DfE review to make MFL subjects ‘more accessible’

The government has launched a review into making modern foreign language GCSEs more accessible after Ofqual admitted it was significantly harder to score top grades in the subjects.

The Department for Education review will be led by Ian Bauckham, chief executive of the Tenax Schools Trust, who oversaw a review into MFL pedagogy that was published just three years ago. The new panel (full list below) will make initial recommendations in spring 2020.

The government’s announcement comes as Ofqual revealed it will be making it easier for pupils to achieve top grades in GCSE French and German from this summer. A study found the subjects are “consistently harder than other GCSE subjects”.

Ofqual’s report also noted concerns from teachers that the qualifications were “too difficult”, particularly in listening and reading assessments, and that “subject content may be a reason why MFL is seen as difficult”.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the DfE had “listened to what teachers, parents and Ofqual have told us about GCSEs in modern foreign languages including French, Spanish and German”.

“An independent panel will review the content and recommend changes to ensure it continues to be rigorous, as well as supporting high quality teaching and increasing take up amongst young people.”

The review will focus on making the subjects “more accessible” while ensuring they remain academically rigorous. It will also look at removing elements which may be off-putting, like niche knowledge.

Bauckham led a review of MFL pedagogy, publised by the Teaching Schools Council in 2016, which said the “vast majority” of young people should study a modern foreign language up to the age of 16.

The British Council’s Language Trends 2019 report, published in July, found that entries in GCSE French and German had both dropped by over 30 per cent since 2014. This is particularly concerning for the DfE, as unless take up of languages improves dramatically it will struggle to hit its English Baccalaureate target.

The MFL subject content review panel

Ian Bauckham CBE (chair) – CEO of Tenax Trust, Ofqual board member

Professor Emma Marsden – University of York and director of the National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy (NCELP)

Professor Katrin Kohl – Professor of German literature at the University of Oxford

John Bald – independent literacy and languages consultant

Bernardette Holmes MBE – language consultant AHRC Modern Languages Leadership Fellow Team

David Shanks – lead MFL consultant at the Harris Federation

Dr Rachel Hawkes – Co-director of NCELP, director of international education and research at the CAM Academy Trust, Cambridgeshire

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  1. Pamela Burdett

    As a retired teacher of MFL (French and German) and still working as a Visiting Oral Examiner for AQA at A Level French, I am astounded that it has taken so long for the DfE to realise that it has been harder in these subjects to achieve the higher grades for many years now. Even when I was teaching myself, students were put off choosing languages because they were perceived as being more difficult than other subjects. Hence the on going ‘fall off’ in the uptake of these subjects. Even with the many changes in the examination format and the tremendous efforts by teachers to make learning languages fun as well as informative, the demands of the exmination have put many students off. Hence also the low uptake of languages at A level, which has seen a dramatic dive in recent years and hence further up take at university level.Not only does the DfE and Ofqual need to take a serious look at GCSE’s but also at A Level and ‘even up’ the playing field with other subjects. As a grandmother now, I have serious concerns that my grandchildren will not be inspired to continue with any foreign language, which can surely only be to the detriment of this country if we do not have people who can communicate in any other language than English!