QCA PROJECT TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF INTRODUCING THE TEACHING OF A MODERN
FOREIGN LANGUAGE INTO THE STATUTORY CURRICULUM AT KS2 (JUNE 2000 - MARCH 2001)
This report was submitted to the Secretary of State for Education in March 2001.
1. Summary of outcomes and conclusions
1.1 The task
Following the review of the National Curriculum (1998-99) the Secretary of State for Education and Employment
identified six areas for future curriculum development. In particular he asked QCA to investigate the feasibility of
introducing the teaching of a modern foreign language (MFL) into the statutory curriculum at key stage 2. This
report sets out the details of what we have done, the outcomes of the work and the conclusions we have
1.2 The feasibility of introducing MFL into the statutory curriculum at key stage 2
The feasibility study revealed a generally supportive attitude to teaching MFL in primary schools and some
evidence of good practice. (See section 8 of this report) However, the study also made it clear that the resources
and infrastructure necessary to support any scaling up of existing provision are not sufficiently well developed to
sustain the introduction of a national entitlement for all pupils. (See section 3 of this report) We therefore advise
against the extension of statutory requirements for modern foreign languages into key stage 2 at the present
1.3 Preparing for possible future expansion
Should Ministers wish to prepare for future expansion in provision, we believe that more evidence is needed
about which approaches to teaching MFL at key stage 2 offer the most benefits to pupils and could most easily
be replicated on a wider basis. We therefore advise that the continued programme of development coordinated
by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT), announced on 2 March, should
include, in particular, an evaluation of different approaches with a view to establishing which best promote pupils’
learning and have the potential for scaling up to a national level. Such an evaluation should encompass three
current organisational approaches to the provision of MFL at key stage 2:
individual primary schools;
clusters of primary schools working in partnership with a Language College or other secondary school;
schemes co-ordinated and supported by LEAs.
As part of this evaluation, specific attention should also be paid to the extent to which schools are making use of
the non-statutory guidelines and the QCA/DfEE scheme of work for MFL in key stage 2, and how appropriate
1.4 Developing the infrastructure
If any future expansion of MFL provision at key stage 2 is to be considered, in addition to the need for more
evidence about the effectiveness of different approaches, our study has pointed to the need for a range of
preparatory measures. (The contingent issues and constraints are considered in greater detail in sections 4-7 of
We advise that the following work would need to be undertaken by central agencies:
1. raise awareness of the potential contribution of MFL to pupils’ education at key stage 2. (See section 4 of
this report) (This could be achieved by publicising the development work already undertaken, including the
production of the QCA/DfEE scheme of work for MFL in key stage 2, and by disseminating relevant findings
from the QCA feasibility study and the Good Practice Project.)
2. conduct a detailed audit of the availability of teachers (either in the current system or inactive) who could
teach MFL in key stage 2, taking into account the continuing shortage of MFL teachers in secondary schools.
(See sections 5.2 and 5.5 of this report)
3. review training opportunities, both pre-service and in-service, to teach MFL in key stage 2. (See section 6 of
this report) (The limited provision of postgraduate primary initial teacher training places for MFL could be
extended, with larger numbers made available in September 2002 and beyond. The current pilot scheme
could be extended to cover undergraduate training courses. Over the next 4-5 years the supply of qualified
primary teachers able to teach MFL could be substantially increased through these measures. The
availability and accessibility of suitable in-service training could be increased through funding either to
subsidise course costs or to release teachers from 2002 onwards.)
4. develop and trial ways of recording and transferring information about MFL learning in key stage 2 in order to
ensure pupils’ progress and curriculum continuity in key stage 3. (See section 7.1 of this report) (The starting
point for this could be an investigation of how the Common Transfer Form could be adapted to include
information about MFL.)
2.1 Prior developments
The survey of schools with pupils in key stage 2 conducted on behalf of QCA by the University of Warwick in the
autumn of 2000 indicated that approximately 21% of schools with key stage 2 are currently offering some form of
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MFL provision. The survey further showed that in maintained middle schools the provision of MFL from Year 7
onwards, a legal requirement of schools, is often extended to Year 6 and below. The survey confirmed that in
independent primary and preparatory schools provision of MFL is much more common, with teaching starting as
early as Nursery and Reception.
The number of maintained primary schools with MFL provision may have declined slightly over the past few
years. (The Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) Modern Languages Survey of
1994 suggested a figure of 22%.) The reason for this decline is most likely to be shortage of curriculum time, with
schools concentrating on the core National Curriculum subjects of English, mathematics and science, particularly
in order to raise pupils’ performance in National Curriculum tests. This was the most frequently quoted reason
given by those primary schools in the survey which had ceased teaching MFL in key stage 2 in the past five
years. The introduction of the national strategies to support the teaching of literacy and mathematics has put
further pressure on time. In the survey responses from primary schools it emerged that 1998 (the year when the
National Literacy Strategy: framework for teaching was introduced) saw the highest percentage of schools
ceasing to teach MFL in key stage 2. The other principal reason for a school to have stopped teaching MFL was
the departure of a specialist teacher. In this case it must be presumed that either the specialist teacher could not
be replaced or it was decided for some other reason that MFL would no longer be included in the curriculum.
Provision of MFL in key stage 2 varies considerably from one region to another and within a region. This variation
reflects LEA initiatives to promote MFL in primary schools or the fact that it is seen as a curriculum priority by
individual head teachers. In many areas provision has been extended recently by Language Colleges as part of
their outreach activities for primary schools.
In the National Curriculum Handbook for primary teachers (1999) new non-statutory guidelines for modern
foreign languages at key stage 2 were included for the first time. These were published for the benefit of those
primary schools that are already teaching or planning to teach a modern foreign language. They were designed
to provide a national framework for curriculum provision and in anticipation of the possibility that more primary
schools might use the greater flexibility of the revised National Curriculum to introduce MFL.
