Language GCSEs biased against poor pupils, say teachers

Being asked to talk about skiing holidays and describe family members disadvantages some students, research finds

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The majority of language teachers believe GCSE exams are biased against poorer students, children in care and those with special needs, research reveals.

Being asked to describe the disadvantages of a skiing holiday or to describe family members are among examples highlighted by the National Association of Language Advisers (NALA), which has published its research in a report today.

The research, which investigated the past two years of languages GCSE papers, particularly speaking and writing test questions, found that questions about holidays, family relationships, descriptions of a student’s house, restaurant visits and live events were “potentially problematic for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils”.

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And the NALA now recommends that languages GCSE and curriculum should be reviewed carefully “to ensure that no particular group of students is disadvantaged”.

Poorer students 'disadvantaged in languages GCSEs'

NALA president Jenny Carpenter said: “One of the things we found was that there were a number of contexts that were beyond the experience of some students. The obvious example of this was the question which asked what are the advantages and disadvantages of a skiing holiday.

“Not only are you asking some pupils to invent an answer, but you’re asking them to express it in a foreign language as well. It’s a double whammy in a sense.”

The research attracted 556 responses from across the UK, including from language teachers, consultants, advisers, teacher trainers and trainee teachers. Some are quoted in the report, including one who said: “The [exam] topics centred around holidays, aspirations, work and volunteering need lots of background teaching, as some pupils don’t know about gap years or a wide variety of careers.”

Just over 85 per cent of respondents said that the socioeconomic background of “some, many or the majority” of students they teach would adversely affect examination outcomes.

Some teachers also said the coronavirus pandemic means students can no longer address all topics.

One respondent said: “This is particularly the case for current Year 10 students especially. For example, work experience hasn’t happened, no big cultural events or/and no social events have taken place and family celebrations have been adversely effected. In addition, the impact of the pandemic on shopping, holidays and leisure activities means that students can no longer address all topics.”

The research found that the "majority of language teaching professionals" believe that the current GCSE content "disadvantages" some students, including socioeconomically deprived students, students with less typical family life, those who are less able, and those with special educational needs.

Last year the DfE launched a review panel to look at reforming content for modern foreign languages GCSEs in the hope of increasing uptake.

The department was contacted for comment.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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