The answer to dwindling class numbers in modern languages may lie with e-learning, as Paul Harrison explains. How does a headteacher committed to offering languages post-16 cope with the dilemma posed by small numbers starting AS, often falling to tiny numbers at A2? In 2006, in the North East of England, 44 per cent of A2 French groups had one, two or three pupils.
Does the school still run languages even though it is far from cost- effective? Does the school drop the subject from the curriculum, thereby losing not only the students but also breadth?
Two schools, neither of which is a language college, have decided to lead the fight back. Wolsingham and Teesdale schools in County Durham have adopted a different curriculum model not only to preserve what is there but to offer further opportunities for expansion.
The main method of delivery is e-learning. But we recognise that, to learn languages, e-learning alone is not enough. The model we have adopted also uses taught lessons, intensive language sessions and additional conversation lessons.
Since September 2006, students on German and Spanish AS courses and, from this year, A2 courses, have received one extended taught lesson per week of 90 minutes. This is delivered in one school and video-conferenced to the other group of students.
The students then have a portfolio of e-learning work to complete each week, which is assessed by their teacher. This is downloaded from the schools' e-learning platform and takes the form of reading and writing exercises and downloadable podcasts for listening activities. Students also have one intensive language day per half-term run by one of the local language colleges or Durham University.
In addition, the students have a video-conferenced conversation lesson each week with a foreign language assistant based in local language colleges, both more than 30 miles away, Lanchester St Bedes for Spanish and Parkview for German.
The students concerned all had an immersion element through a work placement in either Spain or Germany last year, which they will repeat this year.
This approach is much more cost-effective than traditional timetabled lessons. Instead of the equivalent of a teacher day per subject in each school, only 90 minutes of timetabled time is required in total.
The language colleges are using some of their community resources to support the project through language assistants' time and the intensive days.
AS results last summer were either in line with or above targets for all the students involved. This is because the method of teaching is firmly rooted in personalised learning. It also enables the students to continue to work at home or in their non-contact time. The restrictions of the timetable do not apply.
We were worried that the students might see this as less desirable than having a teacher in front of them all the time. This has not been the case; the students enjoy a different approach to their learning.
So what next? We shall explore similar provision for other languages, including French, and then move into key stage 4, initially to support second language learning
Paul Harrison is head of Teesdale School in Barnard Castle
Software Eurotalk Movie Talk French, Spanish, German or Italian, pound;34.99 plus VAT from www.eurotalk.com or call 020 7371 7711.
In advanced French, classes can watch an episode of French detective series Au Coeur de la Loi and complete activities, such as predicting what is said next in various excerpts.
Pupils can also choose a scene and re-record it using their own voices. Versions are available in Spanish (Querido Maestro), German (Ein fall fur zwei) and Italian (Mio Padre e Innocente).
Website: Free Podcasts for French, Spanish and German A-level at http:web.mac.comsanferminukAdvanced_Level_ListeningSpanish,_ French,_German_AS_+_A2.html.
This site from the Elliott School in Putney, south west London, provides free podcasts and activities. Great to set as homework or for independent learning.
You can subscribe using iTunes and recent examples include Le Restaurant O Noir, La Mode and L'Union Europeenne in French.