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Five things that language departments can do: the five-year countdown to EBACC


In case you missed it, the much-anticipated government response to the findings of the public consultation on the implementation of the EBacc, Implementing the English Baccalaureate, was published in July.

In its response, the Department for Education reconfirmed its ambition for the vast majority of students to study core academic GCSEs and the EBacc hit the headlines again as schools broke up for the summer.

The government’s ambition to see 90% of pupils starting to study EBacc combination GCSE subjects remains in place, but the timeline has changed: 75% of year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools will start to study GCSEs in EBacc subjects by September 2022, increasing to 90% of pupils in 2025.  The EBacc plan will therefore become a reality if 90% of year 11 pupils (exceptions are detailed in the response) sit a GCSE language in 2027.

Against the background of the continued fall in the numbers of pupils studying languages at GCSE and A Level (Ofqual, June 2017) the language teaching and learning community (including the Association of Language Learning whose response to the government response to consultation can be read here) has welcomed the EBacc as part of the need to encourage wider participation in and uptake of languages in our schools.

In the face of the challenges related to the recruitment and retention of language teachers faced by some schools, what can be done to help them become EBacc ‘ready’?


Much time is spent on monitoring and assessing the quality of teaching in schools, but how much is spent on considering the impact of curriculum design?  In a deliberate move away from a ‘topic-based’ approach to language teaching and learning, the programme of study for key stage 3 focuses on the language skills pupils need to be taught.  This allows departments considerable creative latitude in curriculum design which is not always reflected in schemes of learning.  Could more time be spent on designing motivational contexts for language learning that still prioritise high-frequency/highly transferable structures and promote grammatical and phonetic progression to engage a wider layer of pupils?  Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman announced a review earlier this year with a view to determine whether routine inspection needs rebalancing in favour of the curriculum.  Now may be a good time for departments to review their languages curriculum in terms of engagement and impact.


While headteachers cannot reshape the narratives that produce negative attitudes in wider society, they can influence attitudes within their school.  In the same way that it has become unacceptable for teachers to stymie pupil resilience and perseverance in relation to subjects such as maths (e.g. with well-meant attempts to show empathy or self-deprecation), it should be unacceptable for non-linguist teachers to say they were ‘no good’ at languages.  School leaders can raise the profile of languages through displays (languages spoken by staff and children at the school) and promoting the daily use of languages (e.g. simple greetings), making languages visible and audible in their schools.  In the same way that teachers share titles of books they are reading with pupils (e.g. on display boards in classrooms or on doors), active teacher language learners could share their linguistic goals (Mr So-and-So is learning Spanish).  Or why not organise a Duolingo competition for staff (other language learning apps are available)?


While no one doubts their value, traditional language exchange visits are on the decline.  Schools Online has produced a school exchange starter kit to help schools think about the necessary steps to plan and run a safe and successful trip.  However, not all families have the spare capacity in terms of accommodation, time or energy to host an exchange student and increasing pressure on household budgets can mean that study trips become more expensive (or unviable) as uptake falls.  A solution is to ask departments to work together to plan trips abroad.  An art trip to Paris could be opened up to French students, a football tour to Spain could bring Spanish GCSE students along as interpreters.  What does it say about the importance of languages if travel abroad does not draw on the linguistic expertise in school?  Inevitably, all trips exclude some.   It is important that departments find other ways of enhancing cultural and linguistic capital in school, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.  Organisations such as Routes into Languages, UKLO and Business Language Champions can help.


In our last blog, we looked at the decline in the number of Language Assistants (LAs) in schools as budgetary pressures increase.  If you have an assistant this year, there are some simple things that can be done to increase their impact on learning and on the way languages are perceived in school.  Encourage your LAs to use target language around school as much as possible and in staff briefings teach/encourage (willing) colleagues to exchange simple greetings with them.  This creates more spontaneous language encounters for pupils and non-linguist teachers become excellent role-models for linguistic courage and intercultural competence.  If you are interested in other ways to increase language assistant impact in your school, you can find details of our language assistant induction programme here.


