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Special schools in Liverpool have taken modern languages on board with impressive outcomes. Rose Sanders reports. As special schools go through the process of the Office for Standards in Education inspections, modern languages is emerging as a well-established curriculum area in Liverpool, supported by "excellent documentation and totally appropriate methodology", as one registered inspector commented recently.

Less than six years ago such comments would have had no place in the special schools curriculum debate. Before the inclusion of a modern foreign language in the national curriculum, students in special schools generally did not have access to a modern foreign language. Occasionally, a teacher's personal interest may have led to a small amount of ad hoc teaching, perhaps in preparation for a school holiday in Europe, but with little regard for progression or development of a language as a distinct curriculum area.

With the advent of the national curriculum, teachers bold enough to admit to having once been taught a language themselves were stopped in the corridor and suddenly faced with the prospect of delivering a foreign language in their own school.

In September 1991, one year before the curriculum became statutory, Liverpool Technical and Vocational Education Initiative prioritised entitlement and achievement for all students, and established a framework for training and support for special schools across the city through the appointment of an adviser for modern foreign languagesspecial educational needs.

The project is now in its fifth year and owes much of its success to the enthusiasm of both teachers and of students. Sue Reynolds, curriculum co-ordinator at a Liverpool school for moderate learning difficulties, says: "I enjoy teaching French and my students look forward to their language lessons. The challenge is to break the curriculum down into small steps, and this enables me to be creative in designing activities which motivate the students through success."

Much has been achieved during this period and we have incorporated the ideas from these developments into a modern languages curriculum handbook, which schools are presently adapting to meet the specific needs of their own students, and which outlines the following: * a policy statement detailing aims and entitlement * a commitment to equal opportunities * the role of the MFL co-ordinator * use of the target language * a framework for assessment, recording and reporting * teaching and learning methodology * differentiation * the use of a range of information technology resources * schemes of work for key stages 3 and 4 * a modern languages termly planner for each year group.

Here in Liverpool modern languages is firmly embedded in the curriculum and not purely on statutory grounds. During a recent visit to a school for students experiencing severe learning difficulties, David Esther from the Government office for Merseyside said: "I was really impressed to learn how students had developed their first language communication skills in a way that had not previously been possible. The modern languages curriculum in Liverpool has broken through the learning barriers."

This year, we have further enhanced the curriculum through two major projects designed to provide contact with native speakers and to foster cultural awareness. The first of these was a one-day event where students, mainly from key stages 3 and 4, worked with foreign language assistants on practical and creative cross-curricular activities. Workshops in story-telling, drumming, harmonising, games, French cuisine and puppet-making were led by French and Spanish language assistants, and conducted in the target language to enable students to practise linguistic skills and contextualise their language learning. Over 100 students participated in this event which was video-recorded to promote good practice in SEN teaching and the use of foreign language assistants in language learning.

The second project is a programme of residential experiences. So far, mixed groups of students from 11 special schools have participated in a three-day linguistic and careers education visit to France. The students, mainly 14 to 19-year-olds are required to undertake a range of tasks during the stay and to record these in a specially designed and differentiated workbook. Workbooks are endorsed and accredited through Liverpool TVEI, and students are awarded a certificate profile which contributes to their Record of Achievement.

The initial aims of the residential programme have been surpassed by student outcomes; the mixed groupings fostered personal and social development, life skills, confidence, understanding and a sensitivity which extend beyond the national curriculum. One student from a school for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed pupils said: "I had a go in Chris's wheelchair. It was great. I did a few wheelies, but then I got up and walked away, and I thought 'It's okay for me, Chris can't do that'."

Headteacher Les Richardson believes that to offer a modern language to all students in special schools is to demonstrate a "firm commitment to equal opportunities", and that this, once the preserve of mainstream schools, and so often one of the causes of failure for his own students, is now at the very heart of equal opportunities and personal and social skills.

Carol Clancy, headteacher of an moderate learning difficulties school, says: "The TVEI project in Liverpool has extended so many opportunities to our students, not least of which has been the development of modern languages. To our mainstream students Liverpool TVEI has said: 'You can do it.' To our own students TVEI has said: 'You can do it too!"' Further details of teaching materials and resources are available from the Quality Assurance Service, Liverpool TVEI, tel: 0151 494 1257 Rose Sanders is TVEI Adviser for MFLSEN in Liverpool and has been working with teachers and students in the full range of special education since 1991

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