Light in the Black Country

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
The language picture appears to be bleak, but let me put another side to this story. The impact of an entitlement curriculum on the languages take-up at key stage 4 is worrying. However, secondary schools in the Black Country have seen a dramatic increase in dual linguists over the past year.

They have been working, under strategic leadership from the Learning and Skills Council and in collaboration with partners from other sectors and phases, in a 14 to 19 Pathfinder (Networks for Excellence) .

Strategies such as collaborative curriculum developments, raising the relevance and quality of teaching and learning, creating work-placement opportunities with a specific language relevance both locally and abroad, and the production of relevant and appealing curriculum resources and many more all played a significant part in this. Resources range from workbooks to stimulating videos, CD-Roms and on-line games and resources.

Partners from Prospects Connexions and teachers from local schools collaborated on producing a booklet called Mind your language. This resource is aimed at Year 9 pupils and includes activities that reinforce the message of languages as a key economic skill for individuals and the regional economy. It gives pupils a much greater understanding of why it pays to develop language and inter-cultural competences, and they are greatly motivated to continue their language studies.

If the GCSE is boring in terms of its syllabus and tasks examined (and we all have great hopes for the vocational GCSE trialled by Edexcel) we need to offer students an alternative.

Many schools, further education colleagues and training providers across the Black Country are offering the far more relevant and competence-based certificate in business language competence accredited by OCR to a huge variety of students. Feedback from students shows that they find it far more relevant and motivating - we have Year 9s taking it as an alternative to GCSEs at one end of the scale, and gifted linguists taking it as a third language at the other.

And, although achievement at entry level and level 1 is relatively low, at level 2 it equates to a B-grade double GCSE - a strong argument for switching to a competence-based language qualification that can be incorporated into any vocational 14 to 19 curriculum.

What we mustn't do in the face of the admittedly bleak and depressing statistics, is to roll over and die. What we are challenged to do is to build partnerships and networks across all the sectors if we want to get across the message of how desperately we need language skills. The managing director of an engineering company in Sandwell said: "I can't believe kids think languages are not important. I'm abroad for my company once a week. I could double my turnover if we had language skills."

The challenge is huge - but here in the Black Country we have a head start and are happy to share what we have learned: www.bcsip.orgpathfinder.

Henriette Harnisch Regional director for languages 14-19 Networks for Excellence Pathfinder, Room PA103 Wolverhampton science park Glaisher Drive, Wolverhampton

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