Among the most successful strategies in attracting and retaining language teachers cited by headteachers in the DfE response to the public consultation was offering staff ‘good continuing professional development’.  Effective CPD includes training that is relevant to subject-specialism.  The Herts for Languages team offers quality subject-specific training and events such as our languages NQT training and our annual conference for Secondary Leaders of Languages.  We have also supported cross-phase language networks across Hertfordshire for the last ten years.  See our Facebook page @HertsforLanguages for details.

The Languages team at Herts for Learning will continue to play an active role in supporting headteachers and language departments as they work towards meeting national EBacc targets.  For training, conferences and events or for a specialist support and advisory service to help construct an exciting and challenging five-year programme for languages, contact


Language assistants in schools: more important now than ever before?

The Herts for Languages blog is back!  Our first post of the year examines the origins and impact of the language assistant programme and looks at how we can help schools to assure their future provision.


With the squeeze on budgets growing ever tighter, many schools have had to make difficult choices in deciding whether to continue to employ the services of a language assistant (LA) for the new academic year.  In Hertfordshire (and other areas of the UK) this has meant that – for the first time – language departments with a long-standing history of LA provision will not be hosting an assistant this year.  A decision like this is not made lightly.  It does, however, raise the question of whether a language assistant is simply an optional ‘extra’, or something that goes to the heart of inclusion and social mobility in our schools?

Every year, language assistants in UK schools come from 15 countries around the world as part of a reciprocal arrangement which also sees around 2,500 LAs from the UK support the teaching of English in other countries.  Each one is taking part in a programme that traces its heritage back to 1905 and an exchange programme which allowed graduates from France and the United Kingdom to cross the channel to teach their respective languages in schools.

Language assistants traditionally work in the classroom with teachers or on their own with small groups.  They spend up to a year helping students improve their confidence with foreign languages but an important, and often undervalued, part of their role is to increase students’ cultural awareness.

In October 2015, the Cambridge Public Policy Strategic Research Initiative (SRI) published The Value of Languages, a report of a workshop held in Cambridge to illustrate the strategic value of languages, discuss current deficiencies in UK language policy and put forward proposals to address them.  The report contains a case-study, The Value-Added Recruit, in which Bernardette Holmes MBE, Principal Investigator on the Born Global research project talks about the importance of cultural agility (defined as the ability to work in multilingual and culturally diverse teams and developed by international experience abroad).

Findings from the research show that executive recruiters regard cultural agility as an essential attribute for graduates hoping to work for global organisations.  The very personification of cultural agility, language assistants are excellent role-models for students and are key in helping schools to shape the ‘culturally agile’ students of the future.  It is important also to remember that, for some students, working with a language assistant will be their first (and perhaps only) experience of working closely with a native speaker and someone with a different set of cultural experiences to their own.  In a fast-moving and ever-changing world, the cultural responsiveness, cognitive flexibility and linguistic competences developed through the study of languages in schools are some of the most socially-mobilising skills that we can give our students.

Last year, the Herts for Languages team wrote an article for the British Council’s Voices magazine on how UK schools can benefit from language assistants.  Help and advice for schools thinking about employing a language assistant can be found on the British Council website.  What you may not know is that the British Council also has a scheme for primary language assistants.

The British Council encourages a flexible approach to hosting language assistants to help schools with costs.  A secondary school can share a language assistant with up to three nearby schools (including primary schools).  Primary schools participating in the French language assistant programme can share LAs with up to six other primaries.  For schools interested in hosting a Chinese language assistant, these costs are separate and include additional funding support.  Information about Chinese language assistant grants can be found here.

The Languages team at Herts for Learning is continuing its support of LAs across Hertfordshire and beyond with our language assistant induction programme on Monday 9 October.  This in-school, value-for-money, one-day training programme will help language departments to get maximum impact from their language assistants.  For further information, contact .

For instant updates on training and events, follow @herts_languages and @HertsPLQM or like our Facebook page @HertsforLanguages.

Resilience and success

Our blog post this half-term is all about embracing challenge and celebrating success!

