Routes to Languages in the West Midlands - Mapping Alternative Progression Routes

Author(s): Henriette Harnisch
Institution/Organisation: University of Wolverhampton (UK)


1.1 Scope of the initiative

Success case: Mapping progression routes in alternative forms of language
accreditation (phase 1) and designing bridging modules for specific universities’
undergraduate programmes (phase 2).

Target: 14-19 year old language learners studying for language qualifications other
than the traditional GCSE/A-level route.

Institution carrying out the initiative: Language Networks for Excellence at the
University of Wolverhampton, on behalf of Routes into Languages West Midlands.


About the programme

The programme was conceived as a two phase project. The aim is to smooth
progression routes for young learners from school into Higher Education. It is based
on the fact that the take-up of languages beyond 14 is very low in the UK.
Increasingly, however, young people are taking up courses that lead to qualifications
other than the traditional GCSE/A-level.

Universities, although often aware of these alternative progression routes, have
generally done little to adapt their undergraduate provision to make transition form
these alternative progression routes.

1.2 Range of languages studied

The range of languages is not restricted within this programme. The main emphasis
is on progression opportunities. However, from the initial research we know that the
main emphasis is on major European languages (French, German, Spanish) with
other languages being patchy and low in numbers.

1.3 Learning outcomes

The project is not a learning project as such. However, the main outcomes are:

1.4 Practical realisation

The project was conceived to be conducted in two stages:

  1. initial mapping of alternative progression routes
  2. development of bridging curriculum to increase progression

The initial research was conducted across a selected group of secondary schools
across the whole of the region. Some 50 secondary schools responded, indicating,
not least, that they are keen to work with Universities in order to address decreasing
take-up of languages post-14, post-16 and into universities.

Initial questionnaires were compiled, followed up by a series of telephone interviews,
designed to gather qualitative, as well as quantitative data.

Some of the initial findings are:


2.1 Context

Levels of motivation amongst native English speaker to learn a foreign language
famously vary tremendously. Without oversimplifying the case it appears that there is
a huge appetite amongst primary aged pupils to engage with language learning (4 to
11 years). Equally, there is considerable demand for foreign language learning
provision in the lifelong learning sector. However, where the picture is particularly
patchy is during the upper secondary phase of education, which coincides with the
optional nature of language learning beyond the age of 14 in England and Wales.

In England, an entitlement curriculum was introduced in 2002 which resulted in large
numbers of learners opting not to continue to study languages beyond the
compulsory Key Stage 3 (12 – 14 years). This trend has continued ever since the
introduction of the entitlement curriculum, with a dramatic knock-on effect on teaching
departments in secondary schools and, naturally, a lack of progression of sufficient
numbers of learners into post-16 provision and into Higher Education.

In Wales, no compulsory provision of languages post-14 existed. However, the
downwards trend of uptake post-14 has been steady over recent years, and
language teachers are increasingly aware that the resulting patchy provision is not

As a result, teachers and languages advisors have been identifying, amongst a range
of other measures, alternative progression routes for learners. New qualifications
have been emerging, in particular Asset Languages, the government’s new
recognition scheme for languages. Though highly welcome due to the breadth of
languages for which Asset Languages is available, many teachers identified that
Asset in itself does not provide a sufficiently high motivational factor to retain learners
in language learning post-14.

As an alternative, many schools have identified business language courses as a real
alternative progression route for post-14 learners. The Midlands Curriculum Centre
for Languages, based at the University of Wolverhampton, set up a regional centre
for one such qualification in order to support schools and colleges in the implementation of this accreditation. In order to do this effectively, four areas of work were developed:

This project aims to raise universities’ awareness of the increasing variety of
progression routes and the need, therefore, to adapt undergraduate provision.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

Goals of the programme are:

to establish more collaborative relationships between Universities and
secondary schools:


a) quantitative indicators:

b) qualitative indicators:


The following factors contribute to the success of the programme:


5.1 Lessons to be learned at an institutional level

As the project is still ongoing it is difficult to identify lessons to be learned at
institutional level. However, there are clear early indicators that point towards lessons
that will need to be learned:

5.2 Broader implications

The following lessons could potentially be relevant to other institutions: