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21st October 2005 at 01:00
Gill Beckett explores the motivating effects of a work-related language curriculum

An increasing number of schools are discovering the benefits that working towards vocational language qualifications can bring. These include: limproved motivation, because of the more adult approach which, for many, is more relevant than academic courses; lbetter results, because of the way in which the courses are assessed; lthe possibility of working with other vocational areas to make a coherent curriculum for the student; lcourses for all ages (key stage 3-post 16) and abilities.

One way to find out what is available is to log on to

The website will give you details of the qualifications available at different levels, links to awarding bodies, and points for the school and college achievement and attainment tables.

Courses include the certificate of business language competence, NVQ units, ABC practical languages courses and and a new applied French GCSE course being piloted by Edexcel. I have prepared a table about vocational language courses available at different levels and this can be seen on The TES website at Christopher Maynard, QCA subject adviser for modern languages and classics says: "Over the past few years QCA has accredited a wide range of languages qualifications that were not previously available to learners, especially at KS4. These qualifications all contribute to the revised pupil achievement and attainment tables. Although GCSE continues to be a strong 'brand', more and more schools recognise that courses leading to other qualifications can offer a learning experience that is more motivating.

Students see how they can make use of their language skills in real-life situations and they enjoy this more mature approach."

The Black Country Pathfinder 14-19 Networks for Excellence, managed by the regional director for languages in the Black Country, Dr Henriette Harnisch, has sought to place language learning in the context of real life. Partnerships have been formed bringing together expertise from teachers, lecturers, training provider and businesses to ensure that developments match the needs of young learners and the economy. A particular success of the pathfinder and one which recently gained a European Language Award was a project in which nursing cadets in the area were taught basic Punjabi and health and social care students were taught British Sign Language to enable them to communicate with their patients.

Natasha Winter, head of languages at King Edward VI College, Stourbridge, says she has appreciated the support of the Pathfinder in the introduction of the certificate of business language competence in her school. CBLC entry level Russian and Italian are being offered at the college and to schools. The level 3 CBLC French course has just been launched at the school and offers a credible alternative to traditional GCSE, AS and A-levels. The practical benefits of the course are really appreciated, especially by those who may find themselves working with languages in a business.

The Pathfinder project has used some of the funding allocated to develop resources for the CBLC. These have been well received by teachers, language providers and students. One teacher from a Black Country school using these resources says: "They have been invaluable as preparation for the CBLC level 1 exam in all skills. They are pitched exactly right: stimulating enough to maintain the interest of KS4 students but with an adult, business-like feel to them." These resources can be ordered from the Specialist Schools Trust website, the details of which are at the end of this article.

At Frederick Gough School, a specialist language college in Scunthorpe, the CBLC Spanish course is taught to all pupils in KS4 as their second foreign language. Pupils work towards the entry level certificate over two years.

Andrew Markham, head of languages, says: "The course is extremely successful, with a high pass rate, and is taught using materials produced by the school. We hope to involve business partners in the future."

At Warden Park Specialist School, a languages, maths and computing college in Cuckfield, West Sussex, NVQ units at levels 1 and 2 in French, German and Spanish have been introduced in KS4 to students who would most benefit from a vocational approach, and who would be less likely to do well at GCSE. Two staff have already achieved the A1 assessor award required to teach the course and are working on the V1 internal verifier qualification.

A further three staff in the school are taking advantage of funding from the Learning Skills Council to work towards the A1 award. This enables them to gain the award completely free. Jean Gittins, head of languages, says:

"Our least motivated students have suddenly discovered they can succeed at languages."

At King Richard School in Paulsgrove near Portsmouth NVQ units based on the National Language Standards ( have been used to accredit the achievement of pupils in Italian in KS4. The pupils have found the NVQ Italian course at levels 1 and 2, devised by head of languages Laura Fusano, to be interesting and motivating. Many of the pupils on the course were able to enhance their study of Italian by visiting Italy to put into practice what they had learned. The portfolio-building course is now being offered to some pupils in Year 9. At nearby Springfield School in Drayton, an NVQ languages course has just been introduced in KS4 to two groups in French and German.

