HMI: Matters for Discussion

Background notes

1 Ten Good Schools
2 Classics in Comprehensive Schools
3 Modern Languages in Comprehensive Schools
4 Gifted Children in Middle and Comprehensive Secondary Schools
5 The Teaching of Ideas in Geography
6 Mixed Ability Work in Comprehensive Schools
7 The Education of Children in Hospitals for the Mentally Handicapped
8 Developments in the BEd Degree Course
9 Mathematics 5 to 11
10 Community Homes with Education
11 A View of the Curriculum
12 Modern Languages in Further Education
13 Girls and Science
14 Mathematics in the Sixth Form
15 The New Teacher in School

Modern Languages in Comprehensive Schools

The complete document is presented in this single web page. You can scroll through it or use the following links to go straight to the various sections:

1 Introduction (page 3)
2 Quality of Work (7)
3 Teaching and Learning (13)
4 Staffing and Support for Teachers (17)
5 School Organisation (21)
6 Material Resources and other Support for Language Studies (25)
7 Continuity of Teaching; Assessment; and Records (27)
8 Languages other than French (31)
9 Examples of Good Practice (37)
10 The Future (45)
Appendix (51)

The text of Modern Languages in Comprehensive Schools was prepared by Derek Gillard and upoaded on 16 Aug 2011.

Modern Languages in Comprehensive Schools
HMI Series: Matters for Discussion No. 3

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1977
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

[title page]

Department of Education and Science

HMI Series: Matters for Discussion 3

Modern Languages
in Comprehensive

A discussion paper by some members of
H.M. Inspectorate of Schools based on a
survey of 83 schools in 1975-76

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office

[page ii]

The publications in this series are intended to stimulate professional discussion. They are based on HM Inspectors' observation of work in educational institutions and present their thoughts on some of the issues involved. The views expressed are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Inspectorate as a whole or of the Department of Education and Science. It is hoped that they will promote debate at all levels so that they can be given due weight when educational developments are being assessed or planned. The present title (No. 3 in the series) is the outcome of the work of a team of HM Inspectors led by a Staff Inspector.

Crown copyright 1977
First published 1977

ISBN 0 11 270443 3

[page iii]


Part I
1 Introduction3
2 Quality of Work7

Part II
3 Teaching and Learning13
4 Staffing and Support for Teachers17
5 School Organisation21
6 Material Resources and other Support for Language Studies25
7 Continuity of Teaching; Assessment; and Records27
8 Languages other than French31

Part III
9 Examples of Good Practice37

Part IV
10 The Future45


Note: When a reader does not propose to read the whole report immediately, he is recommended to start by reading Parts I and IV.

[page 1]

Part I

[page 3]

1 Introduction

This study of the learning and teaching of modern foreign languages in 83 comprehensive secondary schools was initiated in 1975 at a time of rapidly growing concern about the future of language learning in our schools. Since the second world war, and particularly since the late 1950s, the teaching of modern languages in schools has undergone a number of important changes and it is against this background that the existing situation has to be seen.


When modern language teaching was first introduced into schools its principal aims were to provide the pupil with mental training and to develop habits of accuracy. The grammar/translation method was widely used to these ends. Much of the work involved learning about the language rather than learning to use it actively in its spoken form. At the turn of the century this approach was challenged by the exponents of the direct method, who attempted to banish English from the classroom in the belief that a child should learn a modern language 'naturally'. In the hands of a brilliant teacher the direct method could achieve impressive results but in other hands it proved less successful and was never adopted on a wide scale. During the period immediately following the second world war a compromise between the grammar/translation and the direct methods, known as the oral method, was widely practised.

Around 1960 many modern linguists had come to accept that communication, interpreted as the ability to speak to a foreigner in his own language, must be central to their teaching. Audio-visual and audio-lingual methods, relying on tape recorder and filmstrip projector, were developed to further this aim. The 1960s were thus characterised by a change of emphasis from writing to speaking. The cultural value of learning a modern language also received a new emphasis, for it was hoped that some knowledge of the way of life of a foreign people would help to create in pupils a less insular and prejudiced outlook. Since about 1970 there has been a growing realisation that 'communication' is not solely concerned with the ability to speak a modern language and that the ability to understand the gist of both the spoken and the written word is no less important. In consequence there is now a call for greater attention to be paid to the skill of comprehension.

Secondary re-organisation

During a period when modern language teachers were being asked to review the aims of their teaching and to study new approaches, new methods and new techniques, they suddenly found themselves caught up in a process of major educational reform with the introduction of comprehensive secondary schools and the gradual abandonment of the tripartite system. Under the tripartite system the great majority of language teachers had been employed in grammar (or technical) schools where it was customary for all pupils

[page 4]

to study at least one modern language for a minimum of five years, and for many to start a second (and sometimes a third) language at some point between the ages of 12 and 16. Those who wished to specialise could study two or more languages in the sixth form and go on to read for a modern languages degree at a university. A minority of teachers held appointments in secondary modern schools, where up to a third of the pupils, usually the A stream, might have the opportunity to learn one modern language. In many secondary modern schools no modern language course was offered. Most language teachers, therefore, had experience of teaching only the more able pupils, who were likely not only to be fairly well motivated but also to have more aptitude for learning languages. Work in a comprehensive school required them to adapt their teaching to an entirely different situation and to rethink the aims, objectives and content of the courses which they offered their pupils. Few of them have found this easy.

Many comprehensive schools like, if they can, to offer all their pupils the opportunity to study a modern language, usually French, from the age of 11. This policy, by creating a greatly increased demand, has led to a shortage of teachers of French, with the inevitable dilution of quality that that implies. Some schools, aware of the limitations of teacher supply, have restricted the modern language to perhaps 60-80 per cent of the pupils, but even this represents a considerable expansion of language teaching when compared with former practice under the tripartite system. On the other hand, whereas in the grammar school it was customary for almost all pupils to follow a modern language course for at least five years and to take an examination at the end of it, for the bulk of comprehensive school pupils the language course lasts no more than two or three years; and in the fourth and fifth years the modern language becomes an option taken only by a minority. A small number of the abler pupils have the opportunity in most schools, though not in all, to start a second language in the second, third or fourth year. A smaller number still may continue to study one or more languages in the sixth form.

One major reason for anxiety about the future of language teaching in schools is the declining number of language students in sixth forms. Since 1970 the number of entries at the advanced level (A level) of the General Certificate of Education (GCE) for French, Italian and Russian has fallen during a period when the total number of subject entries has increased. Those for German and Spanish have remained steadier but have not shown the proportional increase that might have been expected. Concern is increasingly expressed in higher education about the difficulty of recruiting language students; and elsewhere about the threat to future British performance in commerce and industry which this decline portends. There is also concern about the standards attained by school leavers.

There is a further source of worry. One characteristic of the English sixth form which differentiates our system from those of our neighbours is that it normally offers courses only to those who have chosen to take A level in languages. Very seldom is there an opportunity for pupils who specialise in science, mathematics,

[page 5]

history or other subjects to pursue their language study until they leave school or to begin to learn a new language. Where the programmes of such pupils might allow for A-level language study the literary content of the course frequently proves a disincentive. In consequence all too often boys and girls who have a reasonable command of a language at the age of 16 have become relatively tongue-tied by the time they leave school at 18 and are at a disadvantage by comparison with their fellow Europeans. This is particularly regrettable at a time when our cultural and economic links with Europe are closer than ever before.

The survey

These are some of the circumstances which led to the setting up, in 1975, of a small working party of five of HM Inspectors of Schools to investigate the position of modern languages in comprehensive schools and to consider possible solutions to the problems that appeared to exist. (Although comprehensive schools were the focus of attention for this working party, it is clear that some of the problems identified would also have been found in selective schools.) The first, and the principal, task of this working party was to accumulate a body of solid evidence from which reliable conclusions could be drawn. It was therefore decided to carry out, during the school year 1975-76, a survey of modern language teaching in a representative sample of established comprehensive schools - that is to say of schools where pupils in the final year had formed part of a comprehensive intake. The survey would be confined to the teaching of French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish, the modern languages commonly taught to indigenous pupils. The teaching of English as a foreign language and of the native languages of immigrant pupils was excluded. The sample was to include examples of the various types of comprehensive school which contained pupils of secondary age, ranging from the 9-13 middle school at one extreme to the sixth form college at the other. It was felt that the 8-12 middle school should be omitted, since it had more affinity with the primary phase than with the secondary and would be better considered in that context.

The representative sample contained 83 schools, chosen from those established (in the case of the 11-18 schools) before 1968, and in other cases before 1971. In this way it was hoped to eliminate any distortion resulting from problems associated with the process of reorganisation. There were 861 schools which qualified under these criteria. The sample thus represents almost one school in ten. Eight different types were involved: (a) 9-13; (b) 11-14; (c) 11-16; (d) 11-18; (e) 12-18; (f) 13-18; (g) 14-18; (h) 16-19 (sixth form colleges). (The appendix shows the number of schools in each category and the varying numbers of pupils on roll; it also distinguishes between single-sex and co-educational schools.) Steps were taken to ensure that a balance was struck between urban, semi-urban and rural schools on the one hand and between large, medium and small schools on the other; and both single-sex and co-educational schools were included. The final selection of the schools discounted any previous knowledge of individual institutions and, although the sample could not be held to be random in the technical sense, HM Inspectors. from their experience over a wide field, thought

[page 6]

that it would provide a representative cross-section of modern language learning in established comprehensive schools. The number and location of local authorities which had introduced comprehensive education by the dates indicated placed some restriction on the geographical distribution of the sample, but even so schools were visited in as many as 40 local education authority areas spread throughout the length and breadth of England.

