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National Curriculum

Planning and assessment in MFL


Planning across the key stage

The revision of the key stage 3 programme of study provides an opportunity to review and refresh your sequences of work. When reviewing planning across the key stage, developing new sequences of work or revising existing ones, you should consider the following.

Where are the opportunities to develop pupils’ experience of the key concepts?

Curriculum planning should highlight how the key concepts are integrated into teaching and learning across the key stage. The opportunities to develop pupils’ experiences of the key concepts should be evident.

When planning, you need to pay particular attention to:

  • encouraging pupils to apply and adapt their language skills so that they realise that they can communicate in many situations with even limited knowledge. The ability to do this is more powerful than the accumulation of vocabulary

  • helping pupils to recognise connections, similarities and differences between and within languages to develop their understanding of how a language works

  • identifying those aspects of other cultures that are likely to be of particular interest to young people.

How can planning ensure that pupils make progress in the key processes?

Planning should ensure that pupils have opportunities to make progress in the key processes. As they revisit the key processes throughout the key stage, pupils should be increasingly challenged. This can be achieved by expanding the range of contexts in which they practise the language, increasing the length and complexity of written texts and recorded material, and asking pupils to respond in different ways.

How can you provide opportunities for pupils to engage with real audiences?

Pupils should be given opportunities to experience and use the target language in a wide range of useful contexts and situations both in and out of the classroom. You should ensure pupils have the chance to practise the language beyond the classroom and to communicate with different audiences.

You should select contexts and topics that are likely to be of interest to pupils, that correspond to their level of maturity and that relate where possible to what they are learning in other subjects. You should provide opportunities for pupils to talk about things that matter to them.

Continuity across the key stages

To make good progress pupils need continuity and opportunities for development across the key stages. To achieve this, curriculum planning at key stage 3 needs to:

  • build on and extend pupils’ achievements and experiences at key stage 2

  • provide pupils with a clear sense of how teaching and learning is helping them develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, and what they are aiming to achieve by the end of the key stage

  • prepare pupils for the demands of the subject at key stage 4.

Key stage 2

One of the key elements of the National Languages Strategy is that by 2010 every child should benefit from the entitlement to learn a new language at key stage 2. The Key Stage 2 Framework for Languages has been produced to support this aim. It sets out detailed learning objectives for each year and summarises the learning outcomes that most pupils should be able to demonstrate at the end of year 6.

By the end of key stage 2, most pupils learning a foreign language will be familiar with the sounds, pronunciation, intonation, written form and aspects of the grammar of the language. They will know a range of vocabulary relating to a variety of topics. They should understand and respect cultural diversity and will have knowledge of aspects of the culture of at least one country where the language is spoken.

As well as knowledge, skills and understanding, pupils will have accumulated language-learning strategies, which they can apply to the learning of any language. It is essential that teachers take advantage of these where pupils learn a different language at key stage 3.

Key stage 3

As they start key stage 3, pupils build on their prior learning of a language or use their language-learning skills to learn a new language.

Over the key stage, pupils learn the spoken and written forms and grammar of a modern foreign language. They develop their understanding of the language and are able to use their knowledge to express themselves with increasing confidence in a range of situations.

Pupils increase their understanding of the language by listening to and viewing material from different sources and contexts, and by reading a range of texts. They learn to cope with less familiar language and less predictable situations. They become more independent and reflective in learning and using the language, drawing on a range of strategies. They adapt language they have learnt for new purposes, making use of reference materials and expressing themselves in more complex language and at greater length.

They increase their cultural understanding by communicating and interacting with people who speak the language and by using materials from countries and communities where the language is spoken.

By the end of the key stage, most pupils are able to:

  • understand the foreign language when spoken clearly and when reading a range of material about familiar and some less familiar topics including present, past or future events
  • pick out specific details as well as main points and recognise attitudes and opinions, both when listening to and when reading in the foreign language
  • take part in conversations and write about recent experiences or future plans as well as everyday activities and interests
  • seek and give information and opinions both when speaking and when writing, making themselves understood with little or no difficulty
  • appreciate cultural differences and similarities with at least one country where the language is spoken.

Framework for teaching modern foreign languages: Years 7, 8 and 9 sets out learning objectives for each year and summarises in greater detail the learning outcomes that most pupils should be able to demonstrate at the end of year 9.

Key stage 4

The knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils acquire at key stage 3 form the basis for future language learning, whether they continue to study the same language or choose to learn a new one.

During key stage 4, pupils who continue to study the same language learn to use it more independently, drawing on a firmer grasp of grammar and a wider and more complex range of expression. They adapt their use of the language according to context, purpose and audience. They learn to understand a more extensive range of unfamiliar language by reading and listening to a variety of materials from countries and communities where the language is spoken. They increase their intercultural understanding through more direct and virtual contact with people who live in those countries and communities.

