Although the number of Welsh pupils taking foreign language GCSEs is dismally low, some schools have seen their entries rise dramatically over the past two years.
The schools are part of the Languages in Action project that was set up in 1999 in an attempt to arrest the decline in the number of pupils studying foreign languages in key stage 4. The project involves 10 schools and two local authorities, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, and is supported by the National Assembly for Wales.
In two of the schools the modern foreign languages departments re-negotiated their position in the subject-options system. Bishop Vaughan School, Swansea, now ensures that all KS4 pupils take a foreign language, while Alun School, Mold, has doubled take-up by placing foreign languages in a separate column from Welsh.
But even schools that did not alter their options system have seen dramatic improvements. Cymer Afan, north of Port Talbot, increased take-up from 10 to 25 per cent, while others such as Ysgol y Moelwyn, Gwynedd; Pentrehafod, Swansea; and Birchgrove, Swansea; achieved more mdest, but encouraging, gains.
The schools have bucked the trend by :l increasing use of ICT and in some cases introducing boy-girl seating policies or single-sex classes;l making pupils aware of the rosy job prospects for linguists;
* increasing pupil exchanges, often using e-mail;l introducing extra-curricular language clubs, sometimes linked to a project (for example, a highly successful school magazine, La Gazette de Blaenau, developed by Ysgol y Moelwyn in Gwynedd.
All the schools received a grant, together with visits from a field officer from the Centre for Information in Language Teaching and Research, which has managed the project. The CILT officer also arranged half-day staff training sessions on the use of information technology.
Of course it remains to be seen whether the turn-around achieved by most of the project schools can be maintained, and whether all schools can benefit from such approaches. However, this project has proved that "it can be done".
Ceri James is the Languages in Action co-ordinator. He will speak at 11am on May 25