Visits to each of the 83 schools were carried out by HMI modern language specialists working to an agreed pattern of observation and enquiry. Before a visit each school was asked to provide relevant background information concerning organisation and details of staffing and of examination entries and results. The visits involved not only classroom observation and the examination of written work but also discussions with teachers holding positions of responsibility and with the language teachers. The working party would wish to place on record its warm appreciation of the interest and co-operation shown.

Adopting the same procedure, HM Inspectors visited a further 19 schools which were thought to have particularly interesting features. They were not treated as part of the sample and no further reference is made to them until Part III. The working party is similarly grateful to the heads and staffs of these schools.

The report is in four parts. Part I contains, in addition to this introduction, a chapter on the overall quality of language work; Part II provides an analysis of the different aspects of the working party's study; Part III gives examples of good practice drawn from the schools in the sample and also from the 19 schools just mentioned; while Part IV offers some suggestions for future progress. Certain of the conclusions and recommendations could have financial implications. They do not, however, imply any government commitment to the provision of additional resources

[page 7]

2 Quality of Work

In assessing pupils' performance in the modern language, HM Inspectors took into account varying levels of general ability and what might reasonably be expected. They also sought to relate achievement to the aims and objectives of the teaching, in so far as these were explicitly stated in schemes of work or could be inferred from classroom practice. In addition to acquiring an overall picture of standards of work, HM Inspectors were concerned with individual skills of listening and reading comprehension, of speaking and of writing. Three main procedures were adopted: (i) observation of pupils in the classroom, including an attempt to gauge attitudes; (ii) scrutiny of a selection of written work; (iii) a study of recent results in public examinations. Further light was shed on attitudes by a consideration of the numbers continuing with a modern language at the option stage and in the sixth form.

Some individual schools

It is interesting initially to look briefly at the attainments of pupils in some individual schools. In an 11-16 school in the South-West, the overriding impression was that the pupils enjoyed their language learning; that the quality of oral work was satisfactory throughout; that while some of the ablest pupils could have worked faster, the less able were progressing at an appropriate pace; and that the number of pupils attempting public examinations had risen over the previous few years - with no small measure of success in view of the nature of the school's catchment area. In an 11-18 school in the Midlands pupils arrived from their primary schools with positive attitudes towards French, a measure of basic fluency and a willingness to speak; in their new school, both speech and writing were carefully nurtured, although the latter received less emphasis in the lower ability bands. In the latter school more than two-fifths of the pupils were still studying French in the fourth year and more than half in the fifth; moreover, more than half the second year pupils were also studying German, and the numbers in the fourth and fifth years doing so approached a third of the age-groups. In these two schools morale was high, as was the quality of much of the work. In another 11-16 school in the South-West, oral skills tended to be insecure and the pupils had few opportunities to see the potentialities of the subject outside the formal acquisition of basic skills and the reading of textbooks. Nevertheless, despite the narrowness of the range of work undertaken, overall standards were high and the less able pupils remained keen; in the fourth year, when it had become an option, more than two-thirds of the pupils had opted for French, 19 having embarked on a clearly designated non-examination course in the language.

The majority

The general picture in the schools visited was, however, in marked contrast to that presented by these examples, In all but a few of the

[page 8]

schools the learning of modern foreign languages was characterised by some or all of the following features: under-performance in all four language skills by the abler pupils; the setting of impossible or pointless tasks for average (and in particular less able) pupils and their abandonment of modern language learning at the first opportunity; excessive use of English and an inability to produce other than inadequate or largely unusable statements in the modern language; inefficient reading skills; and writing limited mainly to mechanical reproduction which was often extremely inaccurate.

Some schools had reacted against the audio-visual innovations of the 1960s and had reverted to a traditional approach, involving grammar, translation and an emphasis on written work. Occasionally this produced a measure of success within clearly defined limits. In one such school in the North-West, the pupils had very little practice in using the foreign language for communication and could perform only in situations in which they had been drilled; reading was under-developed; written work, though of very good quality, was confined within the framework of examination requirements. However, it was clear that the pupils' general education was benefiting from their modern language studies and that the less able pupils had a sense of security and of achievement. In most such schools, on the other hand, not only were aural and oral skills seriously under-developed, but standards of reading and writing remained low. This was reflected in examination results.

It is hardly surprising that the situation in sixth forms was no less disquieting. There were of course some exceptions. In an 11-18 school in the industrial North, where 11- to 16-year-olds were achieving highly commendable standards in modern languages, the quality of the sixth form work was also impressive. And in a 13-18 school in an outer London borough the sixth-formers were acquiring a good command of idiom and sensitivity in their approach to literature. The usual picture, however, was of ill-read students with limited initiative reaching only poor to mediocre standards.

Where pupils were conscious of making real progress in learning a modern language (even, in one or two instances, where the goals set before them might be considered to be somewhat outmoded), they usually displayed their enthusiasm in the classroom and in their contacts with visitors. They tended, moreover, to continue their language studies at the option stage. In contrast, in all too many language classes there was an atmosphere of boredom, disenchantment and restlessness; at times this developed into indiscipline of a kind which made teaching and learning virtually impossible. These pupils opted out of modern language learning at the first opportunity. By the fourth secondary year (age 14-15 years), a modern language was optional for the majority of pupils: in all types of school visited during the survey, only slightly more than a third of the pupils in this age-group were still engaged in such studies. The majority of these pupils were girls: in many schools the ratio of girls to boys was two to one, although the proportion of boys was often far lower in abler sets and in the sixth form.* In the first year of the sixth form roughly one in seven pupils was studying a modern foreign language and in the second year only one in ten,

*These findings match those of Education Survey 21, Curricular differences for boys and girls (HMSO, 1975), and the subject is interestingly discussed in Dr Clare Burstall's report Primary French in the balance (NFER, 1974).

[page 9]

these numbers including pupils who were taking or retaking examinations for the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) and GCE ordinary level (O-level) as well as A-level candidates.

Examination results

Although recent public examination results in the schools in the sample do not permit valid comparison with national averages, they clearly confirm the assessment which has been made of the quality of work in modern foreign languages. If one considers all the 83 schools in the sample for the year 1975, there was roughly one GCE O-level pass or CSE Grade 1 result for every ten pupils in the fifth year age-group. While it is not profitable to make a similar statement about performance at A level, the small numbers of pupils taking this examination in French, German, Russian and Spanish are shown in Chapter 8, Table 2.

[page 11]

Part II

[page 13]

3 Teaching and Learning

It will again be helpful to consider at the outset the practices found in a number of schools which were achieving a measure of success, the first three of these being schools mentioned in Chapter 2. In the 11-18 school in the industrial North, which achieved highly commendable standards both below and within the sixth form, there were a number of teachers who combined high expectations with professional expertise. They made serious attempts to meet the needs of the less able pupils and to encourage some of them, by means of a CSE Mode 3 syllabus with restricted grades, to complete a five-year course. In the 11-18 school in the North-West, where the aims and methods were very traditional, pupils were expected to work hard and the less able ones were offered a tightly structured course with limited short-term objectives which gave them a sense of security and achievement. In the 11-16 school in the South-West, staff-pupil relationships were notably good; lively use of two- and three-dimensional aids was seen; teaching objectives and methods were differentiated to take account of varying levels of linguistic ability; and the quality of work was generally satisfactory. In an 11-14 school in an outer London borough, where the standard of work was high, there was an interesting variety of activities, including tape recordings made by pupils, dramatisation, games, and enterprising use of the overhead projector; the pupils were strongly motivated and many of the more able of them were working at an appropriate level. In an 11-18 school in the North, which was more successful with its abler pupils than with the rest, aural comprehension was fostered, if somewhat spasmodically; oral production was encouraged and response and pronunciation were quite good; writing tasks were suitably graded and varied, the quality and quantity of output were satisfactory, presentation was good and marking thorough.

These schools, and a few others, had certain features in common. To begin with, the teachers had clear expectations of their pupils and were determined that they should achieve what was expected of them. They had given thought to the needs of pupils of differing abilities and had tried to ensure that worthwhile and attainable goals had been set before them. Their standard of teaching was high and they made their lessons as varied and interesting as possible, adjusting the pace to suit the pupils in front of them. They did not regard their pupils as passive recipients of knowledge, but as active participants in the teaching-learning process who needed to use their own initiative. Whatever commercial courses were being used were exploited imaginatively and with discrimination. Careful attention was paid to performance and written work was meticulously marked. More often than not lessons took place in rooms where there were helpful and stimulating displays related to the country whose language was being studied and sometimes

[page 14]

containing examples of school work. In short, the teachers showed a high standard of professionalism.

Teacher expectations

Where teachers revealed, albeit often unintentionally, that they had low expectations of their pupils, these were almost invariably fulfilled. To take but two examples from many: in one school there was a tacit assumption that the less able pupils would not succeed; not merely were they given less teaching time than the abler pupils, but they covered the same ground year after year until they thankfully gave up the subject at the option stage. In another, which enabled its abler pupils to achieve an acceptable standard within very narrow limits, the average and less able pupils tended to be left to fend for themselves, even marking their own poor written work. A small number of schools sought to solve the problem by not teaching a modern language to less able pupils, one of these teaching French to only six out of 11 first year forms.

