Colleges challenged to break the language barrier

A new report highlights the best English and modern foreign language provision in colleges, placing an emphasis on cultural activities and employer links.

Published by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), the report identifies the key features enabling post-16 students to reach high standards. The survey focuses on effective teaching and team-working, study visits and cultural activities, and overseas work placements through employer links.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert said:

'This report contains examples of really effective teaching and learning. In both English and foreign modern languages, some of the best practice involved innovative use of cultural events, technology and the students’ own experiences to engage them in the subjects. Those interested in achieving successful teaching and learning in English and modern foreign languages should learn from the good practice highlighted here.'

In the teaching of English, the report found a range of learning activities stimulated students’ interest and developed their intellectual curiosity. Theatre trips and study visits to relevant locations such as ‘Hardy country’, and Ypres, in relation to the poetry of the First World War, widened learners’ experience and appreciation of their subjects. In addition creative writing, hip-hop events, poetry workshops, and debating societies boosted learners’ confidence in their writing, speaking and listening skills.

For modern foreign languages, students’ skills were boosted by real experiences such as study visits to sites of cultural interest. Innovative use of video-conferencing gave students the opportunity to communicate with French students. Corresponding with their virtual pen pals in this way allowed students to pick up on the slang and gestures which are so much a part of everyday communication.

Students’ confidence and fluency in their language skills was similarly improved by the opportunities for exchange visits and work experience fostered by college links with European schools, colleges and employers.

Good team working and effective use of foreign language assistants also helped to enrich learners’ experience, providing individual and group tuition to students. These benefits extended to teachers who were able to sharpen their language skills by talking with language assistants.

Imaginative use of learning technology was in evidence on most courses. Access to sites such as You-Tube provided an important modern cultural context for language learning and helped students to understand current cultural and linguistic issues. Teachers made good use of podcasts and modern technology to enliven their lessons, with learners encouraged to write a ‘Wiki’ (a shared web-page) which helped to extend their vocabulary and develop their editing skills.

Ofsted has made a number of recommendations to further improve the learning experience for students, including:

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) should:

  • increase opportunities for learners to gain internationally recognised qualifications in modern foreign languages
  • help colleges deal with the shortage of teachers for some modern foreign languages
  • develop further and promote work-based qualifications in modern foreign languages.

Notes for Editors

1. The reports, Identifying good practice: a survey of college provision in English language and literature, and modern foreign languages can be found on the Ofsted website,

2. In each report, inspectors provide case studies of good practice drawn from a sample of visits to 18 colleges where provision was rated good or outstanding at their last inspection. The inspections took place between November 2007 and April 2008.

3. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects registered childcare and children's social care, including adoption and fostering agencies, residential schools, family centres and homes for children. It also inspects all state maintained schools, non-association independent schools, pupil referral units, further education, initial teacher education, and publicly funded adult skills and employment-based training, the Children and Family Courts Advisory Service (Cafcass), and the overall level of services for children in local authority areas (through annual performance assessments and joint area reviews).