10 Sep 2016

Come on MFL teachers, it's time for change, but our time is now.

It's been an interesting summer, one of great change, with Brexit, a new PM, a new Education Secretary, and the potential return of grammar schools.  It's also been a personal summer of change, as I moved to a new school after 13 years of running a specialist language college, and am charged with helping to raise the profile of languages in front of a new bunch of pupils.  

We've also had another summer where the exam grade boundaries went up, where pupils who previously thought they would get that C grade, now didn't make it.  This is also the year where we start teaching the new GCSE courses in MFL, with the translations, the literature, the grammar, and of course the end of controlled assessment.

In the education sector, English, maths and science continue to be the top priorities for schools, followed supposedly by the other EBacc subjects - humanities and MFL.  Some schools of course take this seriously, others however do not, with the number of pupils attaining the EBacc in England in 2015 standing at just 23%, a figure that has barely changed in 3 years. 

It's at this point that I asked myself whether there was actually any point in teaching languages anymore.  We appear to be living in a more divided society, where hate and fear sadly take precedence over tolerance and love. We are told by some quarters of the media to distrust foreigners, migrants, asylum seekers, anyone that doesn't speak English. We are warned that travelling to Europe may cost us more, and that businesses may move out of the UK, and we are told that EU citizens currently living in the UK do not as yet have their rights to stay assured.  So surely the time is right to move on from teaching MFL?

I say that in fact the opposite is now true - that the vote to remain in the EU was what the young people of this country wanted, and that the reality is that teaching our young people a foreign language has now never been more important.  

We have a duty as language teachers to not only explain the finer points of the conditional tense, but to educate children in tolerance, understanding, and to convince them that being able to communicate with people from other countries is a hugely important skill for the future.  

Despite the pressures we are under to attain our GCSE targets, we need to encourage pupils to learn a language as a life skill, as a way to broaden our minds, and expand our horizons, and to prove to them through our examples that culture and society isn't the same in every country, and that no, not everybody speaks English, no matter how loudly you shout.  

The new GCSEs give us an opportunity to revamp how we teach, to actually teach for the love of the language, to take the time to explain where words come from, to take the time to explain the cultural and social nuances that shape our partners in Europe, to dispel the lazy stereotypes that certain parts of the media use to label the French, Germans and Spanish.  

It's true that these things we all do as language teachers already, but the fight to keep the profile of the role of MFL (or even raise it) is truly on, be it with the pupils themselves, their parents, or even our own school leadership teams.  The numbers taking languages at A-level have been in sharp decline, so we need to play the long game to renew enthusiasm and desire. Create a love of languages for your pupils, engage them, entertain them, inspire them, and eventually we can win them over.  So many of us have become despondent and demotivated over time, but it's now time to work towards the bigger picture.

We owe it to the generation of young people who will be denied the right to easily study and work abroad, who will find their career choices limited to opportunities based in the UK, the generation that one day will hold power in this country, and will possibly one day look back to the day Brexit came with regret.

So let's keep at it, use the #mfltwitterati to support, help, advise, and listen to you, and let's do this.

Have a great year!

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