4 tips for prepping students for next year’s MFL GCSEs

Now is the time we need to think about preparing our students for next year, argues Jennifer Beattie

MfL GCSEs

It is that time of year again, the time when teachers become incredulous at the claim that everyone is winding down for the end of the academic year: far from it! 

The wheel never stops turning and attention is now on Year 10 and getting them ready for their final GCSE examinations, which will arrive in less than 12 short months. 

Of course, the best educators don’t just prioritise Year 11. A robust KS3 Curriculum lays the foundation of successful learning, all the way through to GCSE study, which then allows for Year 11 to be simply a year of tying the knots together and pupils demonstrating this acquired knowledge. 

However, with ever-increasing demands on teachers for results and progress, how do we ensure that our Year 11s hit the ground running in September and are ready for their ultimate test?

1. Stop obsessing with testing Year 10

Use your first year of the GCSE course to embed your content, develop a love of the language and promote spontaneous speaking (and writing) skills. 

I have often been asked why I am not doing an end of Year 10 examination and my answer is: “Why would I?” 

It’s a two-year course, I haven’t covered all of the content yet and don’t wish to lose valuable lesson time testing pupils just to get some (dubiously reliable) data. It then means the Year 11 real mock is of much more significance (the way it should be) as it is their one and only practice before the real thing. 

In order to promote student confidence in speaking, in half of every third lesson we do paired speaking Qs, covering topics and themes from previous lessons. 

Make a list of five questions that partners ask each other (after having warned the class that you will then choose three people to quiz). They are not allowed to make written notes and this helps get them used to answering on the spot and coping with recall in a speaking situation. 

Have peers assess each other based on tenses and vocabulary and create checklists of key phrases that you would expect to hear in really good answers. 

2. Knowledge organisers

You are the subject specialist and you have seen plenty of examination papers. You know full well that most textbooks cannot cover every possible eventuality that students may encounter in their examinations. 

Therefore, use your language skills and create your own knowledge organisers (summaries of key information for students) and separate them out in to "By the end of Year 10" and "By the end of Year 11". 

Focus on vocabulary and show cross-topic links. Remind students that vocabulary learned in, say, talking about yourself; can also be used when discussing future plans and ambitions. 

You could also set your own “exam-type” questions, remembering that past paper questions have already been done by the exam board, so try to make up new ones to predict what could come up.

3. Year 10 summer homework

Be brave with this one. You, as the teacher of your Year 10 class, will know by the end of Year 10 who is struggling with what. So, how could you let six weeks pass by without setting something that might help them? 

I am a firm believer that once the novelty of not having to get up early in the morning wears off, students become bored during the six weeks. Therefore, setting some tasks that they could do each week over the summer could help to bridge any gaps in their knowledge. 

We have created booklets with easy tasks that students can tick off at the end of each week. These homework tasks don’t have to lack creativity. Students can use many online resources (languagesonline.org.uk is a favourite of mine), watch foreign films on Netflix/Amazon and I am sure you have subscription websites (Linguascope) and apps (Duolingo) that they could have a go at to stop the boredom setting in.

If you set the tasks as achievable over the week in terms of time constraints, you’ll be surprised at how many will actually do them and this idea has always proved popular with our parents. 

Just make sure to check that they have done them on their return to school in Year 11 and offer rewards/competitions for those who did the most tasks according to your school’s rewards policy.

4. No “new” content after Christmas of Year 11

I launched this initiative with my department many years ago and we have adhered to it ever since – I really do believe it makes the difference. 

We developed our schemes of work to start GCSE-style work in Year 9 after options choices have been made and this allows for all of Year 10 and the first term of Year 11 for us to finish the GCSE specifications and course content. 

Of course, it helps when your timetable allows enough hours in a week, and schools on less than three hours per week may struggle with this. 

After Christmas in Year 11, we focus on revision of the topics in class.

Jennifer Beattie is assistant headteacher at Emerson Park Academy in Essex 

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