A REPORT this week has highlighted an alarming decline with Welsh Schools’ provision of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). In a hasty response, Education Minister, Huw Lewis, announced new plans to improve and promote MFL across Wales’ schools.
The report, published by the British Council and CFBT Education Trust, which was carried out across two thirds of Welsh secondary schools, showed a drop of over 4,000 pupils since 2002 taking either a German or French GCSE.
At the same time as Wales reached near crisis levels for MFL uptake, England and Scotland, unlike the Welsh government, put in policies to increase provision. As a consequence, uptake in French increased in England by some 19% between 2012 and 2013.
As England has introduced a compulsory MFL curriculum at primary level, Wales has not. Even where MFL is compulsory, in the first 3 years of secondary school, the report showed that only a minimal or fragmented experience of language learning was being received by pupils.
Earlier this year a Welsh Government spokesperson was quoted as saying: “Learning a modern foreign language is not compulsory in primary schools in Wales”, but continued by opining that, “it should be noted that all children in primary schools in Wales are taught Welsh”.
Reacting to criticism and alarming statistics, Huw Lewis has launched, this week, ‘Global Futures’, a plan, he said, to improve and promote MFL in Wales that will come into effect from September and will be supported by up to £480,000 of Welsh Government funding in the first academic year.
The minister went on to say that under the plan, one secondary school in each of Wales’ four regional consortia will be appointed as a Centre of Excellence for MFL. Teachers at the appointed Centre for Excellence will receive targeted Continuing Professional Development and benefit from new partnership arrangements with language institutes and Welsh universities to help them develop high level language teaching skills.
They will then be tasked with working in partnership with other secondary schools and primary schools in their area to drive up teaching standards for MFL across the region. An MFL steering group, he said, that was made up of experts from schools, universities, Estyn, British Council, language institutes and education consortia will also be established to ensure the plan is fully implemented.
Mr Lewis said: “Linguistic skills are rapidly becoming one of the most important skills a young person can acquire to compete for jobs in the global economy. They are important to Welsh businesses too as increasing amounts of our trade and commerce is done with new partners overseas.
“I want to ensure that more and more of our young people actively choose to study a Modern Foreign Language as part of their school education, and develop the skills they need to thrive in a modern global economy. We need a radical and new approach.”
Owen Hathway, NUT Wales Policy Officer, said: “As with any ‘outreach’ initiative it is wholly vital that this is seen as working with schools rather than simply monitoring and challenging them. Regional consortia bodies have failed to find the correct balance in the past.”
However, Dr Philip Dixon, Director of ATL Cymru, said: “This announcement is far too late and far too little to stem the catastrophic decline in the teaching of modern foreign languages. That decline has been apparent for over a decade. We must wonder if the Welsh Government is serious about this matter at all. Changes to the way schools’ performance is measured, to be introduced in the next year or so, will simply make things worse. We fear it is a case of ‘adios’ to foreign languages.”
Also commenting on the news that the Welsh Labour Government is to overhaul its strategy on MFL was Angela Burns AM, Shadow Minister for Education, who said: “Labour took measures which actively discouraged modern foreign language study, slashed funding for the National Centre for Languages and failed to capitalise on a successful pilot of foreign language study in primary schools.
“The ability to communicate in multiple languages is an increasingly valuable skill in the international jobs market, but unfortunately if young people lack the skills employers seek, Wales will fall further behind in the global race.
“Language learning is crucial to the future of the Welsh economy and can help ensure that Wales doesn’t become isolated with school leavers and graduates only able to communicate in their mother tongue.”
Asked if it might be the case that Welsh language teaching had replaced MFL provision, a Pembrokeshire County Council Spokesperson said: “MFL and Welsh are not treated similarly due to the statutory requirement to teach Welsh second language in primary schools and up to the age of 16 in secondary schools. MFL teaching is only required to be taught from Years 7-9 (ages 11-14). The statutory nature of Welsh second language is a curriculum priority set by the Welsh Government.”
Pupil Language Ambassadors’ key role
EACH year Pupil Language Ambassadors (PLAs) from schools across the ERW region work hard to increase awareness of the skills and opportunities, which come from studying a language amongst their peers. They speak in assemblies and to groups of their peers at school events. Their ambassadorial role is wide and varied and each year they work with their teachers to increase the number of pupils studying language at GCSE.
This year, the focus has been to utilise the skills of language ambassadors to work with primary school children where these committed linguists go into their nearby primaries and speak to key stage 2 pupils about the benefits of learning an additional language. This has helped to fulfil a crucial element of the national and regional priorities as set out in the work of Global Futures, a Welsh Government funded scheme to promote language learning for all.