Additional support and guidance were provided through the non-statutory QCA/DfEE scheme of work for key
stage 2 (September 2000) which contains a full scheme with 12 detailed units for French, and exemplar units for
German and Spanish.
In March 1999 the DfEE announced an Early Language Learning initiative, to be managed by CILT. Part of this
initiative is the Good Practice Project, involving about 150 schools. These have provided models of provision
referred to in this report. (See Section 9).
The Nuffield Languages Inquiry (1998-2000), funded by the Nuffield Foundation, included among its many
recommendations the proposal that: “The government should declare a long-term commitment to early language
learning by setting up a national action programme for languages in primary school education”. It drew attention
to the fact that this has become part of education policy in several other European countries.
2001 is the European Year of Languages, which aims to raise awareness of the advantages of language
competence. It is therefore a propitious moment to consider increasing the provision of MFL in maintained
2.2 The QCA feasibility study
Following the review of the National Curriculum (1998-99) the Secretary of State for Education and Employment
identified six areas for future curriculum development, including the feasibility of introducing the teaching of a
modern foreign language (MFL) into the statutory curriculum at key stage 2.
QCA was asked to investigate this, with particular focus on:
the type and scope of teacher training needed to ensure successful implementation;
attainment and progression into key stage 3.
The study had three main strands, all of which contribute to this report:
an analysis of national and international research and current literature on the provision of MFL in primary
a survey of the current provision of MFL in primary schools in England;
consideration of the DfEE Early Language Learning initiative, in particular the Good Practice Project.
The analysis of research (Appendix 3) was produced by the University of Reading. The focus was the teaching of
MFL in primary schools over the past 35 years in this country and, more recently, abroad. It included an
examination of projects in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, France, Germany and other European
countries, and a re-examination of the pilot scheme in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This report
draws on this analysis of research.
The survey of current provision was conducted on behalf of QCA by the University of Warwick. Their final report
is to be found at Appendix 4 and is based mainly on responses to questionnaires sent to all 150 LEAs, to 2,000
schools with pupils in key stage 2, to 400 secondary schools and to 86 institutions offering initial teacher training
for teachers of MFL. A focus group was also set up, and the research team made visits to a number of schools
where they interviewed head teachers, teachers of MFL, pupils and parents, as well as observing some teaching.
Throughout the QCA study there has been close liaison with staff at CILT who manage the DfEE Early Language
Learning initiative, in particular the Good Practice Project. This liaison included a meeting between members of
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the University of Warwick research team and staff at CILT. QCA staff have also been involved in meetings with
the Primary Languages Network and members of the National Association of Language Advisers. Issues relating
to the feasibility of introducing MFL into the statutory curriculum at key stage 2 have been discussed informally
with a groups of mainly secondary teachers at a number of conferences in different regions.
2.3 The changed context
During this investigation many teachers asked why the issue of primary MFL had been raised again after its
apparent earlier failure. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a pilot scheme to introduce French into
primary schools which involved some 17,000 pupils. It was evaluated by the NFER, whose final report, “Primary
French in the balance” (1974) concluded that children in secondary schools who had learned French from the
age of eight did not show any substantial gains in comparison with those who had not started learning the
language until the age of eleven. This widely-reported conclusion was one of the factors which led to a rapid
scaling down of MFL provision in primary schools. However, it should be noted that there were other conclusions,
less widely reported, which remain significant today. These include:
inadequate training of teachers;
insufficient liaison between primary and secondary schools;
lack of continuity in foreign language learning between primary and secondary schools;
lack of differentiation by teachers of MFL in secondary schools.
However, there have been significant developments since that time which collectively have created a very
different backdrop to the possible introduction of MFL into key stage 2. These include:
Britain’s membership of the European Union (formerly the EC) since 1973;
contact with speakers of languages other than English is much more common for children at an earlier age
because of greatly increased opportunities to travel abroad and the growth in the number of visitors to the
more people work for companies which are foreign-owned or multinational and have contact at work with
speakers of languages other than English;
Information and Communications Technology has made possible easy and cheap access to the internet and
to electronic communication with people in other countries;
MFL has been a statutory National Curriculum subject for all pupils aged 11 to 16 since 1992;
the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy: framework for teaching (in 1998) has given a new impetus
to language learning.
These developments have created a situation where there is a much more widespread recognition of the value of
and need for modern foreign language skills. The findings from the QCA survey indicated a generally supportive
attitude to teaching MFL in primary schools among both primary and secondary teachers who responded.
3. The advantages and disadvantages of statutory provision
The QCA survey suggested that there is support for the principle of entitlement to MFL in some form in key stage
2. Comments from respondents made it plain that non-statutory teaching of MFL in primary schools will always
be at risk unless there are pressing and irresistible demands for maintaining provision. These demands were
usually associated with government policy but governing bodies and parents also have potential influence. Many
of the teachers in the survey felt that any expansion of current provision would only happen if MFL became a
statutory subject in key stage 2. It was also felt that this would regulate current provision so that it would become
easier to plan for pupils’ progress and curriculum continuity from key stage 2 to key stage 3. However, even when
teachers were supportive of the principle of statutory provision, concerns about curriculum overload and the
availability of specialist teachers led them to doubt whether this was feasible.
The head teachers of those primary schools in the survey where MFL is already taught did not necessarily
support the notion of statutory provision of MFL in key stage 2. They valued the flexibility to design a teaching
programme to meet their own specific aims and which was based on the resources available to them. They also
valued the freedom to experiment. Indeed, much of the current provision is sustained by the enthusiasm of
teachers who feel unencumbered by statutory requirements.
Secondary teachers of MFL in the survey expressed concerns that teaching MFL in key stage 2 can create
problems for teaching in key stage 3. Pupils in Year 7 are often drawn from a wide range of primary schools and
their prior learning may vary considerably. Although this problem is not unique to MFL it is felt to be particularly
acute for pupils’ progress in this subject, where pupils’ motivation is a key issue. Some secondary teachers felt
that primary MFL could even do more harm than good.
