'It's good for lateral thinking'

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Buzz, dynamism, great team work and management support underpin the success of modern languages at St Thomas of Aquin's High in Edinburgh, says principal teacher Mary Dugan.

The two main languages - French and Spanish - thrive from their beginnings in the school's four cluster primaries through to Advanced Higher in S6.

Native speaker teachers from St Thomas's visit primaries once a week where they teach, team teach and offer general linguistic support. Pupils work with the same computer software they will use in S1 at St Thomas's.

Classes are set in S2. For top sets, a fast-track system results in Standard grades at the end of S3. In this year's cohort of 26 pupils, 97 per cent achieved Credit levels and are now studying for Intermediate 2.

These pupils are upbeat about languages. One boy says it develops lateral thinking skills: "You often have to work round a word to understand it."

And they are already career minded - one girl with an eye on journalism sees a future as a foreign correspondent. Many mention work opportunities within EU administration.

For one S5 pupil, the spoken presentation at Standard grade offered a chance to share his interest in Japan. Using PowerPoint, he gave detailed information about the geography, history and culture of El Japon. These topics, he says, lend themselves naturally to using the full range of verb tenses. Other pupils were enthused by PowerPoint and gave talks on topics ranging from diabetes to Italy.

The enthusiasm for languages is shared by a small group of six S1 pupils with additional support needs, working on Access 2 Spanish. They look forward to their Friday classes because, according to one boy, "We learn lots of words for food!"

Speaking is certainly the most popular aspect of the lessons. A learning support assistant is on hand to help. For one youngster with a hearing impairment, clearly articulated speech by the teacher and assistant means full participation in lessons.

Pupils are eager to show off their work folders and items they have downloaded from the internet, such as articles in Spanish on Disney films.

Further inclusion helps nine "neighbourhood students" who attend St Thomas's from other schools to access the language of their choice at Higher and Advanced Higher in French and Spanish.

The school has some pupils with Italian family backgrounds, so it is taught to Standard grade, Intermediate 2 and Higher.

Entitlement, inclusion, diversification, ICT and exam success are all on offer here. Enthusiasm and a keen understanding of the potential of languages helps pupils to be active citizens of a multilingual world.

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