Primary languages

Our Primary Languages Quality Mark ™ continues to go from strength to strength; recent awards have been made of Bronze and Silver and one of our past award winners has now officially applied to ‘go for gold’!  This is very exciting as, if successful, they will be our first school to receive a Gold Award.

Some of our PLQM ™ award-winning schools will be presenting their work at the annual Primary Leaders of Language conference on Friday the 2nd of December.  Our keynote speaker will be Vicky Gough.  Vicky is Schools Adviser and lead for MFL at the British Council – the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.  The theme of her talk will be ‘Bringing languages to life through the international dimension’.  To book on, click here: primary leaders of language conference.

Secondary languages

The theme of our annual Heads of Languages (secondary) conference on Friday the 9th of December is all about one of the key ingredients for success for language teaching and learning – resilience!  The title is ‘Resilience in challenging times’ and our special guest and keynote speaker, is Anna Lise Gordon.  Anna Lise will be serving as President for the Association of Language Learning from 2016 to 2018.  She is Academic Director for Secondary Initial Teacher Training Provision at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.  The theme of her talk will be ‘Being a resilient Head of languages & managing change’.

Her session outline promises an exciting presentation:

Welcome aboard the roller-coaster ride!

As modern language teachers face constant challenges – new GCSE and A level examination specifications, Key Stage 3 pedagogy review, transition from Key Stage 2 and teacher recruitment concerns, to name but a few – Anna Lise’s interactive presentation will take a positive view of the exciting roller-coaster ride. It’s much more fun when we embrace the ride together as a professional community!

Anna Lise will draw on her doctoral research about teacher resilience to share some practical and engaging strategies for managing challenges and leading change related to MFL teaching and learning.

There will also be presentations from AQA and Edexcel on the new language specifications as well as a celebration of the successes of languages in Hertfordshire and case study of a thriving languages department.  To book on, click here: secondary Heads of MFL annual conference.

A notable success over the course of the last year was the preservation of GCSE and A Level for lesser-taught languages (including Arabic, modern Greek, Urdu, Chinese, Italian, Russian, Japanese, modern Hebrew, Bengali and Punjabi).  New guidance regarding the accreditation of these GCSEs, AS and A levels (for teaching from 2017) is available here:

General Interest

For schools teaching (or thinking about) teaching Japanese, have a look at some of the exciting opportunities being offered by the Japan Foundation.  The Japan Foundation invites individuals and organisations that are planning international exchange projects and activities to participate in programmes organised by them.  For more information, click here:

The 2016/2017 edition of the Language Trends survey is now live!  Primary and secondary schools across the country should now have received letters asking them to complete the online Language Trends Survey for this year. If your school has been selected as part of this year’s sample, we would urge you to respond in order to contribute to this important annual update on the state of our subject.  Although the deadline for responding to the survey is 30 Nov 2016, the survey organisers would be pleased for respondents to complete the survey as soon as possible.

Bernardette Holmes MBE, Campaign Director of Speak to the Future, has produced a response to the publication of Languages & Brexit by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages released on the 17th October.  To read the response, click here.


Training for languages for the spring term

The courses we have on offer for the spring term are listed below.

Get Set for Exam Success for GCSE MFL.  Book here.

Get Set for Exam Success for AS and A Level MFL.  Book here.

Progression and Assessment for Secondary Languages. Book here.

State of Independence: up-skilling the Google Translate generation.  Book here.

Embedding Fun French in the Primary Classroom.  Book here.


Wishing you all a very well-deserved, relaxing and happy Christmas break!



Welcome Bienvenue Wilkommen Bienvenido

Welcome to the first in a new series of blogs from the Herts for Languages team.  We will provide you with a regular round-up of the latest language learning and teaching news, ideas for the classroom and features on best practice in Languages.  We aim to cover all key stages and a broad range of languages.  If you have anything you would like to tell us about, please get in touch!  Are you ready for Rio?  As a free gift for the end of term, you are invited to download our award-winning Olympic resource for KS2 – KS4 French by visiting the website.

Wishing you all a very relaxing summer!
Continue reading “Welcome Bienvenue Wilkommen Bienvenido”

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