While statutory provision of MFL in key stage 2 is an attractive idea to some, it could not be achieved
successfully in the short term without considerable investment in training and support. Any move towards
statutory provision would have to be underpinned by an extensive national programme of teacher training. It
would also represent a significant increase in breadth in the key stage 2 curriculum which would inevitably have
effects on other subjects. A decision to devote curriculum time to MFL in key stage 2 would necessarily result in a
reduction in time, however small, for other subjects in the curriculum. It is also essential to bear in mind the
feelings of primary teachers, expressed both in the QCA survey and in other contexts, who emphasised the need
for a period of consolidation after recent reforms.
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It is significant that in the QCA survey 18% of primary head teachers in schools currently not providing MFL said
they had plans to introduce (or reintroduce) the subject in key stage 2. On the other hand it must be stressed that
the large majority had no such intentions. Primary MFL provision could be expanded by building on local
initiatives, through targeted funding and by increasing training opportunities, but expansion would be likely to be
only limited and gradual.
On balance, at present it would not be appropriate to extend the statutory requirements for MFL into key stage 2.
It is therefore preferable to consider how any expansion of current provision might be supported. The project has
shown that the most important issues are:
finding the time to teach MFL;
the availability of specialist teachers;
progression from key stage 2 to key stage 3.
Section 1 of this report set out a number of suggestions for further work to prepare for possible future expansion.
In sections 5 to 7 practical issues and constraints relating to these are considered. The next section, however,
considers the findings relating to the rationale for teaching MFL in key stage 2.
4. The contribution of MFL to pupils’ education at key stage 2
Responses to the QCA survey and the analysis of research emphasised that learning a foreign language in
primary school can provide a valuable educational, social and cultural experience for all pupils. Depending on the
nature of provision, it can:
raise pupils’ awareness and appreciation of other cultures, and of the multi-lingual and multi-cultural world in
which they live;
add an international dimension to a number of curriculum areas such as music, drama, art and design,
geography and history;
extend pupils’ understanding of citizenship, encompassing a global dimension;
develop pupils’ social skills;
extend and strengthen literacy skills;
strengthen pupils’ understanding of how language works;
foster positive attitudes to learning foreign languages;
increase pupils’ motivation for learning MFL in key stage 3;
develop language-learning skills;
develop transferable language skills such as listening and communication skills;
provide a basis for future foreign language competency;
equip pupils with a limited range of expression and comprehension in one or more foreign languages.
Where it is possible to plan for continuity of the language learnt from key stage 2 to key stage 3 the earlier start
has the potential to raise standards of attainment in key stages 3 and 4. However, it is important to note the
research finding that improved attainment results from an increase in the total time for learning overall, not from
the age at which learning starts. An earlier start in itself does not guarantee an advantage.
Depending on the available resources and expertise, primary schools have developed different aims for their
provision of MFL. Teaching of MFL in primary schools therefore varies considerably from one school to another in
its objectives, organisation and contribution to pupils’ education. The Good Practice Project has shown that the
aims and expectations of any form of MFL provision in primary schools should be explicit and clearly defined and
that teaching should be planned in accordance with these aims. The Good Practice Project has also
demonstrated that teachers in primary schools should be clear about how pupils’ learning relates to the statutory
programme of study for MFL in key stage 3.
It is noteworthy that many of the principal benefits of primary MFL are not easily measurable. The findings of the
QCA survey of current provision showed that secondary teachers of MFL were less convinced than primary
teachers that developing competence in the foreign language should be a principal aim. The survey also
indicated that in practice few connections were being made between MFL and other areas of the curriculum.
Further work would be desirable to clarify the benefits to pupils of learning MFL in primary school and how these
can best be achieved. It is also suggested that action could be taken to raise awareness among primary head
teachers of the contribution of MFL to pupils’ education at key stage 2, including links with other areas of the
National Curriculum. (See section 1.4.(i).)
5. Factors affecting the nature of provision
5.1 Differing aims and resources
Responses to the QCA survey and the schools involved in the Good Practice Project show that many different
models of provision of MFL are to be found in primary schools, reflecting specific aims and available resources.
The nature of provision varies with regard to:
the choice of language(s) taught;
the age at which MFL is introduced;
the amount of teaching time per year;
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the distribution and frequency of teaching time, for example whether this is limited to one or two lessons
every week, or whether there are other opportunities for MFL learning in connection with work in other
subjects or as part of everyday classroom routines;
whether the teacher is the class teacher or another teacher, either from the school or outside;
whether the teacher is a primary or secondary specialist;
the focus for learning;
the type of learning activities.
In maintained primary schools there is significant provision in out-of-school time, with teaching done by visiting
specialist teachers. The QCA survey revealed that more often than not pupils were charged for these lessons.
5.2 Choice of language
In other European countries English is invariably the automatic choice of foreign language taught in primary
schools. In the UK it is less easy to decide which language should be taught. Current provision in secondary
schools is to a large extent the result of historical precedence, tradition and the availability of specialist teachers.
However, there have been considerable efforts over the past decade to diversify the range of languages taught in
secondary schools. The recently established Language Colleges have introduced a wider range of languages,
including Japanese and Chinese. The recently published report of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry also
emphasised the desirability of widening the range of foreign languages taught in secondary schools.
The QCA survey confirmed that, at present, French is by far the most commonly taught language in primary
schools. Although other languages were mentioned in the responses - German, Spanish and Italian - the
frequency was very much lower. This reflects the qualifications and training of those involved in teaching MFL in
primary schools. It is also a reasonable assumption that any existing foreign language competence among
specialist primary teachers is most likely to be in French, given that this language accounts for the highest
number of candidates at both GCSE and A level.
