More language, less grammar

6th July 2007 at 01:00
THE GRAMMAR-HEAVY modern foreign language GCSE is no longer relevant to the needs of many key stage 4 pupils, a leading languages adviser has warned.

Kristina Hedges, from national language centre CiLT Cymru, believes MFL take up will continue to fall if schools do not offer more than the traditional exam. Talks are also being held with Welsh exam board the WJEC to thrash out ways of making the current GCSE less academic in content, as well as fall-back options for those pupils who just want to make themselves understood in several languages rather than become grammar experts.

Ms Hedges's comments come as teachers from five schools in Neath Port Talbot attempt to revive interest in MFLs by piloting a new programme focused on pupils' future career aspirations.

Pupils will be able to study several languages, leading to a Certificate of Business Language Competency, under the partnership with the Black Country 14 19 Network for Excellence.

However, the introduction of compulsory ICT at KS4 has squeezed options for many schools, with a lot of pupils able to take only one GCSE option.

Ms Hedges said a change in attitude was needed so MFLs were seen as a key skill. But she down-played the language module of the Welsh bac.

"We need to reach lower-ability pupils where the decline of MFLs is most evident," she said. "But we also need to reach the pupil who wants to go into the tourism industry. Being able to converse well in three languages will be far more useful to them than a solitary GCSE with the emphasis on grammar."

In 2005, only 31 per cent of all 15-year-olds in Wales took one MFL GCSE, compared with 46 per cent in 1996. Language promoters hoped to convince officials to invest in schemes to extend MFL options at KS4 at CiLT Cymru's annual national conference and exhibition today in Llandudno, Conwy.

Carwyn Jones, education minister, has voiced his support for making MFLs compulsory in primary schools. But England has already agreed to make the mandatory move by 2010, leaving Wales dragging its heels.

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