University of York to run £4.8m languages 'centre of excellence'

The University of York has been chosen to run the government’s new “centre for excellence” for modern foreign languages.

The institution will be the country’s national language centre, and will coordinate work by schools to raise the quality of language teaching.

The Department for Education announced last summer that £4.8 million would be spent on a language centre of excellence with nine “hub” schools across the country, set up to disseminate best practice. However, the government did not until now reveal who had won the contract to run it.

Cardiff University has been chosen to run a mentoring project to encourage pupils to take up languages at GCSE across 10 schools.

The plans follow recommendations made in the Teaching Schools Council’s modern foreign language pedagogy review, led by headteacher and linguist Ian Bauckham, and a flurry of activity by the government to try to boost MFL uptake in schools.

A language trends survey by the British Council last year revealed more than a third of state schools now allow pupils to opt out of studying a language in year 9.

According to the DfE, the new Centre for Excellence for Languages Pedagogy will raise the standard of teaching in languages based on the Latin alphabet, like French, Spanish and German.

Emma Marsden, professor at York’s education department, said the “very solid investment” from the government in the centre was “welcome evidence of a commitment to nurturing relations with other cultures, and offering a broad education to all”.

She said that “in the history of public support for languages education in England, this investment offers a unique opportunity for researchers and expert teachers to work together and draw on high quality, international research into language learning”.

The new centre will produce “rigorously designed materials”, which will be freely available to schools, said Marsden.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said York had demonstrated it “had the vision and expertise to be at the forefront of the work to improve the way foreign languages are taught in schools, and increase the take-up of languages at GCSE”.

Ministers were buoyed by a 0.4 per cent rise in MFL entries at GCSE last year – the first rise in five years and significant, given a simultaneous decline in the year 11 population – but continuing concern over uptake has prompted the government to announce a mentoring programme in which undergraduates support year 9 pupils to grow an interest in languages.

Meanwhile, Cardiff University’s “language horizons” mentoring project will see it work with 200 year nine pupils in south Yorkshire, in partnership with Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University.

The pupils will be matched with university students for six weeks of online and face-to-face mentoring “to inspire these pupils to take up languages at GCSE level and beyond”, the DfE said.

A previous National Centre for Languages worked with schools and across political parties from 2003, until its funding was removed in 2011 by the coalition government.