Scores galore

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Football has kicked off a perfect match between a secondary in Yorkshire and a small French village, helping a Teacher of the Year to share his enthusiasm for languages and even to create a sending-off at a wedding.

Rachel Pugh reports

As the smiling bride and groom emerged from the mairie (town hall) in rural south-east France, they stooped to walk under an arch of sweaty arms and smelly armpits belonging to a team of Yorkshire teachers fresh from the football field.

What the bride said to her new husband is unknown. But talk to the teachers about their annual friendly match against the tiny French village of Soye-en-Septaine in the Ard che region - and about this wedding - and you appreciate the warmth and complexity of the links across the Channel from their North Yorkshire market town.


His enthusiasm for France is infectious. "Everybody in the school knows Mr Keogh," says 17-year-old Vanessa Barnes. "French is the department everyone knows about." She wants to study international law and is taking French to A-level, but before university she and her friend Natalie Batten (applying to do medicine) want to take jobs in France that require them to speak French all the time for a gap year. She says: "To be from England and to have an extra language is not common. To get the jobs we want, we believe it will give us the edge."

The annual pupil exchanges with Lycee Vincent d'Indy in Privas, south of Lyons, have been the inspiration for these two high-achievers and others throughout King James's. The key is that the exchanges are integrated into school life. Each involves a video project, with French and English pupils working together - the English in French and the French in English - to produce a film about Knaresborough. "It's the real-world link," says Mr Keogh. "It brings it all to life."

The videos earned the pupils spots on the Channel 4 language-teaching series Strategies in the 1990s and have garnered an award from the National Languages for Export Campaign. They have become part of the GCSE coursework and are used in Knaresborough's tourist office as guides for French people visiting the town.

The videos are also central to developing King James's links with the island of La Reunion, which began when a teacher from Bourges moved there and wanted correspondents for her children. The tiny tropical island, where sugar cane is the main export, has been owned by France since 1642, so French is the main language, alongside Creole. As a result of letter exchanges with La Reunion, 14-year-old Tiffany Luce from the island spent a month at King James's and was so enthused that she now wants to study English and return to the Yorkshire school as an assistant in French.

French and German teacher Nathalie Bourre, from St Louis in the Alsace region of France, has also fallen for Yorkshire's charms. Thirteen years ago she arrived from France intending to spend a year at King James's as a French assistant, but she stayed on to do her PGCE and is now the school's head of key stage 3.

Mlle Bourre, as she is called by the pupils, collaborates with Mr Keogh to set up language weeks based around events such as the World Cup. Each class takes part in a draw to choose their nationality for the week from the football teams taking part in the competition.

Then they learn about the geography, history, arts, music, food and scientific input of that country. There is also a crash-course in the appropriate language, whether it is Slovenian or Japanese. The week culminates in a football contest, with pupils playing in mixed teams under their adopted national identity. This year, King James's will feature a similar event focusing on the Olympics.

Mlle Bourre sees getting families involved as a crucial part of breaking down resistance to learning languages. She and Mr Keogh have set up family learning weekends in which parents and siblings come to the school to experience some of the language-based activities. The highlight is the French cafe, which has in the past included a pupils' cancan display. There is also a lively programme of theatre visits, film shows, cuisine, and the celebration of Gallic events such as Bastille Day.

To make the most of what is on offer at King James's, Mr Keogh and his team of 10 language teachers believe they need to prepare the way at primary school. He is stepping-up visits to feeder primaries with a view to taking groups of his Year 7 pupils into them to act as teachers for the younger children. "It will be great," he enthuses."If you can teach it, it means you know it yourself."

He and his staff know that learning languages is not to everyone's taste, but they believe in the need to engage in study that encourages tolerant cultural attitudes. Mlle Bourre says: "That is particularly necessary in the world today. What we do is about opening young people's minds and showing them that their way is not necessarily the only way. Look at the different stances there were in Europe on the Iraq war. It is all about open-mindedness and tolerance."

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