Catering for different ability levels

Given the wide range of ability of pupils learning a modern foreign language, particularly in the early secondary years, it is most regrettable that so few modern language departments had given thought to the needs of pupils of differing abilities. This was reflected in the usually inadequate schemes of work as well as in what was to be observed in the classroom. Sometimes no scheme existed at all. One inner city 11-18 school will suffice to illustrate this in its most extreme form: little was being done to challenge able pupils; no attempt was being made to cater for the wide range of ability; more often than not all pupils, irrespective of ability, were exposed to the same commercially-produced course; language lessons were noisy and sometimes quite out of control; very few pupils continued beyond the option stage, and even these were relatively unsuccessful in public examinations. In another inner city school, which had a large proportion of coloured children, a traditional course was watered down to some extent, but no attention was given to stressing particular language skills; again, the abler pupils were unchallenged, and French was dropped by large numbers at the earliest possible moment. In another school in the same area, where there were many children for whom English was the first foreign language, the work in French was narrowly conceived and entailed a conventional grammatical progression quite beyond their comprehension or command; a greater emphasis on the receptive skills would clearly have been far more appropriate.

The general failure to differentiate objectives according to pupils' abilities and needs characterised the majority of schools, whether they attempted to produce homogeneous teaching-groups or not, but with only one or two exceptions the situation was even less satisfactory where the language was taught to mixed ability groups. In an 11-14 school in the Midlands, for example, most of the time in the first and second years was being spent on repetition, reproduction or slight modification of language items presented by the textbook or the teacher. This served the purpose of holding together mixed ability groups for the two years, but unity was obviously being achieved at the expense of quality. The most able pupils remained unchallenged, and if the average and below-average were not actually

[page 15]

discouraged, neither were they in any way inspired. The need to cater for a wide ability-range in every teaching group, even in the final (third) year, was producing a very low common denominator of language achievement. In another 11-14 school, this time in the West country, which had mixed ability classes, standards were low in French and German, with the ablest pupils being held back by the restless and demanding less able children. In an 11-18 school in the Midlands, the slow pace entailed by the class-based approach to mixed ability groups in the first two years demanded, but was not yet receiving, a faster pace in later years, with consequent underperformance by examination candidates. In another school in the Midlands, there was so little attempt at differentiation in the first and second year mixed ability groups that there was a perceptible loss of interest; pupils were finding it impossible to adapt to the extra pace required in the third year and so the drop-out rate at the option stage was enormous.

On the relatively rare occasions where a genuine attempt was made to match objectives to pupils' needs, it resulted, for the less able pupil, in an approach based on topics and situations rather than on the systematic acquisition of an increasingly complex command of the language. This approach entailed a considerable emphasis on the receptive skill of aural comprehension. However, while much of what has been recorded so far in this chapter concerns the average and less able pupils, there is grave cause for concern about what was happening to the more able. In general, their very considerable powers of aural comprehension remained largely undeveloped; they were not taught to speak the language with flexibility and discrimination but tended to operate mechanically at a low and often trivial level; they were not taught the invaluable skill of rapid silent reading; and written work, instead of requiring personal and lively self-expression, was all too often dull, mechanical and undemanding. Furthermore, these pupils were rarely taught to use their initiative, to exercise their powers of analysis and generalisation, to ask as well as answer questions, to seek information for themselves, or to report orally or in writing on what they had discovered or felt. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the average sixth-former encountered was unenterprising, had seldom read any books outside his prescribed texts, and was not usually required to undertake a rapid reading even of these before detailed (and often tedious) textual study was embarked on.


In view of the widespread under-performance of pupils of all levels of ability it may be useful to sum up the features which characterised the teaching that so many of them received and the way in which they were learning one or more modern languages. First and foremost, the objectives set before the pupils were often unsuitable, insufficiently challenging in one or more of the four skills for the abler pupils, and making unrealistic demands on the less able. The importance of establishing priorities for pupils with differing capacities and needs and of thus developing those skills which were within their scope was rarely recognised. The attainment of a good oral standard was frequently made impossible owing to the excessive use of English by teacher and pupil. Many lessons seen lacked pace and variety

[page 16]

and few demanded active participation, hard work and the use of initiative. Some teachers sought to raise standards by reverting to more traditional language work (grammatical analysis, translation, etc), but in all but one or two instances this was ineffectively implemented and standards remained low. Modern language teaching too often took place in a vacuum. Pupils were expected to learn the language but knew little - or little of any significance - about the people who speak it, their country and way of life. It is true that the diet of many of the less able pupils, especially after the first year, tended to include increasing amounts of background/European/French/German studies, but the content of these had often not been thought out carefully and the pupils were acquiring miscellaneous and unenlightening information. Furthermore, too many lessons took place in rooms with no flavour of the foreign country: no posters, pictures, Realien, pupils' work - nothing, in short, to stimulate their language learning or to give added meaning to topics currently being studied.

Much of what has been recorded in the preceding paragraph applies to sixth form work as well - for two main reasons. First, pedestrian, over-cautious teaching and the natural eagerness to ensure good examination results combined to produce patterns of work in which the student was instructed rather than stimulated, encouraged narrowly to follow the examination programme rather than to extend his latent powers of independent work and thought. (There is no reason to suppose that some of these limitations are not to be found in other advanced-level classes in modern languages, wherever they may be situated.) A concomitant of this teaching style was inadequate use of the foreign language, and this was particularly prevalent in advanced courses, at a stage when one might have expected the foreign language to be the principal vehicle of communication. Secondly, teachers frequently failed to fit the work to the student, omitting to lake full account of previous studies and offering precisely the same educational diet to all students despite a wide range of ability and a diversity of interests. This tendency was even more marked in sixth form colleges, where freedom of choice and a wide range of options often resulted in a heterogeneous set of students who would have been eager and able to carry out independent work if the opportunity had been offered. In short, rare was the student who read widely, checked information or opinions, used the language laboratory as a 'library', or expressed his own views in speech or writing rather than regurgitating what he had learnt from textbook or teacher.

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4 Staffing and Support for Teachers

Quality of staffing is clearly a major factor influencing the quality of modern language learning. By means of the questionnaire it was possible to collect factual information on such matters as the number of teachers employed, their initial qualifications, their scale of pay, their age and their years of service in the school. Through discussion during the visit HM Inspectors obtained supplementary information on the extent and effectiveness of in-service support from various sources. Finally, by observation and subjective judgement, an attempt was made to assess the quality of work achieved.

The 83 schools in the sample had 471 teachers of modern foreign languages, although by no means all of these were devoting the whole of their time to the subject. In the 9-13 middle schools, for example, many of the teachers were spending only a quarter or a fifth of their time on languages. The majority of the teachers were women.

The difficulty of recruiting language teachers figured regularly in discussions between HM Inspectors and the heads of schools. In a few instances advertised posts remained unfilled at the time of the enquiry. More often the number of teaching periods or teaching groups, or both, was being restricted to match the time of the staff available. Past instability of staff was not uncommonly mentioned as a source of present difficulties. In this respect the small department is, of course, particularly vulnerable. For example, after a series of changes one department had four teachers with an average age of 25; in another, three full-time linguists had in total only 15 months' experience in the school at the time of visiting.

It was found that 17 per cent of heads of department were under 31 years old; 39 per cent were aged 31-40; and 44 per cent were in the 41-65 bracket.

Almost exactly half the teachers were trained graduates with a degree in a modern foreign language. A further 12 per cent were language graduates without professional training. Nearly 30 per cent had been trained in colleges of education: of these two-thirds were either graduates who had taken a language as main subject in their BEd, or teachers whose Certificate of Education courses had included a language as main subject. (Native speakers totalled 4.5 per cent.)

As might be expected, language qualifications varied significantly from one category of school to another. Modern language graduates tended to predominate in institutions where there were older pupils and a substantial amount of public examination work. Sixth form colleges were almost entirely staffed by graduates. In 11-18, 13-18 and 14-18 schools the majority of the teachers were graduates, whereas in 9-13 and 11-14 schools four out of five were non-graduates.

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Evaluating linguistic and professional qualifications

The working party did not find it easy to establish firm criteria for identifying those who possessed 'adequate' linguistic qualifications for the work they were doing. It was possible for trained graduate specialists to feel insecure at sixth-form level, while a certain number of teachers with minimal paper qualifications were doing excellent work with younger pupils; usually these had benefited from recent in-service training. In general, a specialised university or college course was a safe indicator of fluency in the languages studied, but some competent linguists were being forced by circumstances to operate in relatively unfamiliar tongues.

It would be a well-nigh impossible task to relate classroom success to initial professional training. As has already been indicated, only a small proportion of the teachers seen were entirely without such training. It would not be possible to say how far those who had been trained had been prepared for the teaching situation in which they now found themselves. Certainly many teachers gave evidence of a need for continuing in-service support, and HM Inspectors felt that in nearly half the schools a majority of the staff were in serious difficulties in their endeavours to ensure that their pupils worked at a satisfactory level.

There are many ways in which the language teacher benefits from the support of others. He looks to the local education authority (LEA), the head and senior staff to provide suitable accommodation, groups of reasonable size, adequate and well distributed time and appropriate equipment. These matters are dealt with elsewhere in the report. This chapter is concerned with more direct, specific guidance, help and encouragement.

Key position of head of department

Of the 83 schools included in the survey 74 had a designated head of department; all but two of the exceptions were middle schools. Sixty-nine of the holders of this post of responsibility were on scale 3, 4 or above.* Experience during the survey makes HM Inspectors more than ever convinced that the head of department is a key figure, the most important single factor governing the quality of language work in a school. His effectiveness is seen above all in the help and guidance which he gives to his colleagues.