There is concern among secondary teachers of MFL that an extension of MFL in key stage 2 would increase the
hegemony of French. This was clear from comments made in the QCA survey and at meetings. It is felt that this
might jeopardise the position of other languages such as German and Spanish, since pupils and their parents
would expect continuity of the language learnt in key stage 2. This understandable expectation is underpinned by
research findings that if pupils are to gain full advantage from an earlier start the same language should be learnt
in both the primary and secondary phases.
Ideally the choice of language taught in key stage 2 should reflect opportunities for continuity of learning on
transfer to secondary school. However, the QCA survey findings indicate that secondary teachers in particular did
not believe that a change of the foreign language learnt would negate the advantages of learning MFL in key
stage 2. The benefits of primary MFL extend well beyond knowledge of a particular foreign language. This is of
particular importance when considering the aims of MFL provision in key stage 2. The secondary teachers in the
survey stressed that there should be particular focus on developing transferable skills and language-learning
5.3 Teaching time
In the QCA survey the most frequently cited obstacle to introducing MFL into the primary curriculum was lack of
time. Head teachers could not see how they could reduce the amount of time required for the rest of the
curriculum in order to make space for something new. Some primary schools manage to accommodate MFL in
their curriculum within taught time. Others make provision only outside taught time. The great majority make no
provision at present and the survey findings indicate that they would find it difficult to do so.
Where there was already teaching of MFL, the average teaching time in those maintained primary schools
covered by the survey was 45 minutes per week in Year 6. (The non-statutory QCA/DfEE key stage 2 scheme of
work recommends 60 minutes per week.).
Of course, the use of the available time is as important as the amount. Another factor affecting learning is the
distribution of teaching time. In the early stages of foreign language learning in particular the preferred approach
is “little and often”. The possibility of following this approach may depend on who the teacher is and timetabling
constraints. If the class teacher teaches MFL the flexibility of timing can be fully exploited, although there may
well be variations over the school year. (For example, in response to the particular pressures of preparing for a
school dramatic production, a school trip or National Curriculum tests, it may not be possible for MFL to be taught
every week.) However, this ideal is rarely achievable since teaching usually depends on a specialist teacher who
is either one of the primary school staff or who visits the school. For organisational or practical reasons,
therefore, it is more common that pupils have just one period of MFL per week.
5.4 Teaching methodology
There is a general consensus among researchers in this field that teaching of MFL in key stage 2 needs to reflect
approaches which are appropriate to the age of the pupils, offering to them a rich variety of methods to support
multisensory learning. This should include taking advantage of opportunities to embed through further use and
practice what has been taught in timetabled lessons. If MFL is not taught by the primary class teacher this
underlines the desirability of close co-operation between the class teacher and a visiting specialist teacher, so
that the former is aware of what language might be practised and reinforced when the opportunity arises.
Research has shown that younger learners have a particular facility for acquiring the sounds of a foreign
language, so teaching should focus on the development of good intonation, pronunciation and speaking skills. It
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is essential to provide learners with good models, which has implications for teacher competence and training.
Although an emphasis on listening and speaking is therefore most appropriate, elements of reading and writing
may be included, not least to lighten the burden of memorisation of the language being learnt.
Another important research finding is that pupils will make more rapid progress in learning a foreign language if
the linguistic concepts they are dealing with are already familiar to them from their own language. This highlights
the desirability of making links between literacy-related work in English and foreign language learning.
The cultural dimension is also important. Pupils should learn a foreign language with suitable references to its
cultural context. This also provides rich opportunities for links with other subjects in the curriculum.
While there are different emphases in the teaching approaches used in primary and secondary schools these
should be complementary, not conflicting, in order to promote continuity of learning. This can be difficult to
achieve since teaching programmes in secondary schools are often based on published course books which do
not relate to typical learning experiences in primary schools.
Where the class teacher is also the teacher of MFL, this allows the greatest flexibility of timing for MFL work and
also makes it easier to link work in MFL with other subjects in the curriculum. The class teacher has a detailed
knowledge of the pupils and is known by the pupils. In practice, however, it is rare that key stage 2 pupils are
taught MFL by their class teacher.
The approach taken in Scottish primary schools is that one of the specialist primary teachers in a school is
trained to teach a particular foreign language. Such a teacher has the advantage of familiarity with the school’s
curriculum and the pupils, but timetabling the teaching of several classes a week may be problematic. As well as
removing flexibility of timing there is the problem that such a teacher might always have to teach a Year 5 or Year
6 class. Should this teacher leave, the school would have to find another teacher with MFL expertise as a
In many of the schools in the Good Practice Project there are visiting teachers of MFL who are primary
specialists with at least adequate knowledge of the foreign language, working part-time. Because of their training
they are familiar with the primary curriculum and with approaches to teaching and learning in primary schools.
Working part-time makes it easier for them to liaise with primary colleagues and their flexibility may make it easier
to timetable lessons. However, schools need to be able to pay for such teachers, and the number available is not
The QCA survey confirmed that the majority of maintained primary schools with MFL provision rely on a visiting
teacher to teach MFL. This may be a peripatetic teacher whose only connection with the school is to teach MFL,
often after school. Such a teacher may have little contact with class teachers, making it difficult to know about the
other work done by the pupils.
Where the visiting teacher is a specialist MFL teacher from a linked secondary school it is potentially easier to
undertake joint planning to facilitate progression from key stage 2 to key stage 3. Such a teacher can also act as
a mentor, supporting teaching done by the primary teacher. The latter can then supplement this teaching at other
appropriate occasions during the week. Partnership arrangements with Language Colleges for clusters of primary
schools have already shown how trained specialist teachers can be made available to assist and support the
teaching of MFL in key stage 2, provided that there is funding to support this. Only a minority of primary schools
are linked with Language Colleges, so other secondary schools could be encouraged to co-ordinate similar
arrangements. Funding would be needed to recruit additional teachers for this purpose. This would be a short
term measure which has already been used in Scotland, for example. In the longer term primary specialists
would need to be trained to teach MFL, through both initial and in-service training.
