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Take One Book: Christmas Special!

It might feel a little early still, but Penny Slater has some – somewhat untypical – “festive” ideas based on ‘The Santa Trap’ by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. We wanted to give sufficient notice in case you decide that you would like to invest in this darkly charming book. 

Christmas is coming, and it is time to dig out the usual array of Christmassy texts to inspire a seasonal unit of reading and writing.

If it is a charming, heart-warming and whimsical Christmas tale that you are after, you may have come to the wrong blog!

This year, we urge you to try something a bit different: something a bit edgier; a bit darker….

Our recommendation for a fresh and feisty festive treat is ‘The Santa Trap’ by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Poly Bernatene.

Welcome Bradley Bartleby…

Conf 1

Everything that you need to know about this charmless character is conveyed on the first double-page spread:

‘Bradley Bartleby was bad.

He’d been born bad….

And the older Bradley got, the badder he became.’

The tale goes on to outline Bradley’s rapid descent from spoilt child to revenge-seeking Santa hunter!

Beyond its obvious anarchic appeal, this text provides so many opportunities for children to improve their writing skills. In the resource linked here – Santa Trap Planning Ideas  – you will find our suggestions for how this text could be used creatively to develop children’s writing skills in line with the Vocabulary, Grammar and Punctuation Programme of Study for each year group.

santa trap final

We hope that this fun and feisty text will help to spread a little Christmas cheer throughout your classroom this year. The question is: who will be brave enough to present each of their children with a lovely end of term Christmas gift this year?

A nice new pair of socks should do it!

Jonathan Emmett will be joining us for our spring writing conference: Write Here, Write Now.

Please join us if you can to discover more of Jonathan’s great texts, and to hear his thoughts about how to inspire young readers and writers.

Click on the link below to book your place at the conference:

17ENG/076P Write Here, Right Now – HfL Annual Primary English Conference BOOK 25 Jan 2018


Find out more about Jonathan and his work here:

With special thanks to Poly Bernatene for giving permission to use his images in this blog. Explore more of Poly’s work here:


A field guide to great writing

Jane Andrews shares some inspiring and interesting writing from Purwell School  in this blog.

Continue reading “A field guide to great writing”

Early findings from the KS2 Reading Fluency Project

With 150 pupils across Hertfordshire now involved in HfL’s KS2 Reading Fluency Project, Penny Slater reflects on what has been learned from the project so far.

Continue reading “Early findings from the KS2 Reading Fluency Project”

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!

Celebrating Freedom with National Poetry Day

In this short blog, Michelle Nicholson presents some ideas to do with your class on National Poetry Day, which takes the theme of ‘freedom’ this year.

Continue reading “Celebrating Freedom with National Poetry Day”

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


Primary writing ITAFs: what’s new; what’s changed; what’s gone.

Another new school year, another assessment framework – but just how different is it? Kirsten Snook succinctly maps where things have gone, stayed the same or been subtly changed, following the government’s consultation with schools. Click on the links for an extremely helpful shortcut to an outline of  the new expectations.

Continue reading “Primary writing ITAFs: what’s new; what’s changed; what’s gone.”

researchED 2017 workshop 2: primary grammar – what really matters in transition

Martin Galway outlines his presentation at this year’s researchEd conference on primary grammar and the transition to key stage 3.

Continue reading “researchED 2017 workshop 2: primary grammar – what really matters in transition”

researchED 2017 workshop 1: exploring the complexities of reading comprehension difficulties

In the first of a two part blog, Martin Galway shares his thoughts on presenting a pair of workshops (one on grammar and, here, a late-notice addition on reading comprehension) at this year’s researchED  conference.

Continue reading “researchED 2017 workshop 1: exploring the complexities of reading comprehension difficulties”

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