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Mind the gap: seven ways in which learning a language can diminish the difference for disadvantaged learners

‘This year’s survey highlights serious social inequality in access to language learning.’  

Language Trends 2016/17, Survey Report by Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board

Against the backdrop of some worrying findings in this year’s Language Trends survey, the theme of our annual Primary Leaders of Languages conference on Friday 1 December is ‘Languages for All’.  Teresa Tinsley, one of the survey co-authors, will be our keynote speaker delivering a session entitled Literacy, inclusion, an introduction to other cultures: findings from the Languages Trends survey.  Other highlights include Dr Arlene Foster (University of Oxford) who will present a session on Classics for All in which she will talk about the ways in which Latin and Greek can support and extend literacy skills for all language learners and British Council Ambassadors who will lead a workshop on ‘Building a culture of inclusion through eTwinning’.

In this edition of the Herts for Learning Languages blog, guest blogger Linda A. Hardman, HfL’s Lead Adviser for Diminishing the Difference, argues the case for languages for all at KS2.

Mind the gapLinda.Hardman

There is a high priority under the current OFSTED framework to diminish the difference for disadvantaged learners and it could be argued that language acquisition and development is one of the most challenging areas in which to achieve this measure of equality.

Disadvantaged pupils are broadly identified, in educational terms, as those pupils in receipt of additional government funding (The Pupil Premium).  The purpose of this funding is to enable schools to put in place strategies that “diminish the difference” between these children and their more affluent peers.  Broadly, the funding is attributed to pupils who have been in receipt of FSM at any time in the past 6 years, Children Looked After or those who have been adopted from public care, and children from service families. These pupils may also have additional complex multiple vulnerabilities that can present huge barriers to learning.

However, all children can benefit from language learning, provided that the content offered and the methodologies employed are appropriate for their learning needs.  Pupils in poverty are not broken or damaged; human brains adapt to experiences by making changes.  Your pupils can change.  You can help them do so by understanding the specific challenges for your learners and addressing these with purposeful teaching.  As teachers we are strongly aspirational for our pupils and have the highest expectations for their outcomes.  We should remember that language learning is a socially mobilising skillset and be ambitious for all our pupils.

Seven ways in which learning a language can diminish the difference for disadvantaged learners

  1. Broadening horizons, developing intercultural understanding

Though opportunities for travel may be limited for some, all children are citizens of a multilingual world.  All have a right (and a responsibility) to learn about other cultures and to sample other languages.  Language and culture are so intertwined that learning a foreign language both builds cultural understanding and provides deep insights into how other people see the world.

  1. Future economic well-being

Learning a language boosts career opportunities and is critical for the workforce of the future.  Many jobs in education, healthcare, social work, national security, translation, tourism, and international business require or favour candidates who are bilingual, resulting in more job opportunities for those who can speak a second language.


  1. Improving brain function

Research shows that bilingualism, even partial bilingualism, can have a beneficial effect on brain development. Bilinguals are often better at tasks that require multi-tasking and attention focusing.

  1. Closing the gap

Pupils from disadvantaged families are more likely to struggle with engagement due to a narrower vocabulary and lack of exposure to the richness of language.  Learning another language is another way for children with delayed skills development to revisit basic concepts and to learn social skills in a way that seems more interesting and challenging.


  1. Improving first language competence

Years ago, people believed that learning a second language would confuse a child. Now, research shows that children who study a foreign language perform better in their native language than non-bilingual students.  This increased awareness of language can lead to improvements in literacy across the curriculum.

  1. Improving future brain health

It helps prevent age-related cognitive decline. Some studies have shown that people who regularly speak a second language may be able to delay Alzheimer’s disease. The hypothesis is that by improving the executive function of the brain, bilinguals develop a “cognitive reserve” which helps delay symptoms of dementia.

  1. Building creative thinking skills

Much has been written about how many jobs in the future will be automated, with tasks requiring ingenuity and creativity being left to humans. How then to build these creative thinking skills in children?  By learning a second language!  Learning a foreign language helps children see the world through different lenses. The ability to consider multiple viewpoints to a problem is a cornerstone of creative problem solving.

