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Short courses slim down

Modern Languages. Short courses remain an option in the modern languages curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds, but their content has become much less prescriptive. A short course is the minimum statutory requirement at key stage 4. (In Wales there are no statutory requirements at KS4.) Strong feelings were expressed about the short course during consultations on the draft proposals. Most respondents felt that all pupils should study a full course and feared that short courses would be offered especially to less able pupils, who need more time to achieve goals.

Pupils on short courses will have to study all four skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing - rather than the two or more specified in the current Order, but the number of areas of experience they have to cover has been reduced from seven to two.

The outline of the programme of study states that both parts - Learning and Using the Target Language and Areas of Experience - should be taught together. Pupils should be given the opportunity to combine two or more of the four language skills simultaneously. When a spoken or written response is expected, it should be in the target language, except where a response in another language is necessary, such as when interpreting.

Three-quarters of those who responded to the draft proposals were happy with the amount of content prescribed in the revised programmes of study. They also welcomed the reduction in the number of statements (down from 76 to 40).

The new level descriptions were also popular, although many teachers asked for examples and optional tests to help them in standardising judgments. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority intends to provide those in due course.

Most teachers felt that levels 7 and 8 were hard enough to stretch the ablest pupils. Levels 9 and 10, which in the current Order are seen to accord with the highest performance at A-level, have therefore been replaced by one "exceptional performance" category.

Exceptional performance in the second skill (speaking) is defined as follows: "Pupils discuss a wide range of factual and imaginative topics, giving and seeking personal views and opinions in informal and formal situations. They speak fluently, with consistently accurate pronunciation, and show an ability to vary intonation. They give clear messages and make few errors."

Cultural awareness, which had been merged with language learning skills in the draft proposals, has been reinstated as a section in its own right.

Key changes from the current Order: * part 1 of the programme of study, Learning and Using the Target Language, has been reorganised from six sections into four: Communicating in the Target Language, Language Skills, Language Learning Skills and Knowledge of Language, and Cultural Awareness; * part 2, Areas of Experience, has been reduced from seven to five areas. The two areas which have been removed - Area E (the World of Communications) and Area G (the World of Imagination and Creativity) have been incorporated into Part 1; * On the short course, pupils will now have to be taught all four skills, but the areas of experience to be studied have been cut from seven to two. Pupils in KS4 now study area A, B or C (Everyday Activities, Personal and Social Life or The World Around Us) plus either D or E (The World of Work or The International World); * Level descriptions have replaced statements of attainment and the examples have been removed.

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