Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a form of bilingual teaching where a subject is taught by communicating in another language. It is a widely accepted technique across the world and is commonly used to teach English. Research shows it leads to gains in language proficiency and evidence of accelerated learning within the host subject. Indeed, countries with CLIL in over 11 per cent of their schools have leapt up the PISA tables in recent times.
Here in the UK, there are examples of schools that have taught subjects from science to PSHE through languages from French to Mandarin, but no significant longitudinal studies on its impact. Policy makers remain sceptical about its credentials. This week, I published a longitudinal study based on my own career-long experience of CLIL in three schools in England.
I began by teaching geography in French some 20 years ago and immediately witnessed the enjoyment of students and staff alike. Increasing numbers of students opted for the CLIL courses and we clearly saw improved attainment and progress in languages for all students whatever their background or ability. SATs results for the end of key stage 3 also indicated that there might be academic gains in other subjects too.
As the assistant head in charge of data and teaching and learning, I seized the opportunity to engage academics and reviewers to study our work objectively. This proved the short-term gains but also longer-term ones. Five years later, the CLIL cohort achieved higher rates of attainment at GCSE, many opting for A level French.
Later appointed as a deputy head for curriculum, it became a cornerstone of a creative curriculum judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and cited by them for good practice. Here, academics confirmed that by key stage 4, in addition to languages, CLIL cohorts were making higher gains in other subjects with a lot of problem-solving too.
Later again, as headteacher I introduced CLIL at a school in a very deprived area. I continued to teach it too, and to monitor, track and review its impact. I was stunned by its effectiveness at helping our students access the more challenging GCSE curriculum introduced by Michael Gove.
In all three schools, CLIL was introduced for between one and two hours a week in years 7 and 8 in addition to their normal MFL time. This relatively small investment of curriculum time provided a great return for MFL uptake and whole-school attainment and progress, and any increase in CLIL time led to greater gains.
Now, in my retirement, I have been able to combine the internal data for all three schools with the overall data from school performance tables to objectively reach conclusions about CLIL’s value as a school improvement strategy.
As a data analyst, I discovered the statistically significant impacts all three schools had in common. As a teacher, I analysed the classroom techniques to evaluate what could have caused these impacts. The results were startling.
The components within the CLIL courses (delivered in a variety of subjects and languages) include many of the most effective techniques highlighted in the EEF’s teacher toolkit: reading comprehension strategies, oral language interventions, metacognition and self-regulation, collaborative working, feedback, challenging homework and use of digital technology. With all of these conducted in a different language, it is no wonder that learning is accelerated.
Better still, all three schools show that gains were relatively greater for the most vulnerable students. Refugees with no English, hearing-impaired students, disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs all benefitted. CLIL effectively eliminated the disadvantage gap, driving inclusivity, higher Ebacc entries and results. Prior ability on entry did not determine CLIL students’ success.
Headline figures for each school showed similar patterns. Once embedded in key stage 3, improvements in attainment and progress were evident across all subjects and were magnified at key stage 4, improving schools’ national positions by an average of 21 per cent.
The reverse pattern is also clear. When CLIL stopped, key stage 4 results tapered back down as its effects phased out.
If our national ambitions are truly to close the disadvantage gap and to increase the uptake of languages, then CLIL definitely warrants further investigation.