The ideal head of department would have formulated, in consultation with colleagues, a programme of work which spelt out realistic objectives and indicated how these might be achieved within the limitations imposed by the ability of pupils, by school organisation and by the availability of equipment. He would give his colleagues day-to-day help in implementing the scheme of work, seeing them teach and being seen by them, where this would help. He would encourage their attendance at in-service courses. He would keep in touch with the pupils' progress by means of a record system which took into account all facets of the work done and the full range of pupil ability. He would liaise with contributory or receiving schools. Inside his own department he would communicate readily and regularly with other language teachers, encouraging them to develop and share their own ideas and, where necessary, the material to put those ideas into practice. He would see that work was fairly distributed, taking his share of difficult classes and not being afraid to delegate administrative tasks, so that junior teachers could

*On the Burnham Scale in operation at the time.

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begin to assume responsibility as soon as they were ready for it. Most important of all, he would show by his own attitude and approach that there was a worthwhile job to be done and that its accomplishment was not impossible. A small proportion of the departments visited had leaders who came close to this ideal.

Almost every feature of the above portrait implies support for the junior teacher. It is sad to have to record that in something like 60 per cent of the survey schools such support was lacking to a significant extent. Often, of course, the head of department himself was handicapped by lack of free time, by the problem of working in premises on split sites, by an unhelpful timetable, and in a minority of cases by youth and inexperience. But even when due allowance is made for these problems, HM Inspectors were forced to conclude that many heads of department showed little awareness of the responsibilities they bore beyond the walls of their own classroom. Consequently many young and some older teachers were left to flounder on their own when help ought to have been at hand, and others saw their ideas and talents go unrecognised.

Other support for languages

The extent and nature of LEA support varied so greatly that no generalised statement is likely to be fair to all. Some authorities had no modern language adviser, although in most of these a non-specialist had some general responsibility for this area of school work. Others offered linguists help in very many forms: conventional courses, working groups at teachers' centres, inter-school liaison committees, libraries of resource materials, assistance with foreign travel for both pupils and teachers and, in some areas, help within the classroom. In most cases help of this last type was thinly spread and in a few schools it was reported that the adviser had not visited for a considerable period of time. Doubtless the attitude of the head of the school and the head of department greatly influenced the amount and type of help which the adviser could give. Some teachers appeared not to use the outside support that was available. The impact of advisers can be considerable, but it is clear that their opportunities for getting to the root of teaching and learning problems are often restricted.

Only in a very few instances was the head of the school mentioned as a source of direct inspiration and help to the language teacher. His functions in the overall organisation and leadership of the school (see Chapter 5) were, of course, vital but he generally seemed to refrain from anything that might have been construed as 'interference' with the work of the head of department, preferring to react to the latter's initiatives. In a few cases the policy of noninterference possibly went too far. The duties and responsibilities of the head of department seemed rarely to have been specified, and it did not always appear that the performance of his duties was regularly checked.

Contact with a native speaker can lend reality to language learning and increase the motivation of pupils. Twenty-one of the schools in the survey had no foreign language assistant. Six of these were middle schools. In the remaining 62 establishments there were 57 French assistants (20 shared with other schools), 26 German (18 shared), 13 Spanish (12 shared) and 3 Italian (2 shared).

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Where sharing occurred the assistant's time was usually divided equally between two schools. Pupils taking French beyond the third year found themselves in schools with French assistants in four instances out of every five, whereas those studying other languages were in a similar situation in only half the cases. Only in sixth form colleges was provision in the various languages approximately equal.

Although the survey did not set out to assess the work of assistants, it was evident that many of them had much to offer. Certain language departments succeeded in reaping maximum advantage from their presence but others failed to brief and support them sufficiently; where there were difficulties this was usually the cause.

The questionnaire did not invite information on technical assistants, nor did this topic figure as a major element in subsequent discussions. However, it is clear that many teachers would welcome more ancillary help. The lack of it can certainly diminish the usefulness of such resources as the language laboratory or closed circuit television, and divert teachers from their proper functions.

The picture that emerges from the survey is of a body of teachers - the majority well qualified - who are facing considerable problems in their day-to-day work. Support is available from a number of sources but the less experienced do not always receive the leadership or help which they need.

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5 School Organisation

Although staffing is one of the major factors governing the success or failure of language teaching, its effectiveness is profoundly influenced by internal school organisation, for in the absence of good organisation good teachers inevitably lose much of their impact. The responsibility for the organisation of modern languages in any school is shared by the head of the school and the head of the modern language department, with the former ultimately responsible for all decisions that are taken. The usual practice is for the head (or for a committee acting on his behalf) to concern himself with the allocation of staff and time for language teaching and with the drawing up of the timetable, while the head of department is responsible for the deployment of teachers, for writing a scheme of work, for briefing his departmental staff, for supervising their work and for assessing standards and progress. Since the organisation of a school is directly related to the educational philosophy of the head and his staff and to the policies deriving from such a philosophy, the organisation of the modern language department has to be fitted into the framework of the total school organisation. And since every school traditionally assumes the right to plan its internal arrangements in whatever way it wishes, considerable variation exists from one school to the next. For this reason it is difficult to generalise about the organisation of the 83 schools which constitute the survey sample, but certain features deserve comment.

While most children study a modern language at 11 and 12, there is no agreement on what proportion of a school population should do so. Within the sample it was found that 89 per cent of 11-year-olds and 85 per cent of 12-year-olds were attending language classes. In the third year the proportion was 80 per cent. For pupils of 14 or 15 the foreign language became an optional subject taken only by a minority - by 35 per cent and 33 per cent respectively in the sample.

Pupils who show some aptitude for language learning have the chance in most schools, but not all, to start a second modern language; but once again there is no agreement on when this start should take place. The commonest starting point is at 12 or 13, but in some schools a start is made at 14. In the past, beginners' courses in a new language were sometimes provided in the sixth form, but to judge by the sample, this seems to occur less frequently in the comprehensive school. Within this sample the approximate percentages of pupils studying a second modern language in the second, third, fourth and fifth years of secondary schooling were 9, 14, 9 and 8.*

There is no doubt that a reasonable allocation of time is essential for successful language learning. Though the daily lesson, once traditional, may be hard to fit into a crowded curriculum, it is generally considered by modern language teachers that the minimum

*The relative position of the different modern languages taught is discussed in Chapter 8.

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time-allocation should be four lessons of 40 minutes every week. On this criterion only half the groups in the first and fourth years in secondary schools were allowed sufficient time, and only about 60 per cent of those in the fifth year. The second and third years were even less generously provided for; in the third year fewer than 40 per cent had adequate provision.

Apart from courses at GCE O level the work of the sixth forms, including the sixth form colleges, was very largely limited to A-level courses for students wishing to specialise in languages. There were very few instances of non-specialists continuing their language studies and little opportunity for them to take up a new language.

There has recently been much discussion about the place of mixed ability grouping in comprehensive education. Experiments have shown that the advantages and disadvantages of this form of organisation vary greatly from one subject to another, so that teachers are divided in their attitudes towards it. It can broadly be said that the majority of language teachers view it with disfavour for their own subject. Within the survey 52 per cent of the schools had some degree of setting or streaming for languages from the start of the secondary course; it has to be remembered that even a division into broad bands could still give rise to classes with wide-ranging aptitudes for language learning. The remaining 48 per cent had classes of mixed ability for a shorter or longer period: of these, 8 per cent moved over to more homogeneous grouping before the end of the first year; 21 per cent at the end of the first year; 18 per cent at the end of the second year; and only one school maintained mixed ability teaching in the third year.

In some schools the form of grouping to be adopted was dependent upon overall school policy, so that the language teaching was forced into a pattern of mixed ability teaching whether the language staff considered it desirable or not. But in others - and these appeared to be the more fortunate ones - the timetable was sufficiently flexible to allow the modern language department to adopt a form of setting at the moment when it becomes necessary. This, of course, is more easily achieved in large schools (where there are more teachers) than in the smaller ones.

Opinions differ about the value of attempting to teach a modern language to pupils who need remedial help in English or mathematics. In a number of schools pupils were withdrawn from modern language classes for such remedial teaching but in no case was there any record of their being offered additional help in the modern language when they rejoined their classes. Unless they have some chance to catch up there seems little to be gained by their resuming language instruction.

Time-tabling, group sizes and work schemes

A matter which frequently aroused adverse comment concerned the time-tabling of language lessons. In the early stages of the course particularly, when the teaching is mainly oral, language teaching needs to be intensive and calls for comparatively short lessons, preferably not more than 40 minutes, spaced regularly through the week. Moreover, double periods tended to put greater strain on teachers as well as on the weaker pupils. Thus, in the traditional grammar school the daily language lesson was a more or less standard feature.

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However, this survey revealed a growing tendency in the comprehensive school to adopt the double period for language teaching and to disregard the need to avoid long gaps between lessons. In a high proportion of the schools visited there was an unfavourable distribution of teaching time.

The size of many modern language teaching groups in the fourth, fifth and sixth forms gives cause for concern, particularly in the present financial situation. Local education authorities are rightly anxious to avoid wasteful deployment of staff. However, the need for the survival and future growth of modern languages, together with the variety of purposes and abilities which have to be served, should rule out the use of any over-simple arithmetical yardstick. It cannot, however, be held satisfactory that 21 per cent of fourth year groups and 19 per cent of fifth year groups had fewer than 15 pupils; or that of sixth form groups 42 per cent overall (59 per cent in schools and 16 per cent in sixth form colleges) had fewer than five pupils.

