Innovative practice - Futures bright
It was a science teacher, rather than a linguist, who ended up leading one of the most innovative projects in Britain for teaching modern languages.
"I had been thinking about the problem we have with language learning and why other countries are so brilliant at learning English when we're so embarrassingly poor at learning theirs," says Vivien Corrie, deputy principal at Linton Village College in Cambridgeshire.
The answer, she realised, was that pupils in countries such as the Netherlands and Germany actively wanted to learn English and had plentiful opportunities through music, TV and films to immerse themselves in it.
Ms Corrie decided to set up the project with Learning Futures, a programme that grew out of the Musical Futures scheme and promotes engaging approaches to learning that blend the formal and informal.
The scheme, Language Futures, allows pupils to pick whatever language they really want to learn and is relevant to them. They then construct their learning in a range of ways, including using online materials.
But they are not left to their own devices; rather, they are assisted by teachers (who may not know the chosen language themselves but understand linguistics), their peers and local residents who speak it natively. "It's not independent learning - it's interdependent learning," Ms Corrie says.
A group of 14 Year 8 students from Linton Village College took part in the first two-year pilot, which started in 2009. One pupil chose Mandarin so that he could talk to his Chinese grandfather, who spoke no English. Eight picked Spanish - a subject the school already taught in a more traditional way - four Italian, and one German. A second group began this year.
With their families, the pupils were encouraged to find ways to immerse themselves in their chosen language outside of school, from travelling to countries where it was spoken, to changing the language settings in computer games and the satnav in their parents' cars.
The scheme has been supported by Learning Futures and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, which funds it.
Tips from the scheme
"Get in touch and join us," Ms Corrie says.
Information about the project can be found at: www.lvc.orgcurriculumour_curriculumlearning_futures
Evidence that it works?
Those involved in Language Futures stress that it will take many more years before the project can be properly evaluated. However, early indications are highly positive: two pupils who chose to learn Spanish through the scheme outshone classmates when they rejoined a GCSE class.
Two other local schools have joined in piloting Language Futures: Castle Manor in Suffolk, which is developing it with key stage 5 students, and Swavesey Village College in Cambridgeshire, with KS4. "Language Futures is one of the most innovative ways of teaching modern foreign languages that I have seen," says former education secretary Estelle Morris.
Approach: Letting pupils pick a language and learn it themselves
Led by: Vivien Corrie, deputy principal at Linton Village College
Supported by: Learning Futures and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation
Institution: Linton Village College
Type: Co-educational comprehensive
Intake: Around 830 pupils aged 11-16
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2007).