experience, and it is important that they do.
  • Remember that the acquisition of languages is about social mobility – immerse your disadvantaged pupils in MFL early. Make sure they are on your residentials.
  • Use target language with your classes. Do as much as you can in the language you are teaching.

 Looking for more resources to support your teaching and learning? Check out the best education technology resources on our sister platform EdTech Impact.

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