When Parkstone Grammar School in Poole launched its Italian enrichment project two years ago, the intention was to raise the profile of languages by offering Year 9 the opportunity to learn a new one after school.
However, when sixth-formers got wind of the scheme they also clamoured to join and, to her delight, head of French Meg Beardsley found herself in charge of a mixed-age group of 28 pupils.
Year 9 students had two years to prepare for GCSE, but sixth-formers had only one, so Meg Beardsley speeded things up by building on what they already knew.
"Patterns, tenses, structures were all introduced through comparison with French," she says. "It was very hard but they hung on and it strengthened their understanding of how language works."
With GCSE behind them, some of the pioneer group, now in Year 11, have joined students from Year 12 in an AS-level class, again in their free time. Meanwhile, a flourishing Italian club caters for those wishing to work at a gentler pace.
A one-year GCSE course for sixth-formers not studying an A-level language has also been launched by popular demand. This enthusiasm from specialist linguists and non-specialists alike has delighted staff.
"Just when every newspaper article proclaims that no one wants to do languages any more, we are bucking the national trend," says Meg Beardsley.
"That's what we set out to do - stimulate interest and encourage more people to carry on with languages beyond key stage 4."
Parkstone's Italian enrichment project won the school a 2003 European Award for Languages