Linda A. Hardman, Lead Adviser Diminishing the Difference

To book on to the Primary Leaders of Languages conference in December, click here.  For further information on events, training and other services to support the delivery of languages from primary through to secondary, please contact

Making time for languages: six simple ways to embed language learning in KS2

In May 2016, the then HMCI Michael Wilshaw published his monthly newsletter in which he commented on the lack of curriculum time given to science and languages at key stage 2.

Evidence from Ofsted inspections had found that two thirds of primary schools visited by HMI spent less than one hour per week learning a foreign language, with school leaders and classroom teachers reporting that it was a struggle to squeeze lessons into an already tight curriculum.

With pressures on curriculum time showing no signs of abating, what can schools do to make extra time for languages?  In this blog, we share tips from Herts for Learning’s languages advisory team, our 3-day Subject leader training alumni and teachers from our award-winning Primary Languages Quality Mark™ schools on how to maximise your language provision.

  1. An appetite for languagesThe Reddings (412)

Eating together at school is a social activity and an ideal opportunity for rehearsing high-frequency, highly transferable language!  A teacher in one of our PLQM award-winning schools, worked with kitchen staff so that pupils could ask for meals in Spanish using me gustaría, por favour and gracias.  Key phrases went on permanent display in the school dining hall.  Why not teach pupils to wish each other buen provecho, bon appétit or guten Appetit as they sit down together to eat?

  1. Take a look inside a bookThe Reddings (232)

Sharing familiar stories and traditional tales in the target language is a great way to introduce literature and authentic texts and can be done at any point in the week.  Build on the conceptual framework that pupils will already have by introducing some key vocabulary (e.g. the main characters) before you start.  Para-linguistic strategies (such as mime, gesture, change of voice for different characters) will help scaffold the stories for young learners.  Want to encourage nervous colleagues to have a go?  Try these free online traditional tales (complete with illustrations and audio) in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

  1. Playground rules

Simple playground activities can be used to reinforce in-class learning (e.g. numbers) and to promote intercultural investigation by comparing traditional games in home and target language countries.  You can adapt games that your pupils already know (quelle heure est-il Monsieur le Loup? will be instantly recognisable and revise simple time expressions) or you can download the free resource from Schools Online We heard it in the playground to get you started.  Or why not stick supporting language for playground games on your classroom windows facing outwards?  Then pupils are reminded that they can play games through the medium of another language!

  1. If music be the food of languages …

Music has always been used to good effect in language lessons.  Repetition of key phrases in a chorus, catchy tunes and attractive and engaging accompanying videos can provide a real boost to language learning.  But how about a planning for a focus on songs from target language countries in music lessons?  Websites such as can provide inspiration and often allow you to search songs by language, country or theme and provide audio files or sheet music for use in class.  Doing a topic on South America?  Search for songs from Argentina to Venezuela!

  1. The appliance of scienceThe Reddings (390)

Ever thought about doing a science extension activity in Spanish?  Our Herts for Learning Language Network teachers have!   For the past two years, HfL language networks (formerly Strategic Learning Networks) have been working on a cross-curricular STEM and MFL project called ‘The Language Experiment’.   This has included sourcing non-fiction books in French and Spanish to extend learning in science and to develop reading skills in the target language by looking at ‘scientific’ cognates.

  1. Routine procedureThe Reddings (286)

Routine classroom activities provide an ideal context for introducing a wide repertoire of spontaneous target language talk (a key requirement of the languages programme of study for KS2).  The language used is instantly more accessible (as pupils will be familiar with the conceptual framework of the routine) and the frequent repetition of the vocabulary and phrases that become associated with certain classroom activities will help pupils to internalise language.  Our Target Language in the Classroom pack (including audio CD) focuses on 10 key classroom routines and uses simple high-frequency, highly-transferable language that can be easily transferred to other contexts.  Sections such as Meet and Greet and Being Kind, Being Polite can teach your pupils phrases that are appropriate for a whole range of social situations!

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!



La rentrée – Der Schulanfang – La vuelta al cole

Welcome back!  We hope you had a relaxing summer and are looking forward to the new school year.  We hope your students were crowned with glory like the Team GB athletes with their amazing 67 medals.  If your students are still buzzing with sporting enthusiasm, don’t forget our FREE French Olympic classroom resources to keep the celebrations going a little longer.  The resources can be downloaded here.