It is generally accepted that one of the most effective ways of co-ordinating the work of teachers is to provide each of them with an up-to-date scheme of work for their subject. Within the survey, although there were a few schools in which, despite the absence of a scheme, a closely knit department worked well as a team, there was in general close correlation between the existence of a good scheme of work and effective teaching. It came as a surprise to find that only just over half of the institutions visited had a written scheme that was reasonably up to date and relevant, and of these only about ten could be regarded as genuinely helpful. It was particularly surprising that none of the sixth form colleges visited had produced a scheme of work.

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6 Material Resources and other Support

In almost a third of the schools the rooms used for modern language teaching were grouped conveniently, an arrangement which facilitates the use of resources and can promote departmental unity. In several of these the accommodation had been designed for the purpose, included appropriate ancillary provision, and could be called a modern language suite.

But more usually, even where there was a small nucleus of designated rooms, at least some (and often a substantial amount) of the teaching took place in general classrooms, which might be scattered and sometimes rather isolated. Such dispersion was particularly pronounced in the seven schools on split sites, where in three cases it had a seriously divisive effect on staff and in one led to poor allocation and distribution of time owing to constraints on the timetable. Many of the rooms lacked facilities such as blackout, or space for display, and some, more seriously, had poor acoustics.

In general, modern language departments were reasonably well equipped. Almost all had their own tape recorders in adequate numbers, or easy access to others. Most had sufficient filmstrip and slide projectors. Overhead projectors and videotape machines were occasionally available. Language laboratories were to be found in half the schools which had pupils aged 14 and over; their incidence in the lower schools was one in seven. It appeared, however, that very limited use was being made of all this equipment in approximately half the schools of the sample; this was particularly disturbing in the case of an aid as important as the tape recorder. Inadequate technical servicing, which was reported in nearly 10 per cent of the schools, may have been a contributory factor in some instances - one language laboratory had not been serviced for seven years.

In the few schools where tape recordings, filmstrips, slides and other supportive materials were in relatively short supply the cause was usually lack of demand from teachers rather than any failure by LEAs to meet stated needs. The great majority of schools were well stocked with such items and some even had a surplus. One school in eight, however, was short of text books for certain age groups or ability ranges, with the result that some pupils had no book at all and had to share, while others had to make do with inappropriate alternatives. The most widespread and marked shortage was of readers and library books, a fact which probably reflected teaching priorities rather than financial stringency.

Visits abroad, and other links

Despite increasing costs many schools succeeded in organising foreign visits, although obviously the number of pupils involved represented only a small proportion of the total. A substantial number of visits were based on pupil exchanges arising either from direct links between schools or from wider contacts between local authorities or groups of teachers and their counterparts abroad.

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Once established, such exchanges occurred at regular intervals. Non-reciprocal visits, depending more on the individual enthusiasms of teachers, were in most cases also regular features. A number of schools arranged day trips, which tended to cater for certain year groups or classes. HM Inspectors were, of course, in no position to judge the full contribution of such foreign travel, but its value in some schools was apparent, especially in terms of motivation. Visits seemed particularly successful when designed to relate to, and to complement, the course itself. It is important not to underestimate the effect of a visit abroad on someone who would otherwise not have made contact with the life of that country.

Other links were on a much smaller scale. There was some correspondence with penfriends and an occasional exchange of materials, including tape recordings. Three schools had French clubs, one of which was very active.

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7 Continuity of Teaching; Assessment; and Records

The 83 schools in the sample provided for eight different age-ranges. In a subject such as a modern language, where continuity of content and method is essential, a change from one school to another is likely to create major difficulties, and these were in fact found to exist to a serious degree.

Of the 55 schools with a starting-age of 11 or 12 almost 60 per cent (32) received pupils who had learned some French at the primary stage. The ground covered varied considerably but was usually very limited. At the same time there were nearly always substantial numbers who had not taken French before. The overwhelming majority of these schools, therefore, started the language again, discounting any previous knowledge. In only seven cases had there been any relevant consultation at all with primary schools. In one school, however, admirable continuity was provided and the teaching of French was built on the firm foundations laid in the primary schools.

Where transfer occurred at 16, both the level of attainment of students entering the sixth form college and the number wishing to continue their study of modern languages were strongly influenced by previous teaching, which varied widely in approach. In only four of the 19 colleges seen had effective liaison been established through a combination of regular meetings, visits, exchanges of staff or the transmission of adequate information. There was only one example of agreement on the materials to be used and on the balance of emphasis within the course. In half the schools contact was infrequent and of very limited value, and a quarter of the schools had no links of any sort.

But it was in school systems with transfer at the age of 13 or 14 that discontinuity took its heaviest toll and in its many forms created the severest obstacle to successful language learning.

Differences of organisation

There was great variety in the organisation of modern language teaching adopted by individual schools within any group of lower schools (9-13 and 11-14) contributing to the same upper school. One 9-13 school taught French for two years and its neighbour for four years, and another group of schools offered courses of one, two, three or four years. In addition there were often different allocations of time, even in courses of the same duration. While two 11-14 schools taught German as a second language, the third one of the group was unable to do so. Further disparity occurred in the 11-14 schools in the composition of teaching groups: in two parallel schools a mixed ability organisation was adopted for two years in one case and for one term in another, and there were two pairs of schools each of which had two years of mixed ability teaching in one school and two years of streaming or banding in the other. The proportion of 11- and 12-year-olds learning French

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in the 21 lower schools varied from 50 per cent to almost 100 per cent, and in one-third of the 9-13 schools up to 50 per cent of the pupils had already discontinued French at the age of 11. Thus the variations of opportunity were very wide indeed.

There were several examples of the use of different courses and materials in parallel lower schools and even more instances of disparate teaching methods with differing priorities, sometimes within a single school. Failure in most cases to achieve uniformity of approach had serious consequences later.

The upper schools had somehow to overcome the variation of experience at the earlier stage and were usually faced with work to be made up if pupils were to reach public examination standards in the remaining five or eight terms. The most common reaction was to adopt a much more formal, grammatical approach, often based on traditional course books, which in itself introduced a further element of discontinuity. Half the schools, all of them 13-18, had resort to even more drastic measures: two began French again from scratch (a third start for some pupils), two required pupils to resume the language even though they might have discontinued it one or two years before, and another regarded the first year as diagnostic. It is worth noting that in modern languages the two-tier systems in the survey sample produced fewer O-level passes in relation to the total number of fifth form pupils than those systems offering an uninterrupted five-year secondary course.

In one area the LEA adviser had introduced and tested materials designed to ease transition from lower to upper schools. In some others liaison was achieved through visits or joint meetings held termly or annually. But while these meetings had their uses they failed to solve the fundamental problems outlined above. In four of the 10 upper schools there was no contact at all with contributory schools, and therefore no attempt to establish continuity.

Record keeping

Effective methods of assessment and recording would have helped to improve matters. But although it was usual for some information to be passed to upper schools, it was rarely based on common criteria of assessment or testing. Some lower schools used the objective tests associated with a published course, usually supplemented by more traditional examinations and subjective assessments. More commonly, however, the information was based on subjective gradings and a variety of tests devised by individual teachers. Sometimes, indeed, the assessment was of general ability rather than of competence in the language. Only two of the upper schools made any attempt through consultation to moderate the assessments they received, and one modern language department had no access to records of any sort. Yet it was on the basis of such inadequate information that important decisions were often made. It usually determined whether a pupil continued French and if so at what level, which in turn might dictate examination objectives in the fifth year. It also often decided which pupils should begin a second modern language.

But it is not only in systems with transfer at 13 or 14 that accurate assessment and the transmission of adequate records are needed. Even where a five-year language course is available within one

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school, pupils have different teachers, are re-grouped according to ability, take a second language or abandon modern language learning altogether. There were, of course, examples of successful practice, some of which are described in Part III of this report, but they were few in number. Many of the shortcomings outlined above existed in schools catering for all age ranges. In general, recorded marks usually related to written work and thus failed to indicate performance in other skills, which for many pupils were of much greater importance. Assessment was rarely standardised or co-ordinated and records gave only a partial picture.


Continuity in all its forms depends upon close working relationships between the teachers concerned. In systems where transfer occurred during the course, the failure to forge adequate (or, in 20 per cent of the schools, any) links with associated schools was the main obstacle to success. Such failure could sometimes be ascribed to an understandable reluctance on the part of individuals to trespass on the territory of others. This difficulty was eased if consultation was initiated and subsequently guided by the local adviser. Even so there were some schools which jealously guarded their so-called autonomy, to the ultimate detriment of their pupils' prospects in modern languages.

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8 Languages other than French

The predominant position of French among the languages taught in English secondary schools has for many years been noted, often with regret. More recently it has been suggested that a number of factors (the introduction of primary school French, comprehensive reorganisation, the establishment of two-tier systems) have militated against the survival, let alone the expansion of other languages.