Of course, the availability of a visiting teacher may depend on the primary school paying for the teacher, support
from the LEA, parents paying for MFL lessons or the secondary school providing the teacher free of charge.
There may be limited flexibility in this last kind of arrangement, but at present in most primary schools this may be
the only way in which pupils could be taught MFL. On the other hand, most of the visiting teachers in the Good
Practice Project schools have the advantage of being primary trained.
It would be unrealistic not to make reference here to the current difficulties in recruiting and retaining sufficient
teachers of MFL in secondary schools. It should also be borne in mind that, given the current shortage, teacher
expertise in MFL is variable even at secondary level. This situation will inevitably limit the extent to which suitable
visiting teachers from secondary schools would be available. However, there may be a significant number of
inactive teachers, either primary specialists with MFL competence or secondary MFL specialists, who could be
trained to work as visiting teachers in primary schools.
It is therefore suggested that further work could be undertaken to identify the availability of teachers who could
teach MFL in key stage 2. (See section 1.4.(ii).)
5.6 Teaching resources
There are already many good quality resources available for teaching MFL in key stage 2. A problem in the past
has been that teachers have not always been aware of them. An important part of the Early Language Learning
initiative managed by CILT has been to develop a National Advisory Centre on Early Language Learning
(NACELL) which consists both of a collection of resources and, more importantly, a website which provides easily
accessible information on teaching materials.
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Whereas teachers of MFL in secondary schools generally make extensive use of published materials, and pupils
benefit from having their own copy of a course book for homework and independent learning, in primary schools
teachers make considerable use of materials that they have selected or produced themselves. This enables them
to plan lessons in accordance with their specific aims, and to link work more easily to other areas of the
The QCA/DfEE key stage 2 scheme of work for French lists for each unit the required equipment and resources.
Most of these are freely available and of low cost.
In France there has been an attempt to circumvent the problem of teachers’ inadequate English competence by
using a video to support a national programme of primary English teaching. However, research into this approach
has shown that the videos had little positive effect on children’s learning when used more or less on their own by
teachers with limited proficiency in the foreign language. This highlights the key role of the teacher as a resource
and the need for face-to-face training and support in the use of video, including resource packs with very clear
guidelines for exploitation.
6. Teacher training
Very few institutions of primary initial teacher training (ITT) currently include MFL in their courses. This is
understandable, given that MFL is not a statutory requirement in primary schools. ITT courses already have to
cover a great deal and the one-year PGCE course is particularly intensive. Since only a small number of
maintained primary schools teach MFL within the normal timetable it is also difficult to find placements in primary
schools where trainee teachers can observe and practise teaching MFL. The TTA funding of new training places
from September 2001 will begin to improve the situation, but this is only a small-scale pilot at present.
Linguistic competence can also fade quite quickly if not practised, so many trainee teachers would need at least
a refresher course in the foreign language if they were to be able to teach it competently and confidently. This
would have further implications for the time needed for MFL during training. For this reason, to expand the
number of newly trained primary teachers able to teach MFL it would be sensible to target trainees with existing
competence in a foreign language. For BEd courses an A level would be an appropriate level of prior learning
and for PGCE students an element of foreign language learning (at the equivalent of A level or higher) as part of
their degree course.
Since few primary ITT institutions are currently staffed to offer such training, partnerships with schools could be
established whereby experienced MFL and primary specialists could provide both linguistic and methodological
training. This could be a further dimension to the work of Language Colleges.
In-service training courses for primary MFL offered by local education authorities and other training providers are
already available. The number of teachers attending is, however, a very small proportion of the total. In the
previous section (6.5) a model for in-service training was suggested where visiting secondary teachers of MFL
could act as mentors for their primary colleagues. This could form an integral part of the partnership
arrangements for the provision of primary MFL co-ordinated by Language Colleges or other secondary schools
working with clusters of local primary schools. This could include, where appropriate, linguistic up-dating and
focus on supporting primary teachers.
Other means of delivering in-service training are through distance-learning and on-line tutoring. CILT is
developing a distance-learning package for teacher training as part of the Early Language Learning initiative and
has plans to extend this training provision.
Training to teach MFL in key stage 2 could be a focus for continuing professional development, with funding
targeted to increase its availability and accessibility. It is worth noting that primary MFL courses in Scotland have
been oversubscribed and that teachers who have already completed the training have expressed a desire for
continuing training, support, guidance and networking. This reflects the particular situation of the primary teacher
of MFL who is often the sole specialist within a school and does not have the contact with other MFL specialists
which is the normal experience of secondary teachers of MFL. Continuing support could be provided through
partnership arrangements, as already mentioned, but also through electronic networks, such as the existing e-
mail forum set up by CILT.
Most of the approaches to training described above are already available, but only in certain areas or to specific
teachers. Targeted funding could be used both to stimulate the offer of training and to increase participation.
Over a period of time the number of primary teachers trained to teach MFL would increase, making wider
provision of MFL in key stage 2 a more attainable goal.
It is therefore suggested that consideration be given to increasing training opportunities, both pre-service and in-
service, to teach MFL in key stage 2. (See section 1.4.(iii).)
7. Pupils’ progress and curriculum continuity
7.1 Transition from key stage 2 to key stage 3
While the aims of MFL teaching in key stages 2 and 3 are similar, the emphasis is different. Secondary teachers
are required to cover the National Curriculum programme of study and must assess and report pupils’ attainment
at the end of key stage 3. They must also report on pupils’ progress to parents each year. Teachers of MFL in
key stage 2 are not constrained by statutory requirements and, as stated earlier, many particularly value the
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freedom offered by the non-statutory nature of the subject. This, in turn, accounts for the wide variety of
approaches to teaching MFL in primary schools. Nevertheless, effective transition arrangements are essential if
the benefits of primary MFL are to be fully realised in secondary schools. Ideally the transition to key stage 3
should be viewed as part of a coherent whole rather than thinking in terms of separate primary and secondary
Teaching of MFL in key stage 2 should be based on a scheme of work - preferably planned jointly with the linked
secondary school - that relates to the key stage 3 programme of study, but without unnecessary duplication. The
QCA/DfEE key stage 2 scheme of work, which offers a coherent but flexible framework, could be the basis for
this. Emphasis should be placed on:
the development of language skills, especially speaking and listening;
the development of language-learning skills.