The content and focus of courses at key stage 4 differs according to the qualification for which pupils are preparing. Those following a vocationally related language course learn to apply their knowledge and understanding to specific work-related contexts. Other courses may concentrate more on specific skills, for example listening and speaking.

New opportunities

The revised programme of study offers you many opportunities to refresh and renew your curriculum, making it broader and more relevant in ways that will inspire and engage learners. Some of the key themes that underpin the revisions include

Building on prior learning

The introduction, from 2010, of the entitlement for every child to learn a foreign language at key stage 2 implies a fundamental change in the attitudes and expectations of learners as they start key stage 3. Pupils will already have significant knowledge of at least one language other than English, which should provide a sound basis for further study and progress.

Pupils will also have acquired a range of strategies that they can apply to the learning of any language. Whether they continue to learn the same language or start a different one, they will be able to make more rapid progress. Schemes of work should be designed with this in mind.

A renewed focus on linguistic competence

The main aim when teaching pupils a new language is to ensure that they are able to communicate effectively in that language in a variety of contexts. Teaching should focus on developing pupils’ linguistic ability and confidence, increasing the range and complexity of language they are able to use and challenging them to apply their knowledge in different situations.

Freedom to choose contexts for language learning

In the revised programme of study for MFL there are no specific requirements relating to contexts, purposes or topic areas, other than that pupils should learn about different countries and cultures and have opportunities to use the target language in connection with other areas of the curriculum. This flexibility is intended to encourage teachers to plan in terms of developing pupils’ language skills rather than coverage of topics.

Teachers have the freedom to choose themes and topics that will be relevant and of interest to pupils, including current issues and debates, and to make links with other subjects. This could range from work relating to the geography or history of a country, for example, to more extensive cross-subject projects.

A greater emphasis on intercultural understanding

The revised programme of study encourages teachers to root language learning firmly in the cultural context of the target language. Pupils can explore aspects such as everyday life, school life, festivals, events of national importance, music, art and food. They can also learn about the values, beliefs, opinions and attitudes of people who live in countries and communities where the target language is spoken, as well as discussing views about British society.

Encouraging independence and creativity

The revised programme of study highlights the need for pupils to become more independent as learners and users of the target language. Teachers should provide plenty of opportunities for pupils to use their linguistic knowledge imaginatively in different contexts. New technologies offer many opportunities for pupils to learn independently and use language creatively.

Pupils should explore both fictional and non-fictional material that interests and challenges them, whether recorded in print or on screen. Being able to experiment with language and express their ideas and feelings is fundamental to success in language learning.

Alignment of level descriptions with the Languages Ladder

To make the assessment of pupils’ progress and attainment easier, and to support assessment for learning, the wording of the national curriculum level descriptions for MFL has been revised. In particular the level descriptions have been aligned with the Languages Ladder statements so that these two national frameworks relate very clearly to each other. A number of other changes have been made to the level descriptions to make them easier to understand and use.

Planning for inclusion

Planning an inclusive key stage 3 means thinking about shaping the curriculum to match the needs and interests of the full range of learners.

These include:

  • the gifted and talented

  • those with special educational needs and disabilities

  • pupils who have English as a second language

  • the different needs of boys and girls.

Pupils in the school will also bring a range of cultural perspectives and experiences, which can be reflected in the curriculum and used to further pupils' understanding of the importance of the issues of diversity.

An inclusive curriculum is one where:

  • different groups of pupils are all able to see the relevance of the curriculum to their own experiences and aspirations

  • all pupils, regardless of ability, have sufficient opportunities to succeed in their learning at the highest standard.

You may find that a useful starting point to planning for inclusion could be to consider your own school's Disability Action Plan, Race Equality Plan and other equality policies alongside a comprehensive overview of the data available on pupils from various groups. This can then be used to draw up a useful framework for curriculum review. You will also be able to identify appropriate points to involve the learners themselves in some of these developments.

Support for assessment

Assessment is an essential part of normal teaching and learning in all subjects. It can take many forms and be used for a range of purposes. To be effective assessment must be ‘fit for purpose’; being clear what you want the assessment to achieve will determine the nature of the assessment and what the outcome will be.

When planning assessment opportunities consider the following:

Purpose – What is the assessment for and how will it be used?

Does it form part of ongoing assessment for learning to provide individual feedback or targets so that the pupil knows what to do next? Is it to provide an overall judgement about how the pupil is progressing against national curriculum levels? Related to this is the need to consider how the purpose of assessment affects the frequency of assessment. For example, there should be sufficient time between level-related judgements to allow a pupil to show progress, whereas to be effective the assessment of ongoing work should be embedded in day-to-day teaching and learning. 

Evidence – What are the best ways to gather the evidence needed to support the purpose of the assessment?

Assessment shouldn’t be limited to a narrow range of evidence. Any meaningful judgement of progress or attainment should be based on a range of activities, outcomes and contexts. This could include assessing the learning as it’s happening through observation, discussion or focused questioning; involving pupils in the process through peer or self-assessment; or sampling a range of work over a period of time. If there are areas where you don’t have sufficient evidence you could either adjust your planning or use a more focused short task or test to fill the gap. The gathering of evidence also needs to be manageable. With care, the same evidence may be used for a variety of purposes. 

