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Silver medal in the sixth form race for gold

Andrew Cunningham is enthusiastic. For him, E-level French has turned out to be enjoyable and challenging; he feels he is being prompted to have real discussions, using language in a satisfying way.

In his first year of sixth form at Bradford Grammar, Andrew is determined to keep up his French alongside history, politics and English literature A-levels. He is therefore happy that discussion and the spoken language should play such a large role in the syllabus. "We've been looking at the subject of entertainment. In GCSE you might have written: 'I like to go to the cinema, this is where I buy the tickets.' "But in E-level we have had discussions in French, comparing English and French television. We have talked about popular films and looked at how they differ in the two countries."

Pupils are examined in reading, listening, speaking, writing and a dossier, which contains five pieces of written or tape-recorded coursework.

Most of the boys studying for E-level French at Bradford make extensive use of their tape recorders, an item which will become more common in A-level when the French syllabuses change in 1996.

Manpreet Kahlon, aged 17, wants to study accountancy or history at university but believes a modern language as an extra will prove crucial.

"I have always been interested in French and might move abroad. Most of the course is spoken rather than written and I think that is more useful." He says he also finds it a "refreshing addition" to his maths and statistics, English literature and history A-levels.

Tony Lumb, Bradford Grammar's head of modern languages, says the E-level has proved a balanced, practical qualification for those going on to take an AS-level in French.

Although most of those entered for E-level had achieved A and B grades at GCSE, he was aware that some boys dropped out of AS-level as the pressures built up in the second year of sixth form.

"Offering the E-level means that if any boys decide to drop out of French after one year, then they still have a qualification. It is another channel for teaching languages in this school to non-specialists, and that will become increasingly important. We want the sixth form to remain academic, but what we want is more flexibility."

David Smith, Bradford Grammar's headmaster, says the school is keen to introduce qualifications that the pupils "can get under their belt after one year. I've always maintained that the push towards breadth can be achieved during the first year of sixth form when the pressure is off a little".

But he wants to preserve the "integrity" of A-levels in the second year.

"I am one of the old-fashioned people who thinks that A-level is the gold standard. It is jolly hard work doing four A-levels, so I would always look for breadth in subjects that could be pursued in one year.

"As much as I believe that scientists should continue to study French, I also believe that arts students should continue to study science or maths.

"Flexibility is the great thing. With all the best advice in the world youngsters at 16 can make judgments about subject choice that will prove a mistake."

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