Secondary teachers need reliable information on which to base their own planning in order to ensure continuity
and progression. There is a particular danger that in classes where only a proportion of pupils have any prior
learning the teacher will feel obliged to start from scratch. This is indeed often the case, since the transfer of
information is often inadequate or non-existent. Many secondary schools receive pupils from a wide range of
different primary schools, making it very difficult to keep track of where there is any MFL teaching, what it covers
and pupils’ attainment. Pupils in Year 7 interviewed as part of the QCA survey expressed frustration at repeating
work, and there is a real danger that pupils’ motivation will in fact be harmed as a result.
The survey revealed that only 53 of the 108 LEAs in the sample made LEAwide arrangements to facilitate
transition from key stage 2 to key stage 3 with regard to MFL. Only 56% of secondary teachers in the survey
receiving pupils with prior learning of MFL reported any links with feeder primary schools. Only 20% of secondary
teachers in the sample made use of transfer data, and only half of the secondary teachers claimed to make any
special provision for pupils with prior learning, such as differentiated work in Year 7.
There have been attempts to set up local schemes for the transfer of information about prior learning, but these
have not always proved very successful. Faced with a “mixed” class, the secondary teacher may find it
impossible to cater for the range of prior learning, or may regard any available transfer data as unreliable.
Primary teachers would understandably resent spending time completing detailed records if they were not used.
There are examples of schemes, co-ordinated by a secondary school, with good communication with feeder
primary schools and joint planning of work in MFL. However, such arrangements are not always possible, for
example where a secondary school receives pupils from a large number of primary schools. One must also bear
in mind the difficulty in finding the time for good quality liaison. This has been frequently mentioned as a problem
for schools in the CILT Good Practice Project. However, this problem is not confined to MFL.
The National Curriculum programme of study and level descriptions for MFL set out an entitlement and standards
of attainment for key stages 3 and 4. First and foremost, secondary teachers need to know how the MFL work
covered in key stage 2 relates to the statutory requirements in key stage 3. However, receiving secondary
teachers also need to know:
the language(s) learnt;
the specific vocabulary and grammar learnt, and which topics have been covered;
which skills have been developed in particular;
in what ways pupils have been used to working;
the attainment of individual pupils.
One possible solution is for pupils to keep a record of their own foreign language learning. This approach has
been piloted using the European Language Portfolio, which can also be authenticated by the primary teacher’s
assessment. However, this might provide only a partial solution, as receiving secondary teachers would want
records of prior learning and attainment which could be referenced easily to the National Curriculum programme
of study and level descriptions for MFL, and to their own scheme of work. Further consideration needs to be
given to this crucial issue and it is suggested that further work could be undertaken to develop and trial methods
for transferring information about MFL learning in key stage 2 in order to ensure pupils’ progress and curriculum
continuity in key stage 3. (See section 1.4.(iv).)
7.2 Building on prior learning
The previous section emphasised the need for reliable records of prior learning and attainment to be transferred
from primary to secondary schools. In the absence of any records, secondary teachers of MFL might assess prior
learning through diagnostic testing at the beginning of key stage 3. While there is certain to be a need to revise,
reinforce and develop language learnt in key stage 2, secondary teachers must be aware of the demotivating
effect on pupils of merely repeating work. Differentiated work is therefore essential, although not always easy to
Teachers must also be aware that pupils with prior learning are likely to demonstrate higher attainment in MFL in
the early stages of secondary school. However, they are not necessarily inherently more able than other pupils.
Any arrangement which segregates pupils with prior learning from absolute beginners is therefore problematic
and must be reviewed frequently. On the other hand, if maximum benefit is to be derived from an early start in
key stage 2, secondary teachers should take prior learning into account and plan for progression.
The Year 7 teacher of MFL is confronted by conflicting demands: to avoid munnecessary repetition of work
already covered by some pupils, and to avoid discouraging the absolute beginners, who may feel disadvantaged,
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by attempting to cover work too rapidly. To this may be added the possibility that some pupils may have prior
learning in a different foreign language.
These problems emphasise the need for MFL work in key stage 2 to have a particular focus on the development
of skills rather than content, and to avoid overlap with work normally covered in key stage 3. Such an approach
can also reduce the apparent disadvantage of lack of continuity in the language learnt.
8. Models of good practice
As stated before, there are currently many different approaches to teaching MFL in key stage 2. Individual
primary schools or clusters of schools, sometimes working in equal partnership with a secondary school,
formulate their own aims and plan suitable provision to meet these. Inevitably aims are formulated in the light of
available resources, in particular suitably trained and qualified teachers.
The Good Practice Project, managed by CILT, has provided detailed information about a number of models of
provision, some of which might be replicable elsewhere. It is suggested that further work is needed to identify
which models, or which features of current approaches, could most easily be replicated across LEAs, and what
benefits they offer to pupils. (See section 1.3.)
The following examples begin with the more modest, involving individual primary schools with little or no outside
support, and progress to more extensive models that involve support from local education authorities.
8.1 Primary School A
This school aims to develop positive attitudes in pupils towards the learning of a foreign language and to provide
them with a sense of European citizenship.
The European dimension is built into the curriculum and enhances work in ICT, geography, literacy, science and
technology. The school benefits from links with several countries including France, Finland, the Netherlands and
The school took the first steps to introduce the teaching of a foreign language by developing a scheme of work,
with help from a local secondary school. A primary trained teacher with a good knowledge of French was
employed to teach Years 4, 5 and 6, for 45 minutes one day a week. The teacher has now developed her own
programme of work which emphasises reinforcement of language and the development of skills. The programme
includes activities for teaching speaking, singing, reading and writing in French.