The incidence of languages other than French is reflected in the information presented below. In considering it, readers should bear in mind what has been said in Chapter 1 about the sample of schools used. The figures quoted are not necessarily representative of the national situation but they should provide useful indications. No information is included about the study of classical languages since these lay outside the terms of reference*. The position of the major modern foreign languages during the years of compulsory secondary schooling (11-16) is perhaps best illustrated by the following table. The year groups involved vary between about 13,000 and 14,000 pupils:

Table 1 Approximate percentages of pupils taking Modern Foreign Language courses in the sample schools (1975-76)

Little comment is needed. Both Spanish and German were learned by only a small minority of the pupil population of the sample but there was a marked difference even between these two after the first year. Numbers taking Italian and Russian were almost negligible.

At the post-16 stage the situation is more complex with a multitude of groups pursuing different targets, sometimes for less than a full year. In addition to those pursuing the traditional A-level course there were others engaged in the final year of an O-level course, retaking O level, 'converting' CSE, starting new languages for O level, or studying languages for recreational purposes. A-level courses remain, however, by far the most substantial commitment of schools at the 16-19 level. The following table, which shows the number of A-level examination entries for the year preceding the survey (1975), thus gives a very general idea of the incidence of languages at this stage. It should be borne in mind that pupils entered for this examination in 1975 will not all necessarily have come through a comprehensive school from the age of 11.

*See Classics in comprehensive schools, No 2 in this series; HMSO, 1976. 1.50 plus postage.

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Table 2 A-level entries in Modern Foreign Languages from the sample schools (summer 1975)

It is not possible to say exactly what proportion of the year group is represented by these figures but they indicate the relative positions of the various languages. The relationship between French and German is similar to that shown for the fifth year in the previous table. Spanish and Russian are better represented at this level, which would seem to suggest that very recently there has been a relative decline in these languages.

Stages of introduction

Every school in the sample taught at least one modern foreign language. Schools with sixth forms tended to offer two languages in the main school and three at the sixth form stage. Only one school had more than three languages, whereas all the sixth form colleges offered four or five. The total range of languages offered includes those shown in the tables and also, in one case, Dutch.

The stage at which languages other than French are introduced into the curriculum is a matter of concern to some, who feel that too late a start is a severe handicap. In 65 of the 66 schools visited which offered pupils their first introduction to modern language study, French figured on the first-year timetable. In the remaining school German was taught. In six schools French was parallel with another language in the first year, and in a seventh school with two other languages. With the exception of one school where Italian was taught, the language involved was German or Spanish. In the majority of schools the number of pupils taking each of the parallel languages was approximately the same. As might be expected, schools adopting this practice were large ones, the average first year intake for 1975-76 being 290. One school introduced French and Spanish as the first modern language in alternate years.

In the main, however, languages other than French came in, if at all, as second or third languages. The following table shows the school year in which this occurred. The different age-ranges involved make the number of schools concerned vary from year-group to year-group.

Table 3 Point of introduction of the Second or Third Language, other than French, in the sample schools (years II-IV)

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The second language tended to be introduced relatively early (second and third years) in 11-16 and 11-18 schools and later (third and fourth years) in those which formed part of two-tier systems. A third modern foreign language was introduced in only 13 schools out of a possible 77 before sixth form level. It is perhaps encouraging to find that the study of a modern language is still not commonly delayed until the start of the fourth year when public examinations lie little more than five terms ahead. Where a fourth year start had to be made, two of the sample schools were experimenting with a three-year course ending in the sixth year. This had something to recommend it although it presented certain organisational and psychological difficulties.


Languages other than French frequently appear in the school curriculum as options, with the advantages and disadvantages that this implies. Pupils and staff have some evidence on which to base their prognosis of future performance, and pupils bring to their new task experience of learning another language. On the other hand option groups may suffer at the hands of those who devise the timetable, and language teachers seen during the survey often had to make do with double or badly distributed teaching periods. This is considered a serious handicap by many who believe that beginners, including older beginners, thrive best on 'little and often'.

Staffing problems and the policy of a common curriculum for all pupils appeared, either singly or in combination, to limit the introduction of a second modern language in lower-tier schools. None of the twelve 9-13 schools and only four of the nine 11-14 schools tackled a language other than French, and in some of the latter group there were reports of staffing difficulties.

General standards

HM Inspectors' comments on the quality of work seen in other languages can be summarised as 'a little better than in French'. The reasons put forward related to the normal status of these as second languages rather than to their simplicity or other intrinsic characteristics. It was felt that pupils benefited from the higher average ability of learning groups, from their 'fresh start' and, in some school systems, from reduced problems of continuity. Where two or three languages were started as parallel first languages in the same school (see page 32) there was no perceptible difference between average performances of pupils studying the different languages.

Examination results tell us little because the learning conditions

Table 4 Average annual O-level and CSE entries and successes in the sample schools (1973-75)

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were so varied and the numbers so small. Average annual O-level and CSE entries and 'passes' from the 56 schools with a fifth form over the years 1973-75 were as shown in Table 4, page 33.

The only fact to emerge clearly is that in these schools in the years indicated no more than a small proportion of the age-group was entered for the first major public examination in a language other than French. Fewer than a third of the pupils concerned achieved a level which might be considered a satisfactory base for advanced study. This is not a situation which should be viewed with complacency.

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Part III

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9 Examples of Good Practice

The object of this section of the report is to bring together some examples of what HM Inspectors considered to be good or significant practice. Inclusion of a particular school does not imply that the conditions of work or the work itself were necessarily good in every respect. Nor is any distinction made in this section between the 83 schools in the survey sample and the 19 which were visited because they were thought to have interesting features.

Four successful schools

(a) In Chapter 2 reference was made to an 11-18 school in the Midlands which had more than 1200 pupils. The modern language department at this school had the use of a partly carpeted suite of six classrooms, a 16-booth language laboratory and two group trainers, a recording studio, a workshop for the school's audio-visual technician, and an office for the head of department. Five of the classrooms were equipped with a tape recorder, a rear projection screen and blackout. The department was able to draw on the services of the technician who, for example, made recordings from radio and television. Films could be borrowed from the local film library. Displays of high quality were to be seen in the classrooms, some of these related to successful exchange schemes with France and Germany. Up-to-date teaching materials were used. The well qualified staff were achieving impressive standards in French and German below the sixth form and were adjusting tho work to the potential of pupils of different levels of ability. Both languages remained popular at the option stage, so that in the fourth year 42 per cent of the pupils were still studying French and 30 per cent German; the corresponding figures for the fifth year were 54 per cent and 33 per cent. A system of continuous assessment was operated: oral and written tests were administered twice a term and grades awarded on a five-point scale and recorded on central record cards - a procedure which appeared to heighten motivation. Liaison with contributory primary schools was good and effective continuity of French teaching was achieved from primary to secondary school. The head of the school and the LEA offered strong support. It is particularly interesting to record that the numbers of boys and girls opting for a modern language in the fourth year were more evenly balanced than is usually the case; in mixed schools the proportion of girls to boys is usually very high.

(b) In an outer London borough an 11-14 school with fewer than 500 pupils had three rooms close to one another for French teaching, each serving as the base for one of the teachers. One room had blinds and the two others overhead projectors and screens. Classroom displays were attractive and included materials for 'shopping'. A considerable amount of material had been prepared for use with the overhead projector and BBC programmes were recorded on to

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video-cassette. The library was well stocked and the department had a wide range of readers, to some of which vocabularies and aids to comprehension had been added. The scheme of work had been carefully devised: aims and objectives were clearly specified; the core content for each year's work was listed; and advice was given on teaching method. The teachers were strongly supported by the head of department and pupils' work was of high quality. A teacher adviser, who also arranged in-service courses at the teachers' centre, had collaborated with the head of department in producing a detailed scheme of work for use in the borough's lower schools. Language teaching rarely involved double periods and there was setting at an early stage.

(c) An 11-18 school in the North-West, with more than 1500 pupils, had a 32-booth language laboratory with an adjacent recording studio, and all the teaching of modern languages, apart from some sixth form work, took place in a self-contained suite of eight rooms away from the main thoroughfare of the school. Three of these were equipped for audio-visual work and had blackout, and all of them had been made to look attractive and interesting. The department had a library of films as well as books and a good range of audio-visual equipment and up-to-date teaching materials. There had been many changes of staff and the quality of the work was variable. Nevertheless, the best of this included good, sustained oral work and some outstanding writing. The head of department provided strong support and guidance. Financial help had been given on the recommendation of the LEA adviser and material support by the teachers' centre. The school had a thriving modern language society and good links with France and Germany. Once again at the option stage the numbers of boys and girls were better balanced than is normal.

(d) An 11-16 school in the Midlands, with nearly 1200 pupils, had new, purpose-built modern language accommodation and was well equipped. Considerable use was made of home-made as well as commercial materials. The high standards of teaching were reflected in the quality of the work, although more could have been asked of the ablest pupils. Nearly 45 per cent of the pupils opted to study French in the fourth year, with the numbers of boys and girls almost equal. The head of department provided strong leadership; fortnightly meetings were held to discuss schemes of work and teaching method and to plan the production of home-made materials.

Schemes of work

It has already been noted that few schools had devised schemes of work which catered effectively for pupils with differing needs and abilities. One 11-18 school in the North-West, on the other hand, had given considerable thought to its scheme. The emphasis in this school was on learning by using the language. Precise linguistic objectives for each year-group and ability-group were agreed by the teachers, who held regular formal meetings for this purpose. Stress was placed upon flexibility within the agreed framework of objectives. Furthermore, internal examinations set by the department were related to the goals which pupils in different ability-groups were

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pursuing. In the quite different setting of an inner city 11-18 school, where there were severe social problems, poor attendance, and many pupils of limited intellectual capacity, and in which only a small proportion studied French, there was nevertheless a well-conceived scheme of work which placed appropriate emphasis on listening comprehension and encouraged a realistic approach to the problem of the written word.

