The National Curriculum for Modern foreign languages was updated in 1999, and aims towards giving “teachers, pupils, parents, employers and the wider community a clear and shared understanding of the skills and knowledge that young people will gain at school” (National curriculum, 2003: 3).
The structure of the National Curriculum enables teachers to use this working document in order to inform their long-term, mid-term and short term planning multiplication chart
. Amongst general guidelines, it contains a Programme of Study defined in the 1996 Education Act as “the matters, skills and processes that should be taught to pupils of different abilities and maturities during the key stage. “(National Curriculum, 2003: 6) Modern Languages Departments have the responsibility to decide on how they want this programme to be implemented, and this has to be detailed in their schemes of work for the various year groups.
The Programme of study features five mains strands to address in Key stage 3 and 4: students should acquire knowledge and understanding of the target language, develop languages skills, develop language-learning skills, develop cultural awareness and have a breadth of study. These strands are sub-divided in more specific points, which are no longer topic based, such as “pupils should be taught the principle of interrelationship of sounds and writing in the target language” ( National Curriculum, 2003: 16).
The National Curriculum also includes attainment targets and level descriptors which should help to assess the performance of students uniformly across the country. The 1996 Education Act, section 353a, defines the attainment target for Modern Foreign Languages as the “knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage”. Attainment targets across the curriculum consist of eight level descriptors, which describe the range of abilities and knowledge that students should have when they reach that level. For all the core subjects started in primary school, students have already been assessed using these levels; therefore, secondary schools are provided with prior data for each student new to a school. However, as languages are not statutory in primary school, secondary Modern Foreign Languages teachers are not provided with any information concerning students’ prior learning. This implies that in Year 7 students are in mixed ability groups, amongst which some students have already practised languages, and some other have had no connection with a foreign language. Planning the lessons to suit the needs and skills of each individual student within the group is extremely difficult to achieve.
The National Curriculum promotes cross- curricular teaching and learning in various areas such as spiritual, moral and social and cultural development, key skills and thinking skills. It stresses the importance of the National Literacy strategy, a statutory strategy across the curriculum since 2000, as “Pupils should be taught in all subjects to express themselves correctly and appropriately and to read accurately and with understanding” (Literacy Strategy, 37: 2000). Literacy has to be part of a whole school approach, and roles and responsibilities are clearly dispatched throughout the staff. The task of the director of learning is to monitor that the policy is implemented, in each department, and he gives guidance to all the staff as how to teach literacy. Each department is expected to identify literacy skills to focus on, in their department and include suitable strategies in the schemes of work. Indeed, Modern Foreign Languages are directly linked with literacy skills, as pupils are taught a foreign language, mainly through their knowledge of their native language. Besides, Hawkins suggests (1996: 21) that “one of the most effective ways of understanding the structure of a language is to compare it with the structure of another language”.
Schools have the obligation to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for all their students. This is one of the key general teaching requirements in England. All students must have equal learning opportunities. There are three main principles for inclusion that teachers need to remember when planning their lessons: setting suitable learning challenge, responding to pupils’ varied learning needs, and providing manageable assessments. Every child has to be treated as an individual, with his pace, needs and desire.
Researches have shown that “subject choice differs in single sex schools from that in mixed schools, and this may relate to boys’ perceived susceptibility to peer pressure… in single sex setting, boys were more keen on languages than in their counterparts in mixed-sex schools” (Morgan and Neil, 2001: 133). If the boys are often achieving well in Year 7 and 8 in languages, it seems that they become disaffected in favour of subjects seen as more masculine, like sciences, from Year 9 onwards. Boys are usually more participating orally, during a lesson. The National Curriculum states that “to ensure that they meet the full range of pupils’ needs, teachers should be aware of the requirements of the equal opportunities legislation, that covers race, gender, and disability” (National Curriculum, 2003: 21). The laws states that teachers should know about are the Sex Discrimination Act, 1975, The Race Relation Act, 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995.