Starting in 2026, students in the U.K. taking the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) academic qualification exams in Spanish, French, or German will be expected to memorize up to 1,700 frequently used words.
The decision is part of a plan by the U.K.’s Department for Education (DFE) to reform the teaching and assessment of modern foreign languages at the GCSE level. The number of candidates for the foreign language GCSEs has decreased in recent years and the government has been searching for ways to increase participation in and enthusiasm for language learning.
“Research shows that students benefit from learning the building blocks of a language first, particularly focusing on vocabulary, phonics, and grammar,” a DFE spokesperson said. “Our proposal aims to increase pupils’ motivation through this approach, and we will continue to work with professional bodies to achieve this.”
However, the current plan has met with much opposition from language associations, teaching unions, and headmasters at state and independent schools, who say it will not increase students’ interest in the study of languages. There is also concern that the plan could lead to an exodus of language teachers from the profession.
Simon Hyde, general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, a professional association representing the world’s independent schools, said its members feared the narrow focus on grammar and vocabulary would discourage students from studying languages.
“This model will not give students the confidence in their language, both at the examination level and as a life skill, to take forward into further studies, careers, and personal endeavors,” Hyde said.
The Association for Language Learning stated that it was “very disappointed” the DFE had not opted to work collaboratively with subject associations, exam boards, and headmasters on a further review of GCSE content and development.
“There seem to be very few people, language experts included, who agree with the DFE’s view that this reform is the way to inject new life into the existing modern foreign languages GCSE,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
“An approach is needed which encourages a love of learning of these subjects,” Barton said. “Requiring students to grind their way through a list of words is a fundamentally flawed approach that will not enthuse students, and we urge the new ministerial team at the DFE to take a step back and rethink this reform.”
Read Full Article from The Guardian (United Kingdom) (01/14/22)
Author: Adams, Richard; Bawden, Anna
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