Students at Belle Vue Girls' School who speak English as an additional language are excelling in Urdu and Arabic, thanks to a tailored 21st-century curriculum featuring the latest technology and immersive trips abroad.
Belle Vue Girls' School is bucking the national trend. While entries for modern foreign languages continue to drop nationally, take-up at the Bradford school is at an all-time high, with every student in Year 11 entered for at least one language at GCSE last year.
What are the secrets of their success? Belle Vue ensures that there are plenty of opportunities for students to learn languages. The school offers five as part of its core language curriculum, including Urdu and Arabic, which sit well with its predominantly Pakistani Mirpuri population.
Students are not restricted to the study of one language, either. Those with previous knowledge can be fast-tracked from Year 7, meaning that they are able to take up a second language in Year 10.
"We value our students' abilities and talents and appreciate that every child is an individual," says headteacher Mary Copeland. "Our emphasis is on personalising language learning with a wide range of qualifications."
Perhaps the most successful aspect of Belle Vue's unique language programme is its passion for technology. The school's Urdu and Arabic teachers are proud "to use up-to-date technology to bring language learning to life", according to Ofsted, having developed their own website, Arabalicious.com. Students also often use MP3 players during lessons to listen to Arabic.
In addition, the curriculum is supplemented by trips abroad, which enable students to totally immerse themselves in other languages. One pupil, who went on a two-week residential trip to Egypt, says: "It helped us to realise that there's a world beyond Bradford. We have learned to be more open-minded and understanding of differences."
While the teaching is widely perceived as "fantastic" by the pupils, all teachers are receptive to feedback and criticism, as students instruct them how the lessons could be improved or developed. However, it seems there is little need for change, with one pupil commenting: "I couldn't think of anything to write to say how the lesson could have been improved."
Signs of success
Copeland says she is "really proud of what our students and staff achieved in GCSE languages in 2011", and rightly so. The results - 58 per cent of all students gained an A* to C grade in at least one language GCSE - vindicated the programme. The results for Urdu and Arabic have been so successful, with 59 per cent A*-C in the former and 57 per cent in the latter, that teachers are now sharing their expertise with other schools nationally.
What the inspectors said
"The school's specialist status in modern languages has been used expertly to raise standards across the school and to broaden students' horizons."
Read the full Ofsted case study report at bit.lyRkly7Y
School: Belle Vue Girls' School, Bradford
Type: 11-18 specialist school for languages, applied learning and science
Number of pupils: 1,131
Intake: Almost all pupils are from Asian-heritage families. More than 20 different languages are spoken at home. Four-fifths of the pupils speak English as an additional language. They live in one of the most socially deprived areas of the country.