Teaching methods focus on active, enjoyable learning with extensive use of songs and games in all four skills
(listening, speaking, reading and writing). Links have been made with the teaching of music. The teacher has
received some ICT training and expects to be using an interactive whiteboard to support her teaching.
The school liaises with the modern languages department at the local secondary school, to which most of the
pupils transfer. Year 6 pupils spend a day at the secondary school and demonstrate to the teachers there how
much they have learnt. For example, groups of pupils perform songs and converse with teachers and each other.
In addition, the school carries out informal assessment of attainment in French in the four skills and transfers this
information in records of achievement to the secondary school.
This model is underpinned by the considerable support of the head teacher, who affords high status to the
teaching of French, and by the integration of the European dimension into the work of the school. Pupils gain
enjoyment and motivation from learning a new language. After transferring to their secondary school some of the
former pupils have received awards for their progress in modern languages.
8.2 Primary School B
In this school French and German have been taught in key stage 2 for about seven years. Over this time
teachers have developed a very productive link with a school in Germany, with the aim of increasing pupils’
knowledge about Germany and German culture. The teaching of German is integrated into the school’s work in
geography and the curriculum plan is shared with their
partner school in Germany.
The teacher develops pupils’ skills in speaking and writing so that they can communicate with children in their
partner school. They do this directly using German and English through weekly video-conferencing and e-mail.
Pupils can therefore see an immediate purpose to the learning of a foreign language. The school makes use of
the non-statutory guidelines for MFL and the National Curriculum order for MFL in planning their scheme of work.
French is taught for 30 minutes per week by a visiting teacher with a good knowledge of French. German is
taught for one hour at different times in the week, as part of the Joint Curriculum Project, by the head teacher,
who is not a specialist linguist. In addition the school has benefited from the services of a foreign language
assistant from the local secondary school and has applied to receive a LINGUA C funded foreign language
The school has a link with the modern languages department of a local secondary school. Records of
achievement include references to National Curriculum levels in MFL and the school is developing its use of the
European Language Portfolio as a means of transferring information to secondary schools about pupils’
experiences and attainment in foreign languages.
8.3 Primary School C
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French is taught to pupils in Years 3-6 for 30 minutes per week by a primary teacher with a good knowledge of
French. The aims of the course are to develop enjoyment and enthusiasm for language learning, to develop
communicative and linguistic skills, in particular through listening and speaking activities, and to provide an
environment where all pupils, regardless of ability, may achieve success and develop confidence.
Classes are vertically grouped and to cater for the different ages and attainment the teacher has drawn up a
curriculum plan that provides progression in French through a 2x2 year rolling programme of work.
Transition and progression in French are informed through records of achievement and the school is to pilot a
version of the European Language Portfolio.
Teaching methods used include the provision of opportunities for active learning through repetition, games,
songs, role play and pair work. The work also provides opportunities to discover the patterns and similarities
between languages and to develop cultural awareness and European citizenship.
French has a high status across the school. There is active support from the head teacher, who sees French as
an essential element in providing pupils with an insight into another culture and in developing their understanding
of world citizenship. The staff as a whole support the learning of a foreign language and are willing to reinforce
what has been learnt in the French lessons during work in other subjects. They do this, for example, by taking the
register in French, listening to pupils presenting a brief exchange of simple questions and answers, or by making
a simple statement, for example, “Joe est devant Sally”, when describing the lunch queue.
This school benefits from the skills of the teacher and the enthusiasm of the head teacher in setting up staff
training to allow for small amounts of French to be experienced in other subjects and at registration.
8.4 A specialist Language College
This project involves a specialist Language College and a cluster of feeder primary schools. The teaching of
French and German to primary school pupils began with children in Year 6 and has expanded to include Year 5.
French and German are taught by a specialist linguist from the Language College who is supported by other MFL
teachers, the ICT co-ordinator and the Language College technician.
The aims of the project are to:
promote the innovative use of MFL provision through joint curriculum developments;
share specialist staff, equipment and accommodation with primary schools;
help the professional development of staff in primary schools in relation to MFL teaching and the use of ICT.
Lessons are timetabled once a week in all of the primary schools and designed to last one hour. Teaching is then
reinforced by a language club held in the Language College on Saturday mornings, which primary pupils and
teachers are encouraged to attend.
The curriculum plan is based on topics typically covered key stage 3. Each of the primary schools has a scheme
of work written individually for them by the Language College teacher.
Methods used involve the teaching of all four skills and the use of ICT, including PowerPoint and an interactive
whiteboard. ICT and its practical application for the study of languages is central to the scheme of work.
This collaborative work between primary and secondary teachers has had considerable benefits for transfer and
progression. The secondary school has introduced fast tracking for those pupils who have been learning a
language in key stage 2. On entry to Year 7 pupils who have studied languages in primary schools
(approximately half the year group) are grouped according to their language experience and National Curriculum
test results, resulting in three sets of pupils who have studied languages and three who have not.
The primary schools plan to use a version of the European Language Portfolio to transfer records of attainment to
the Language College teachers.
This scheme relies on the presence of a teacher from the Language College, her skills in teaching and in teacher
training in primary schools, and the special funding for her to continue to work. She became ill in the autumn
term, prior to the commencement of her maternity leave, and alternative MFL provision had to be arranged to
cover this period of sickness. Since the start of her leave she has been replaced by two other teachers, one of
whom teaches German and the other French.
