The Linguist

The Linguist 55,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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8 The Linguist Vol/55 No/3 2016 FEATURES Shirley Lawes explores the reasons for the teaching crisis in modern foreign languages O ver the last few months, there has been a number of reports predicting an impending crisis in recruitment to teaching, exacerbated by rising disaffection among teachers and increasing numbers of qualified staff turning their backs on the profession. The recruitment and retention of modern foreign languages (MFL) teachers have always been problematic in English secondary schools, which is perhaps why, in the current situation of shortages across most subjects, the specific problems in MFL go largely unrecognised. Teaching unions draw attention to pay, conditions and excessive workloads, pointing the blame, particularly, at academy schools, which can set their own curriculum, conditions of service and pay. However, it could be argued that the problem is less about who funds and organises our schools, and more about what principles and values guide our education system. Both the maintained and academy sectors are susceptible to "… the culture at the heart of education (that) is now so distorted by targets, accountability and a cult of managerialism that any remnants of an ethos of public service has been lost", as one teacher put it. 1 Plus ça change? The culture of schools The working life of a languages teacher has changed considerably over the last 15 years or so. One important example is the far greater emphasis placed on the tracking of progress through the collection of evidence of 'visible learning' on an almost daily basis in some schools. Far more time is spent by languages teachers fulfilling measures of accountability than ever before. Far less time is left for developing a love of languages in pupils and fostering a curiosity to understand the world, because these can't easily be recorded on a spreadsheet. Many MFL teachers live with the frustration of fitting into a data- driven mode of teaching. Their love of languages and belief in their importance enables them to see beyond what are sometimes meaningless measures of knowledge and understanding. But forcing teachers to succeed in spite of the system may not be the best way of retaining staff, or indeed of inspiring linguists to join the profession. It could be that the more idealistic linguists, eager to share their love of languages with young people, are put off by the 'exam factory' image of many schools. Has the inclusion of an MFL in the EBacc reinforced this idea, rather than promoted the intrinsic value of languages as part of a broad, liberal education? Has the panic over under-recruitment led policy-makers to offer financial incentives that encourage people to train who may be more financially motivated and less committed to teaching as a long-term career? Indeed, a short-term commitment seems to be entirely acceptable now and is a defining feature of the Teach First scheme, where early promotion ('fast-tracking') is almost guaranteed for those who stay beyond the two-year Development Programme. In some schools, fast-tracking is a desperate attempt to keep good languages teachers on board. Indeed, Sir Toby Salt, Chief Executive of Ormiston Academies Trust, is proud that "today, a Newly Qualified Teacher [NQT] with the right attitude, skill set and ambition could realistically become a part of a school's leadership team in five years." 2 While no one wants to stop young teachers being promoted, the burden of responsibility of most middle- management jobs in schools is huge. Teachers need time to consolidate their knowledge and experience, and to develop the classroom expertise that is vital for assuming a leadership role capably and with confidence. It may be that reward for showing promise is best postponed: early promotion can lead to an early exit from teaching. Knowledge and the confidence to teach The importance of good subject knowledge is recognised as being fundamental to good teaching. But it is well- known that the study of European languages in UK universities has been in decline for decades and, since 2004, the optional study of languages beyond Key Stage 3 (age 14) has led to a year-on-year reduction in the number of pupils learning a language to school exam and degree To teach or not to teach? DISILLUSIONED A tick-box approach to education can lead teachers to leave the profession Teachers live with the frustration of fitting into a data- driven mode of teaching © SHUTTERSTOCK

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