Last summer, Year 9 pupils used Languages Work materials from the CILT, the National Centre for Languages to show them the value of languages in the workplace. "This really made me think about why we learn languages," said one lower-set student. Teacher Sarah Creighton says: "The posters from CILT were superb, particularly the short sharp facts about language. The students were stunned to learn that 75 per cent of the world's population doesn't use English. They responded positively to the case studies and the realisation that languages weren't just for teachers and translators. 'This could be any job,' said one, and they were encouraged by the thought that employers regarded languages as desirable qualifications, which brought financial rewards. Students liked the idea that language-learning involved skills which were transferable across the curriculum and into the work place."

Prince Henry's Grammar School, a specialist language college in Otley, Yorkshire, uses the ABC practical languages course to give a more vocational focus to the study of languages for some students. Students find the course motivating and are equipped with a range of language skills. The course provides opportunities to use ICT to support learning and can be tailored to suit students' needs in the choice of tasks and settings that have a more adult and work-related flavour. The continuous assessment provides short-term objectives for students who find a terminal examination less appropriate.

More than 80 schools are involved in piloting the new Edexcel GCSE in applied French. Available as a full or short course with a specialist context focus on either media and communication, leisure and tourism or business, this course is a popular alternative to the conventional GCSE with both teachers and pupils.

Clive Rowbury, assistant head of Hele's School, a language college in Plymouth says: "We decided to teach the course to two of the five groups in Year 10, set 2 and set 4. For us, the new applied GCSE offers and new and fresher way of approaching the teaching and assessing of languages. We decided to focus on the media and communications option in order to complement our development in ICT and to appeal to the widest range of students."

At Leasowes Community College in Halesowen, the applied GCSE with a leisure and tourism focus has been introduced for 60 students in KS4. Christine Horsnell, head of languages at the school, says: "We think the idea of online testing appeals to them and the coursework style approach to speaking and writing seems attractive. We use traditional resources and produce our own materials to match the needs of the students and the activities. In addition, we have been able to create our own online tests and materials to enable our students to practise their applied French within school or from home."

Alistair Drewery, qualifications leader (languages) at Edexcel believes that "for many, the qualification with its emphasis on developing productive language skills, specialist-context focus and on-screen listening and reading assessments offers an interesting and flexible alternative to existing French GCSEs."

He reports that pilot centres have worked hard devising engaging learning activities to switch on their learners and he is encouraged by the level of interest in the new qualification. Edexcel is supporting pilot centres with a range of tutor-support materials and training sessions, and has arranged for centres to run live online mock listening and reading exams early next year. Feedback from learners indicates increased motivation and that they value grown-up, work-related content.

* Centres wishing to express an interest in the Applied GCSE French qualification should email:

* Many teachers enjoy developing their own resources for vocational courses focusing on businesses in their area, for example, or adapting material from existing coursebooks. New resources from educational publishers are in progress.

* Heinemann is responding to the interest in schools in vocational languages and is working on resources for the applied GCSE in French. This will be available for schools next summer. Heinemann is also planning a full course for the leisure and tourism context with a pupil book and associated support materials, including an electronic resource. The publisher also plans to map this to the new National Language Standards 2005, to enable it to be used for those wishing to deliver NVQ French at levels 1 and 2.

* For teachers wishing to find out more about vocational courses available, the Specialist Schools Trust has a website devoted to this topic. There are case studies, links to awarding bodies and resources and schemes of work produced by teachers for vocational language courses.

* Gill Beckett's table of the various vocational language courses available can be downloaded from the TESwebsite at:

Gill Beckett is an independent MFL consultant Tel: 01403 782355 Email:

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