Primary school staff have observed the foreign language lessons and commented on the benefits they have
seen. Some of them are gradually gaining confidence in teaching a foreign language and are interested in
reinforcing some of the language learnt in other lessons. Primary school teachers need time to consider the
issues and implications of introducing a foreign language into their own classrooms. The support and progressive
approach to training provided by the secondary school in this scheme has been crucial, as it is in the next two
8.5 A partnership between primary schools and a secondary school
In this scheme, teachers from the local secondary school and the local education authority adviser support and
assist primary teachers in seven primary schools in their teaching of French to pupils in Years 5 and 6.
French is taught by non-specialist class teachers in the primary schools Extensive training and support have
been provided by the secondary school staff and the local university.
The aims of the scheme include:
increasing motivation by the early introduction of a modern foreign language;
raising attainment in MFL in the cluster of schools, in particular the attainment of boys in key stage 3;
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building on existing good practice in progression and continuity from key stage 2 to key stage 3;
establishing a model for the delivery of MFL which is replicable across the region;
raising standards in literacy.
Joint planning across the eight schools has resulted in the production of a scheme of work with clear learning
objectives and outcomes. The programme of work ensures progression from Year 5 to Year 7 and is based on a
commercially produced resource adapted to local purposes and augmented with supplementary materials.
Planning meetings are held at least termly to ensure teaching at an agreed pace across all seven partner primary
schools and to address any concerns regarding teacher competence.
With external funding support from the LEA and the Good Practice Project, the cluster has purchased CD-ROMs
for classroom use, produced its own resources, provided TV and video equipment to the primary schools and
produced “big books” on a French theme to support the links between MFL
and work in literacy.
The pupils in Years 5 and 6 have made very good progress particularly in listening and speaking. The primary
teachers assess informally and pupils are awarded a certificate at the end of their two-year course listing what
they have learnt. This is included in a Record of Achievement.
Close liaison between primary and secondary schools means that primary teachers do not find it necessary to
pass on detailed assessment data to the secondary school on pupils’ attainment in French.
Arrangements exist to fast track pupils who enter the secondary school and who have no prior learning of a
foreign language. Teachers at key stage 3 have reported increased motivation, especially among boys, as well
as increased fluency. Aural competence has also improved significantly.
This scheme benefits from the financial and advisory support of the local education authority. Both the secondary
school and the seven primary schools also provide funding for the scheme.
8.6 An LEA co-ordinated scheme to expand and support foreign language teaching in primary schools
and make links with work in literacy
This LEA initiative, which has included nineteen primary schools teaching French, German or Italian, principally
involved ten primary schools working in partnership with a secondary specialist Language College to teach
French. The project spans mainly Years 5-8, with foreign language teaching also taking place in some schools in
The scheme aims to develop:
an enthusiasm for, and interest in, foreign language learning;
a desire to communicate in the foreign language;
pupils’ confidence in their ability to learn a language through experiencing success;
a curiosity about the meaning of words and an awareness of how families of languages are interrelated;
a curiosity about the peoples of the country or countries where the language is spoken and an understanding
of their culture;
an awareness that the language they are learning is used for real communication with native speakers.
There is a well established network for primary teachers led and co-ordinated by the LEA literacy consultant and
primary co-ordinator for early foreign language learning and supported by the MFL staff in the partner secondary
school. Teachers include primary class teachers, a small number of primary teachers with specialist foreign
language knowledge, together with foreign language assistants as in-class support. The foreign language
assistants are French trainee primary teachers selected by a partner training college in France.
Primary schools aim to allocate 60-90 minutes per week to teaching a foreign language. The programme is
delivered through short, frequent sessions, distributed throughout the week.
The programme of work includes experience of all four skills. Speaking and listening activities build vocabulary
and teach simple sentence construction. These, together with reading and responding to narrative texts, are the
key aspects of the curriculum plan. This is structured to link closely with language acquisition and work in
English. ICT is a developing strand within the plan and e-mail is used by some schools to communicate with
partners in other countries through the established school links.
This work benefits from strong support from the local specialist Language College which assists and supports
primary colleagues who are teaching the foreign language. Teachers from the primary schools visit the Language
College regularly to use multimedia software and for in-service training sessions.
A steering group of head teachers from the primary and secondary schools works in partnership with the LEA to
co-ordinate the work. Heads of MFL join this group when appropriate. A member of the secondary school MFL
team has responsibilities for working with the cluster of primary schools. A primary teacher is seconded one day
a week, funded by the specialist Language College, to work with the project. Twilight meetings are held for liaison
between the primary teachers and the secondary school co-ordinator.
Collaborative work between primary and secondary teachers, LEA advisory staff and a CILT Project Officer has
resulted in the piloting and production of a framework for the teaching of MFL and literacy, spanning key stages 2
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When pupils transfer to secondary school, information about their early language learning has been passed to
tutors so that data can be gathered across Year 7 to ensure continuity and progression. Statements have been
devised for pupils’ self-assessment of their language skills.
Objectives and activities from the primary schools and primary teaching resources have been incorporated into
the scheme of work for Year 7. All Year 7 pupils engage in literacy-style English sessions twice a fortnight. Pupils
who have studied French but do not have the opportunity to continue it as a language option during Year 7 are
encouraged to continue to learn some French during an after-school French club.
All the primary schools have international links with primary schools in Italy, Germany and France, according to
the language taught. The cluster primary schools involved in developing French in liaison with the Language
College are part of a transnational project, co-ordinated by the Language College in partnership with the LEA and
French and Italian teacher-training institutions, with 10 French and 5 Italian primary schools. Teacher exchange
visits and the sharing of practice have taken place.
Early foreign language teaching is accredited by the LEA in collaboration with a local university college. The
process of accreditation includes the following:
teachers carry out an audit of their teaching of the foreign language;
they work towards school-based targets;
they put together a portfolio of evidence based on work with their classes;
they facilitate pupil self-assessment using the European Language Portfolio.
A common philosophical approach to language acquisition has influenced the methodology in place in the
schools. This has been promoted through the use of word, sentence and text strategies and will be developed
further, building on the teachers’ experience of the literacy hour.
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