Outcome – What form will the assessment outcome take and how will it be used?

Depending on the purpose of the assessment the outcome could be a level judgement of progress over time or a specific and measurable improvement target for the pupil. Effective use of the assessment outcome results in actions such as providing an instant response or planning for the longer term. The best means of communicating assessment outcomes should also be considered. For example, it might be through written feedback or discussion. The outcome may also provide you with valuable information for your future planning, by identifying areas that need to be revisited by a class or individuals to secure understanding or by revealing gaps in curriculum coverage where there is no evidence of achievement in a particular area to assess.

Further guidance on gathering evidence, integrating assessment, periodic assessment and the role of tasks and tests can be found in the assessment section of the website.

Further guidance on day-to-day assessment and peer and self-assessment can be found under the assessment section of the website. 

Exemplification of standards and approaches

QCDA is working with schools to develop exemplification materials that will demonstrate effective ways of collecting evidence and providing feedback through assessment for learning and periodic assessments in subjects. The materials produced will show how assessment practice within and between subjects can support learning, embed standards and be part of effective teaching of the revised programmes of study. They will:

  • demonstrate ways to collect evidence of pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding as seen in their talk, actions and outcomes

  • provide examples of manageable ways of collecting evidence

  • include evidence of subject standards.

These exemplification materials will be available from the assessment section of the website in 2010.

Languages to teach

From August 2008 schools have greater flexibility when deciding which languages to offer at key stage 3. There is no longer a statutory requirement that schools must offer one of the official languages of the European Union. Instead, there is a non-statutory explanatory note in the programme of study indicating that the study of languages may include major European and world languages such as Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. This list is not exclusive. Schools may teach other languages in addition to, or instead of, the languages featured in this list. The following guidance is intended to help schools when planning their languages provision at key stage 3.

Factors to consider

Variety and choice

Pupils appreciate the possibility of having some choice of the languages that they might learn. This is a significant motivational factor that helps to engage learners better. Some pupils may wish to learn the language of a country that they have visited or to extend their knowledge of a language spoken in their local community. Certain languages, for example oriental languages like Japanese and Mandarin, have a strong cultural dimension that may make them particularly interesting to pupils.

Personal or vocational usefulness

While it is impossible to predict which languages any young person might wish or need to know for personal or work-related purposes later in life, some languages may be of more immediate use to pupils for travel or because of family connections. Widely spoken world languages, such as Arabic or Spanish, may appeal because of their potential usefulness in the future.

Local and regional needs and circumstances

There may be local interest in learning a particular language because of the communities living in that area. Some regions have strong links with other countries because of their geographical location, transport links or major local employers.

The availability of teachers

While there is a good supply of teachers of major European languages such as French, German and Spanish, qualified teachers of other languages are less numerous and their availability may vary by region, thus limiting the choice of languages a school may wish to offer.

The availability of teaching and learning resources

While resources for major European languages remain the most common, there is a very wide range of published materials covering many languages, and the availability of online resources is increasing constantly. Information about available resources is available from CILT, the National Centre for Languages.

Continuity from key stage 2

The introduction of the entitlement for every child to learn a foreign language at key stage 2 means that pupils starting key stage 3 will already have significant knowledge of at least one language other than English. This should provide a sound basis for further study and enable pupils to make rapid progress in language learning. It makes sense to offer pupils the possibility of continuing to learn the same language, and schools should endeavour to provide the opportunity to do so wherever possible. This will require discussion and agreement between secondary and primary schools. There may, however, be practical reasons why it is not possible to offer continuity in learning the same language, or schools may wish to offer a different language, either in addition to the language learnt at key stage 2 or instead of this. Whatever the decision made, it is essential that secondary schools have a clear rationale for their languages provision and exploit fully the learning gains made at key stage 2.

Continuity into key stage 4

When deciding which languages to teach at key stage 3, schools should plan to offer continuity in learning the same languages at key stage 4. There is no requirement that pupils learn the same language at both key stages, but it is desirable to offer to pupils the possibility of attaining a higher level of competence in the same language, or languages, learnt at key stage 3 and to obtain a qualification. It can also be highly motivating to offer pupils the opportunity to learn an additional or new language at key stage 4. Different options will be appropriate for different learners. In practice, therefore, when deciding which languages to offer at key stage 3, schools should plan coherent provision that covers both key stage 3 and key stage 4.

Learners at key stage 4 have a statutory entitlement to a course in a modern foreign language that leads to an accredited qualification. There are accredited qualifications in a wide range of languages. Details are available on the National Database of Accredited Qualifications. Schools should check that suitable qualifications are available when deciding which languages to offer at key stage 4. This could in turn affect the choice of languages to be offered at key stage 3.

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