The language of sharing

31st March 2006 at 01:00
How can primary schools offer modern foreign languages? Jack Kenny found a North Tyneside secondary which is helping more than 1,000 of them

Bailey Green primary in North Tyneside is just one school in 1,200 that is working with the secondary that happens to be its neighbour. Monkseaton community high school, a language college in Whitley Bay, is now supplying lessons in French, German, Spanish and Mandarin to primary schools around the country.

Bailey Green teacher Dawn Bentley had specialised in science, but the work she has done with Monkseaton has enabled her to take on modern languages in her primary school. The scheme was created in response to the Government's decision that all primary schools should offer their pupils a language by 2010. "We are closely linked with Monkseaton," she says. "They give us in-service training, schemes of work, units of study materials and lesson plans and they have set up the assessment online for us. We have always been a school that looks outside. Monkseaton has helped us to build on that, showing us the global aspect of this work. Learning a language is an important part of that. They have encouraged all the schools in North Tyneside to be more partnership oriented."

French at Bailey Green is taught from Year 2 and next year will be taught in Year 1. They have links with schools in the Azores, Poland, Spain, Germany and Hungary.

Dawn has particular praise for the assessment that has been used. "We have wanted to be more involved in looking at progression, assessment towards transitions. We assess the units of study online and we don't just look for the knowledge base, we look for enjoyment, how the children see themselves as learners of a modern foreign language and self-assessment. Monkseaton set that up, but now we can do it for ourselves."

Secondary schools working with primary schools can seem patronising.

Monkseaton's Mike Butler was aware of that and the many things that secondary teachers have to learn from primary colleagues. It was because of this that experienced primary teacher Jane Dawson was recruited to work with Mike. It is almost certainly Jane's expertise that has enabled the project to avoid serious errors.

The central idea is that most primary schools do not have a trained language specialist. The resources from the language college can assist with support and strategies. Teachers can learn the language alongside their pupils. The simplicity and professionalism of the idea has appealed to many schools as far from Whitley Bay as Plymouth and the Isle of Wight.

The primary languages programme started three years ago. The work, distributed mainly on CD, is very comprehensive with bullet-pointed lesson plans telling teachers what to do stage by stage. It also gives advice on assessment, self-assessment and the resources to use.

Mike is keen to share resources and to use technology to assist in the sharing. "Our Mandarin teacher is from the University of Beijing and we are lucky to share her expertise. Our Spanish is by a teacher working in Cheshire. An ex-student, in Canada doing post-graduate work, is improving our worksheet presentation. This is via Microsoft SharePoint."

Imaginative use of resources outside school is the key. Mike believes that the strength of the project is the team that they have put together. Jane was a primary advanced skills teacher. She is now seconded for half a week to South Tyneside where she is the key stage 2 consultant. She has an advanced skills teacher day for North Tyneside and a day and a half with Monkseaton. Mike works as key stage 2 consultant with North Tyneside.

Colleagues at Newcastle university have begun to work with Monkseaton and have produced a pronunciation and conversation CD to go with the language materials.

The nature of the relationship is shown by Mike's belief that primary languages are taking off because the pedagogy in primary schools is what is needed for language teaching. The national literacy strategy's focus on word, sentence and text level work suit the way a foreign language is developed. "The activities, the games, the songs, are part of learning.

Secondary lessons tend to be static whereas learning in primary can be active and fun."

Paul Kelley, the head of Monkseaton, sees many advantages in extending the reach of the college and resists the idea that they should just concentrate on their own students. "We are trying to run the school well and, at the same time, make a contribution to the wider education system. Partners we are working with are suggesting other ways of enhancing and extending learning.

"The self-assessment comes from academia and we have trialled it. It will allow us to see where the issues are for the schools we are working with as well as our own work in Monkseaton. We are working with a wider network to deliver a wider range of materials. All our subjects have individual learning plans and self-assessment. We can get to the parents and share our information with them.

"There are huge benefits in the work that we do, particularly the way that we have created a professional environment."

Teachernet www.teachernet.gov.ukwhole schoolextendedschoolsSure Start www.surestart.gov.uksurestart services childcareextendedschoolsExtended schools - theory, practice and issues www.infed.orgschoolingextended_ schooling.htm

REFLECTIONS

* Breaking down the barriers between schools leads to the breaking down of barriers between schools in different countries.

* Research and evaluation are essential elements of the extended school.

The links with outside research bodies leads to research within the institution.

* Research makes teaching and learning more exciting, more than distributing and ingesting knowledge.

* Partners must try to provide what other partners need, not what is convenient to give - detailed and sensitive research and good communications.

* The work that is done with partners should be an essential part of a shared vision and not an add-on.

* Ensuring that authorities and universities are supportive of the aims of the work has been crucial. LEA support has resulted in imaginative arrangements and university support has resulted in extensions of the resources.

* Working beyond school has to be part of the school's innovative vision of extending learning in all age groups to the benefit of all learners and teachers.

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