Expectation and achievement

Whatever other educational and social benefits may be conferred by the learning of a modern foreign language, the first requirement is that pupils should be producing work at a level and of a quality appropriate to their potential. Mention has already been made in this chapter of schools in which this was to be found or was evident to a considerable extent. Four more examples may be cited. A 9-13 school in a large colliery village in the North of England was achieving standards which were well above average for middle schools. The pupils showed considerable skill in listening comprehension, were prepared to speak the foreign language, could do so with confidence and enjoyment, and produced accurate written work. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that the professional competence of some of their teachers, whose initial qualifications for teaching French were minimal, was largely attributable to effective in-service training. In an 11-16 school in an Eastern county many of the pupils were being offered suitable objectives and were working to full capacity. Here the modern language was the normal means of communication in the classroom and the services of the foreign assistant were put to varied and constructive use. The modern language was also the principal means of communication in an 11-18 school, where carefully prepared lessons and high expectations were resulting in oral and written work of good quality and a serious attitude to learning. Another 11-18 school was particularly successful both in catering for the less able pupils and in ensuring that the ablest were linguistically stretched. Its scheme of work matched goals to pupils' abilities and worksheets had been devised to cater for a wide range of needs in the mixed ability teaching-groups.

Assessment and records

While the modern language departments visited tended to assess work in an unsatisfactory way and to keep inadequate records of attainment, in a few schools carefully thought-out schemes had been evolved. In an 11-18 school in the Midlands, with nearly 1800 pupils, examinations were held towards the end of the summer term in the first, second and fourth years. In the third year pupils were examined or assessed at the end of the autumn term to provide evidence on which option choices might be based. In the fifth year 'mock' examinations were held. In addition, in the first, fourth and lower sixth years an early warning system was employed in the autumn term: pupils were assessed on a three-point scale and these assessments were followed up by year tutors. Reports were issued immediately after examinations or assessments. There was a record card for each pupil, held by year tutors. The department had devised a system of worksheets at three levels for each chapter in the audio-visual course used and this was providing useful evidence of attainment. In another 11-18 school every teacher had a check-list

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of points to be covered in each of the ability-bands. The teachers kept notes of such coverage and progress was discussed at regular formal and informal departmental meetings. In a very large school in the South Midlands, the teacher in charge of German had developed a procedure whereby pupils were encouraged to improve upon their own performance rather than to compete with each other. In another school a particular feature of the policy governing setting arrangements and entry to second language courses was the opportunity for pupils to assess themselves. It appeared that this system was operating successfully and that it was rarely necessary to place a pupil in a higher or lower set than the one to which he had allocated himself.


Continuity of French teaching between primary and secondary schools, to ensure that pupils did not begin the subject again in the secondary school, was extremely rare. Mention has been made of one outstanding exception, however, and another was found in the North-West, a secondary school with more than 1300 pupils taking children from 11 primary schools, in all of which French was taught and with which there was close and effective liaison. The standard of oral work achieved was high and there was general evidence of confidence acquired at the primary stage. In the fourth and fifth years, three-fifths of the pupils were opting to continue their French studies: having begun French in the primary school, they were reluctant to give it up after five or more years without a qualification. The staff had benefited from the help of the modern language adviser, who had provided materials, and of a teacher-adviser, who had advised on teaching methods.

Continuity in school systems where the change of school takes place at the age of 13 or 14 years is discussed in Chapter 7. In an outer London borough, which organised liaison meetings in all subjects, strong links existed between a 13-18 school and the three principal schools from which its pupils came, entailing reciprocal visiting by staff and a termly visit by the head of department to each middle school to discuss pupils' achievement and attitudes. In this borough, foreign assistants were shared by upper and middle schools. In another 13-18 school in the North-East the head of department had close links with the contributory middle schools, whose ratings he studied carefully so as to achieve more reliable setting of pupils when they reached his school.

Heads of department

The importance of the role of the head of department is underlined in Chapter 4. In one large 11-18 school, where all the teachers of modern languages were inexperienced, the head of department capitalised on their considerable enthusiasm and willingness to work hard by giving them strong support and enlightened guidance. In another school of the same size the head of department not only involved his colleagues in the formulation of policy and the development of teaching materials, but sensibly delegated certain of his responsibilities. A new head of department in a 9-13 school attended some of the lessons given by her inexperienced colleagues, invited them to see her teach and arranged regular departmental meetings.

Some schools were particularly fortunate in the support they received from their local education authority, whether by extra

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allocation of funds for the purchase of books or equipment, the help of a specialist adviser, or the use of a teachers' centre. A modern language department in the Midlands was benefiting in all three ways, having received special grants in addition to its normal share of the school's capitation allowance and having been able to borrow materials from the authority's language centre; members of the department had attended a number of conferences and courses organised by the modern language adviser. Mention was made earlier of the outer London borough which arranged liaison meetings to ensure effective continuity from middle to upper school. In 9-13 and 13-18 schools in this borough, it was very clear that the teachers were benefiting from material help, local in-service courses and advice in the classroom. The head of department in an inner city school was making considerable use of her LEA's extensive resources, including an experimental multi-media French course; she had attended a three-week refresher course organised in France by the Authority's advisers as well as in-service courses in the city itself. A middle school in the North was making good use of resources available from a teachers' centre, and an 11-18 school in the North-West was using materials produced under the leadership of a project officer at a teachers' centre.

Foreign links

In a middle school in the West Country motivation for learning French was said to be increased by the school's involvement in a town-twinning arrangement: annual visits to France had been made for many years and use was made of maisons de jeunesse rather than hotels. In an outer London borough twinned with a French département a 13-18 school had a flourishing exchange link with a collège d'enseignement secondaire. The French assistant came from the same area. Plans were being made in this borough for its youth orchestra to visit France and for exchanges of science and art teachers. An 11-18 school in the South-West made au pair arrangements in France and Spain for its sixth-formers. Forty-five boys from an inner city school had spent three days in Normandy during the autumn term, the cost being subsidised from an LEA block grant. It was proposed, too, to take a substantial number of the boys on a day-trip to the French port which figures in the authority's experimental multi-media French course. A school in the South was arranging one-term exchanges with France and Germany.

Unusual provision

Two schools whose provision for languages other than French was exceptional deserve mention here. An 11-18 school had previously, as a grammar school, achieved a reputation for its teaching of Chinese. It was interesting to see that half the pupils in the third year had opted to study a second modern language and that they could choose from Chinese, German and Russian. An 11-18 school in South Yorkshire, with nearly 1900 pupils, had a form of organisation which gave equal standing to French, German and Spanish. Each of the three ability bands took one of these languages in annual rotation, an element of French being included every year to accommodate mid-course entrants from other schools. Allocation to bands was dependent on a linguistic aptitude test, and many pupils in the top band took up a second language in the third year.

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Much of this chapter has been devoted to the conditions in which language teaching was carried out, or to the way in which it was organised in the schools visited. Limitations of space, as well as the need to respect the anonymity of individual teachers, make it impossible to give detailed examples of successful practice within the classroom. The working party nevertheless acknowledges that it is classroom practice and relationships which above all determine success or failure. A few of the principles which it is felt should direct such activities are indicated in the next chapter.

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Part IV

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10 The Future

The size and nature of the survey sample allows certain general conclusions to be drawn about the teaching of modern foreign languages in comprehensive schools. This report has shown clearly that the achievement of the 83 schools in the sample is in no way commensurate with the human and physical resources devoted to the work. In particular, the low proportion of pupils who continue language studies beyond the age of 14 gives cause for serious concern.


Some of the circumstances which govern the learning of modern languages are beyond our control: our history, our geography and the position of English as an increasingly acknowledged world language are factors that we have to accept. Motivation to learn foreign languages is thus inevitably less strong for a British pupil than (say) for a Dutch, German or even a French pupil. Moreover, in most countries in Western Europe the study of at least one modern language is compulsory up to school-leaving age and often beyond, whereas in English schools it is usually optional after the age of 14. It is therefore important to recognise the particular difficulties faced by language teachers in this country as a result of these constraints. Nevertheless, we are committed to close union with our European neighbours and are heavily dependent on international trade for our survival so that there are practical as well as cultural reasons for seeking to raise the national level of linguistic proficiency.

Need for less diverse forms of organisation

One of the most striking features of the survey was the haphazard and infinitely varied provision for language learning encountered as one moved from school to school. With the present mobility of population it is highly desirable that there should be less diversity of provision so that administrators, heads, teachers, parents and pupils are enabled to make certain basic assumptions about the opportunities that pupils will be offered. Discussions involving central government, local authorities and the teaching profession, followed by firm action locally, could be a means of effecting a more rational distribution of language opportunities in schools and colleges and of securing agreement about the length and purpose of basic courses. It is important, too, that the content of initial and in-service teacher training courses should take account of national and regional needs.

Predominance of French

The predominance of French in our schools is welcomed by some and contested by others. A case can certainly be made for having a common first modern language in order to reduce the problems of transfer from school to school, with other languages being taught only as second languages. This would indeed be one way of rationalising the provision for modern foreign languages in schools. An

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alternative (where there is more than one school) would be a scheme ensuring the permanent provision of a variety of first languages in specified schools in a given area. In the search for a solution to this problem it is important that the personal preferences of heads, teachers and administrators should not be allowed to overshadow either the needs of pupils or the interests of the nation.