Herts Grid for Languages

Over the summer we have been busy reviewing and updating the Grid content for Languages.  We have deleted out-of-date material and included new advice and resources to help keep you updated regarding language teaching and learning.  Please bear in mind that this is still a work in progress and there are still some sections we are reviewing content but these are clearly marked.

You can access the Grid content for Languages here.


Primary Languages Quality Mark

The number of schools signing up for PLQM, nationally, continues to grow.  For more information on the Primary Languages Quality Mark click here.  For more information, please contact

Free half hour consultations

Due to the success of our pilot project last year, we are continuing to offer a free half-hour languages consultancy to primary schools in Hertfordshire.  If you would like to book a consultation, please email

Progression and assessment

Our Progression and Assessment pack for KS2 provides guidance and support for tracking and assessing progress across the key stage.  The pack costs £100 (£50 for schools signing up to the PLQM) and can be purchased by contacting  For your FREE copy, why not book on to ‘Progression and Assessment for KS2 Languages’ on 5th October? Book here.

Encouraging pupil talk at KS2

Our new ‘On Target’ pack for French, complete with CD of sound files, provides teachers and children with the support they need to encourage spontaneous use of the target language in the classroom. The pack costs £30 and can be purchased from  For your FREE copy, why not book on to ‘Speak Up for Primary Languages’ on 27th September? Book here.

For general enquiries relating to KS2 Languages, please contact or

Support and Training

We can offer tailored support and guidance to all schools interested in improving teaching and learning as well as calendared training events.  Popular events are our ‘3 Day Subject Leader for Languages’ which starts on 4th October and our annual Subject Leader of Languages conference on 2nd December.  NEW for this year is the ‘Getting to grips with Grammar KS2 Languages’ on 1st November.

Primary NQTs

To boost your primary NQTs confidence and help them to integrate French into their everyday teaching, we now offer ‘Embedding Fun French in the primary classroom’.  The next training date will be on 15 March and can be booked here.


GCSE and A Level

We hope that your students reaped the rewards of their hard work – and yours – this summer.  As you prepare to teach the new specification for GCSE Languages, have a look at  some of these useful resources to help you.

In July, OFQUAL published Grade Descriptors for GCSE grades 2, 5 and 8.  These can be found here. For Ancient Languages, the descriptors are here.

Don’t forget that the examining boards offer lots of free resources for the new specification for both A Level and GCSE.

Support and Training

We can offer tailored support and guidance to all schools interested in improving teaching and learning as well as calendared training events.  Our annual Heads of Languages conference on 9th December will feature a session on examination issues.

Newly Qualified Teachers

Every year we provide an intensive three day training course for newly qualified Languages teachers.  This is an excellent way of providing support for your NQTs and for them to network and exchange best practice with their peers.  The first day of training is on Friday 7 October and places can be booked here.

 Foreign Language Assistants

Although provided by the British Council we still offer bespoke training to ensure that your FLA is deployed effectively and settles in quickly thanks to the support of other assistants and ourselves.  Local FLA training, based in Hertfordshire, helps them to create a network of other FLAs to ensure that their year abroad is successful both professionally and personally.

Our new FLA induction course offers all the essential training to get the best from your Language Assistant in a new, cost effective 1 day course.  Delegates will be given guidance on what is expected of foreign language assistants in order to support teachers and students effectively (including training on Child Protection). Delegates will be given a free copy of Herts for Learning’s ‘Good Practice Guide for FLAs in School’).  The FLA training will take place on Monday 17th October.  Please register your interest by emailing

New School Year Resolutions

Over the summer, you may have seen the BBC article ‘Foreign Languages Slump blamed on Cuts’.  To encourage your students to study a language at A Level (and beyond), you may consider the taster day at the University of Essex supported by the Association for Language Learning on Wednesday 16th November, where students will have the opportunity to sample languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Russian and see the first-hand workings of a university language department.  It is an after school event, completely free, and parents are welcome.

You can also sign up for emails from to access language events at other universities.

Like to learn a new language?

It’s not too late to join Future Learn’s beginners Spanish course in conjunction with the OU.  Module 2 starts on 12th September.  For more details, click here.


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