How to tackle the new MFL curriculum

25th July 2014 at 01:00
In September, England's curriculum is changing for key stages 1, 2 and 3. Here teachers reveal how they are approaching languages


The brevity of the new programme of study for KS2 can be rather disconcerting if you are familiar with the KS2 framework, a much meatier document. Where is the clear guidance on the steps needed to progress from the first to the fourth year of language learning? Where are the examples of how you might do that and the wealth of guidance on important matters such as transition, inclusion and assessment? Nowhere to be seen.

The subject content requires "substantial progress in one language", which implies one language over four years. That's what we do in my schools (with Spanish), but that doesn't preclude exploration of other languages, comparing them to Spanish, English and the home languages of learners, discovering links and differences. That nurturing of language learning is key to providing the "foundation for learning further languages" mentioned in the purpose of study, particularly as students move on to schools where they will initially explore another language. Learners really enjoy it, too.

After studying the subject content, I looked at the existing provision in my two schools. One institution has been teaching Spanish across the whole school for eight years; the other has been teaching a mixture of French, Spanish, German and Mandarin for even longer, before introducing Spanish across KS2 this year.

In shaping the new curriculum, a few things stood out: the need for learners to not just answer questions but also ask them; the need for "an appreciation of a range of writing" and to "present ideas and information orally to a range of audiences"; the balance of speaking and writing (the latter is trickier); and the focus on grammar, particularly the conjugation of high-frequency verbs. I have considered how these tasks can be integrated into existing schemes; for example, identifying how many text types are used and how to include more. I've also looked at ways of including writing at different levels, not always using a pen.

Another challenge is how to assess and chart progression without levels. I'm currently using "I can" statements and breaking down the skills into what should be accomplished in which year. This is a work in progress and other language coordinators are working on the same issue - a great reason to work together to find a solution.

Lisa Stevens is a primary language and international coordinator at two schools in the West Midlands


When you look in depth at the new curriculum, it quickly becomes apparent that most of it is nothing very new to MFL teachers.

There has already been a move towards using phonics to improve speaking and listening skills in recent years, and teachers are highly skilled in using target language in a way that allows pupils to understand it and begin to use it spontaneously themselves.

In terms of reading, I've known several teachers look panic-stricken at the idea of using "literary texts" with KS3, but this doesn't have to mean lengthy books - it's just as applicable to songs, poems or comics.

Translation is another aspect that could seem daunting, given its association with A2 exams. However, every time the question "What does X mean?" is answered, pupils are translating from one language to another - we just haven't necessarily referred to it by that term. The grammar is also largely similar to that which is currently taught at KS3, with the added bonus that we will be building on a formal KS2 curriculum that includes learning about genders, sentence structure and the conjugation of common verbs.

If I could change one thing about the introduction of the new curriculum, though, it would be for teachers to have more information on the proposed changes to the GCSE syllabus. We can make assumptions about it based on the new KS3 curriculum, but I would have found it useful in my planning this year to have been able to look at the path of MFL from KS2 to GCSE.

Although my role focuses on KS3, it would be impossible to prepare for the new curriculum without also looking at KS2. With this in mind, I carried out a survey of primaries all over the country and discovered that the delivery of MFL varied wildly from school to school. Some had full-time teachers and all pupils from Reception upwards were learning a language to the sort of level that would put the average Year 9 pupil to shame. Others had no MFL specialists and were extremely apprehensive about the new curriculum, having received little or no support. This was the case for many of our partner primaries.

I have therefore begun to act as the primary MFL link in order to support our partner schools with the new curriculum. I will arrange regular network meetings to allow primary staff and members of my faculty to get together and troubleshoot any issues. We will also share ideas and show off our work via a shared blog, where schools can post photos, videos and resources.

The aim of all this is to encourage a consistent approach across the primary schools, so that their pupils come to us in Year 7 with a similar background in MFL. A collaborative approach is vital; we may be specialists in languages, but they are specialists in teaching primary-aged children, so a combination of our skills is needed if the new curriculum is to be a success.

Starr Green is KS3 coordinator in MFL at Tupton Hall School, Derbyshire

A look inside the new MFL curriculum

Key stage 2


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