Any plan to improve modern language provision will have repercussions upon the internal organisation of schools. At present too many pupils - and particularly boys - give up language study prematurely in the middle of a course designed to continue until the age of 16 without having achieved any of its objectives. It is of paramount importance that boys and girls capable of benefiting from an appropriate course should be identified at an early stage, and that once embarked on the course they should only exceptionally be permitted to abandon it. These pupils are likely to be found in the top third of the ability-range. On the other hand, the shorter courses followed by the remaining pupils will need to be complete in themselves, offering worthwhile and attainable goals.

LEA support

Important decisions, too, will need to be taken by LEAs on matters affecting the efficiency of language teaching, such as the extent and nature of advisory support; the facilities available to teachers and pupils for contact with native speakers either abroad or, through the presence of language assistants, in the school; and the provision of equipment and its proper maintenance. LEAs have a particular responsibility for ensuring that, when pupils transfer from one school to another, there is genuine continuity of work and a proper progression. This will entail the organisation of meetings and contacts between schools and the transmission of records.

It is helpful if LEA advice to schools can operate at three levels. First, heads of schools will often need guidance on the organisational implications of modern language provision and teaching. This will ensure that the first modern language has a proper allocation and distribution of time in the timetable and that, at the option stage and in the sixth form, the pattern of subjects offered does not militate against the interests of modern languages. Secondly, heads of department can often benefit from the guidance of LEA advisers in the running of their departments. And thirdly, advisers can be of considerable help to the teacher in the classroom, whether he be a probationer learning the craft of teaching or a senior teacher needing to keep up to date and to adjust himself to change. It is important to remember, however, that advisers can operate effectively only if their advice is rooted in regular and substantial observation of classroom practice. Given such experience they are in a position to identify needs and either to provide the necessary guidance themselves or to direct teachers to other sources.

Many advisers devote considerable time and effort to organising contacts with the foreign country, whether through correspondence, exchanges, school journeys or working parties. It is to be hoped that LEAs will do all in their power to ensure that this valuable element in the motivation of pupils is not only available but used to maximum effect. No less vital is the language assistant scheme which not only benefits the schools to which assistants are allocated but provides

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an important element in the training of future language teachers.

Support within the school

At school level, the head and his senior colleagues will need to be aware of the implications of decisions concerning the provision for modern foreign languages. They should ensure that the organisation of the timetable is compatible with the needs of language learners. Thus (a) the amount of time for language learning should be adequate; (b) it should be appropriately distributed over the week; (c) while it may be necessary in the very early stages for language classes to cover the complete or a very wide range of ability, a more homogeneous grouping will be required for the greater part of the course. In addition to a suitable organisational framework, physical working conditions favourable to language learning will be needed. An appropriate number of suitably equipped specialist rooms with good acoustic conditions will be required, preferably close to each other so that equipment can be readily shared. This question of accommodation becomes even more important where school buildings are on two or more sites.

The head of department occupies a position of crucial importance and usually holds the key to success. It is therefore desirable that his duties and responsibilities should be clearly specified so that they are known to everyone concerned. It is his responsibility, in consultation with his colleagues, to draw up an appropriate scheme of work and to supervise its implementation. He should see his colleagues at work and invite them into his own classroom, devise an effective record system and appropriate methods of assessment, organise departmental meetings, and ensure that the work of the foreign assistant(s) is suitably conceived and integrated with that of the department. Where pupils have started a modern language in other schools, the head of department must establish the necessary links so as to acquire information about pupils' progress and any difficulties that may have been encountered.

Differentiated objectives

Much of the under-performance revealed in this report results from a tacit assumption that all pupils studying a modern language have basically the same needs. It is abundantly clear, however, that such an assumption is not only false but has unfortunate, often distressing, consequences for many of them. The scheme of work drawn up by the head of department should take account of the needs and potential of the pupils in his school and therefore, in addition to stating overall aims, should specify precise objectives for pupils of different ages and abilities. While schemes will clearly vary according to the needs of pupils in different schools, the following guidelines are suggested.

The ablest pupils - those who would normally take and pass a GCE O-level examination - should reach high standards in all four skills: in the understanding and use of the spoken word, in reading and in writing. They should thus be able to understand a native speaker at near-normal speed in the common situations of ordinary everyday life, and to read, for gist or detailed understanding as appropriate, newspapers, magazines and texts, including simpler works of contemporary literature and studies of society. They should be reasonably fluent and accurate in speech in any situation which

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they can normally be expected to encounter abroad and also able to talk to some extent about their own interests, feelings and ideas. They should be able to write with a measure of accuracy and fluency about their families, homes and interests and have some skill both in letter-writing and in narrative and descriptive composition. Other pupils engaged on a course designed to continue until the age of 16 would also aim at some mastery of all four skills. For these, however, listening comprehension would not extend to abstractions and reading might be limited to popular newspapers or magazines, advertisements, formal and informal letters, and possibly adapted foreign texts. In speech and writing they would cover much the same ground as the ablest pupils but would work at a less sophisticated level; while a willingness to speak, and reasonable fluency, would be expected of them, the occasional error would be accepted. Pupils following shorter courses would also pursue different goals according to their needs and aptitudes. The abler of them should be able to understand a native speaker using familiar language at near-normal speed, to read letters, notices and simple foreign texts, to ask and respond to specific questions of a 'phrasebook' nature, and to write simple letters about themselves. The least able pupils should be able to understand concrete, elementary, everyday language used in a number of specified situations, be capable of recognising the names of shops, labels, products and signs, and have a very limited 'phrasebook' command of the language; in most circumstances they would communicate by using English; writing would serve only as an aid to memorising and therefore would not in itself constitute a goal. The language work would be part of a course designed to stimulate lively curiosity about, and some feeling for, the people of the country.

The scheme of work should be equally explicit about the needs of sixth-formers. Indeed, it will not be possible to ensure the existence of a cadre of able linguists unless sixth form modern language studies are in a healthy state. The report has shown that much needs to be done. As long ago as 1970 Schools Council Working Paper 28, New patterns in sixth form modern language studies, made radical suggestions for the reform of the sixth form modern language curriculum and examinations. Its recommendations included a request for increased attention to listening comprehension, a more enlightened approach to the skill of reading, and a proposal that there should be not only main courses for those wishing to specialise, but also continuation and beginners' courses for pupils taking other main subjects. The criticisms made in the working paper are still valid today but its recommendations remain largely unimplemented. It is essential that pupils who have studied a modern language before entering the sixth form and achieved a measure of success should have the opportunity to pursue these studies within the sixth form. Such courses might range over all four language skills or be aimed at developing one or more of them. Similarly, when pupils want to start on a new language, courses with suitable goals should be made available. For sixth-formers studying a modern language as a main subject, greater attention should be given to developing the ability to understand the language spoken in a wide variety of registers, to read widely and with

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discrimination, to use their initiative, and to think critically.

An integral part of all language learning is a study of the people whose language is being learnt and of their culture. Such studies should proceed from the known to the unknown, from the familiar to the less familiar. All pupils should learn to consult appropriate sources: the abler in particular should learn to use foreign as well as English sources and should have the opportunity to develop their powers of discrimination and selection and their ability to draw conclusions from evidence. In the sixth form such studies remain important, both in their own right and as background to the study of foreign literature, so that literary works may be set in a wider social context.

This chapter has indicated various way in which the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages can be improved. Nevertheless, whatever else may be needed for pupils to achieve their full potential, it cannot be too strongly stressed that hard work is indispensable.


1. It should be recognised that, whatever support may or should be available, the effective learning of a modern foreign language demands a competent, conscientious, enlightened teacher who recognises that hard work on his own and on his pupils' part is an essential ingredient of success.

2. The key to successful teamwork within a school and to the effective use of human and material resources is the head of department. It is recommended that his duties and responsibilities should be clearly specified. These will include drawing up a detailed scheme of work and supervising and supporting his colleagues.

3. Pupils capable of following and benefiting from a modern language course designed to continue until the age of 16 should be identified at an early stage and, once embarked on such a course, should be given every encouragement to complete it. Other pupils should at least follow a shorter course which is complete in itself. Precise linguistic objectives should be determined for pupils following the longer and the shorter courses. These should be realistic, taking account of the pupils' aptitudes and needs, and should place greater stress upon the listening and reading skills than has hitherto been the case.

4. The rigour and quality of advanced level work in the sixth form should be improved and suitable courses made available for non-specialists who may wish to continue the study of a language in which they have already achieved a measure of success or to start a new language.

5. Support from outside the school should he co-ordinated in order to (a) help heads of departments and other teachers to do their work effectively, for example, by a well planned in-service training programme and observation of work in the classroom; (b) give guidance to heads and others on the organisational

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requirements of language teaching, taking into account national and local resources; (c) facilitate the provision of suitable courses; (d) ensure that all pupils, both boys and girls, who can benefit from a course up to the age of 16 will follow one.

6. The national picture could be significantly improved if a more rational distribution of opportunities for language learning and some agreement about the length and purposes of language courses could be achieved. This requires discussion and consultation among teachers, schools and local education authorities, taking into account the wide range of interests represented by potential users of our linguists. The picture would also improve if the content of initial and in-service teacher training courses were to take account of regional and national needs. At local, regional and national levels the improvements sought need to be based on dissemination of interesting and lively practice of the kind observed in some of the schools visited.

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The Sample of 83 Schools

Note: Schools are mixed except where otherwise indicated (b = boys; g = girls)