Early language initiative – Primary school UK: Case study on early language learning at Primary level (French)

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: Malorees Junior, London (UK)

1 Profile of school

1.1 Main characteristics

 

The school is a state funded mixed primary school situated in the greater London area. It has approximately 240 pupils. Its social profile is one of a considerable immigration population in an area of some social deprivation. There are a large number of the pupils on the Special Educational Needs (SEN) register.

1.2 Language teaching in the schools

 

The main language of tuition in the school is English, while the languages spoken by the pupils include Arabic, Gujarati, Chinese, Ethiopian, Spanish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, among others.

The other language taught in the school is French, which is taught at beginner level from year 3.  All the pupils learn French at this point within the curriculum. They average class size in 30 and the age of the pupils is from 7 to 11 years. Extensive use is made of the BBC language website using computers and interactive whiteboards in the classrooms.

There are no language assistants in the school; however one of the teachers has been involved in a two week Comenius course for teachers in France, which involved job shadowing in the French school and observing the foreign language teaching methodology.

2 Profile of the language initiative

Following the objectives set out in the Framework for Languages, the guidance sent out by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the school hopes that it will be able to enhance many different areas of the curriculum: oral and literacy objectives can be applied to the learning of English, and patterns in both languages can be compared.

 

A major strand of the Modern Languages framework is Intercultural Understanding. This has a bearing on the school and can play an important role as part of school life: they have a very diverse school community. In Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCE), the school strives to effect community cohesion by making and maintaining community links.

 

Dealing first-hand with another school in the European Community will enable children to experience a way of life and culture that is different from their own, yet that has a range of similarities. This, they hope, will help the children to understand and appreciate the diversity within their own school.

 

The school is in the process of setting up programmes with two French schools: one in the South-West and one in the Rhone-Alpes region. One contact was made via a link advisor and one following the Comenius course the teachers attended. Unfortunately, the latter has had to be put on hold until later in the year as the target-age children in France learned Italian rather than English, and the next group of children are starting English now, and so the school will forge a link with them. This French school is considered as particularly suitable as they share the same set-up with the English school: the school is a stand-alone junior school with a separate infant school on the same site, and the clientele is similar. The aim is to produce cross-curricular links to exchange information about location, culture, arts, and language. It is uncertain whether there will be a chance to have an exchange visit as part of the initiative: this could prove to be too expensive.

3 Evaluation

3.1 Success factors

 

The main success factor is the establishment of foreign language learning in the school where before there has been none for several years. From 2009 the teaching of a modern foreign language will be compulsory for all elementary level schools in the UK, and the teachers in this school feel they have at the least got a head-start. The main factor of success her is the determination at school management level to implement the teaching of a French as a foreign language throughout the school.
 

3.2 Success Indicators

 

The main success indicator is the motivation and enthusiasm of the young pupils: “Our children very much enjoy learning a foreign language and as juniors, are still at the keen stage and can be enthused.”


Another indicator is the wide support given to the initiative by the parents of the pupils.

 

Although they are at the beginning of their language teaching, the school community (pupils, teachers, parents and the wider community) is looking forward to the success of this initiative. However, they are concerned that some of them lack expertise in the chosen language. Another major concern is the time factor; yes, it is possible to include French in many other subjects, but unless the language is given a discrete amount of time for the “nuts and bolts” of language learning, there is the distinct possibility that the pace and rigour of learning just will not happen – they would like to avoid having four years of little more than “Bonjour, je m’appelle…”.