In addition to their fantastic and creative work and projects, in March these motivated ambassadors attended the annual ERW Pupil Language Ambassador training at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. They met with other ambassadors from across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea to discuss their role and heaR from some inspirational speakers.
The purpose of the day was to help the pupils understand their role, to develop ideas for events they could run in their schools, to take part in language tasters and create a plan of action for supporting language learning in their school and their cluster.
The day began with a fantastic presentation from the Pupil Language Ambassadors from Ysgol Dyffryn Taf in Whitland. They spoke to the new PLAs about their achievements last year. They addressed the audience in many languages and set the tone for the day perfectly. The keynote speaker was Rhodri Bendle, Chief Consultant at Snowstyle Travel Company in Austria that specialises in Ski and Snowboarding holidays and tuition. He shared his own story about learning a German and how it has helped him to develop his own business.
Pupils then went into a series of workshops delivered by Routes Cymru, a team of professionals and student language ambassadors from Cardiff University who facilitated idea sharing and discussion about how to set up a language club and other ways of getting the message across about language learning.
Diane Evans, ERW, helped pupils to draw out their knowledge of the role of the ambassador across Wales and internationally. Pupils learned how to get their voices heard and how to make an impact in their time as language ambassadors in their community.
Alex Pickering represented the Goethe Institute at the event speaking with ambassadors about the importance of language in business. Ariane Laumonier, a consultant with the Institut Français ran a brilliant workshop on language and the world of work. Both Ariane and Alex used their own languages to convey the importance of learning a language and the benefits of developing multilingual learners.
Another aim of the day was to build confidence in ambassadors in learning and speaking an additional language. The language taster sessions from staff and postgraduate students at Swansea University all ran tasters that strengthen the priorities across Wales to learn and speak a new language. These were extremely well-received as always, pupils tried out languages that many of them had not learnt before including Polish, Italian, German and Mandarin.
Mererid Hopwood, Professor of Language at University of Wales Trinity Saint David inspired staff and students alike with her talk on the importance of striving for a Multi-lingual society in Wales with children and adults using their newly acquired language at every opportunity.
Local students shine at skills competition
KATIE WAITE and Ben Thomas, from Pembrokeshire and Llanelli, have won a gold medal in the photography and coaching final of a national skills competition.
Backed by the Welsh Government through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales is a series of events held in colleges across the country, designed to celebrate vocational skills and create highly skilled, talented employees for the Welsh workforce.
Katie, 18, who is studying foundation art, competed against 18 other students from across Wales in a photography challenge. The competitors were tasked with creating photography that focused on the theme discovering Wales.
Katie said: “I am over the moon to have won the photography competition.
“’Discovering Wales’ was the theme of the competition and we had to base our photography around the great outdoors, adventure and culture.
“I focused on the cultural aspect of the brief by looking at how the landscape of Wales reflects its culture.
“It was fascinating to see other people’s work at the competition and see how different people can interpret a brief and show their creativity in other aspects.
“I love photography as it can capture a moment in a unique way and shows another way of seeing things.”
Ben, 21, who is studying level two fitness instructing, competed against 17 other students from across Wales in a series of coaching challenges in within one hour. The competitors were tasked with coaching a one on one strength training session, warm up and circuit session.
Ben said: “Competing in the coach competition was a big success for me that has brought me closer to achieving my goal in making a real difference to people.
“Last year I was struggling with both my physical and mental health and turned to fitness. I got a personal trainer, Zak Hearne, who helped me lose three stone in three months which had a hugely positive impact on my mental health.
“Being able to make the same difference with other people is something I want to achieve in the future through personal training.
“For me, it’s all about pushing people to achieve great things and showing people that they can do anything if they put their mind to it and aim high.”
More than 40 competitions are taking place this year, across a wide range of different vocations from forensic science and fashion technology to 3D game and food preparation.
Those who are successful may then go on to be shortlisted for the UK Squad, competing against the world’s most talented young people at the WorldSkills international final in Shanghai, China in 2021.
Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates said: “Skills Competition Wales is such an important event, allowing multi-talented young people the length and breadth of Wales to put their skills to the test, building on their excellence and experiences across various fields with the opportunity to then progress and compete at UK national and international level.
“It’s also an opportunity to show the breadth of talent we have here in Wales and to celebrate the Welsh companies who are nurturing and reaping the rewards of such highly skilled, talented employees. Ensuring Wales has the skills needed for economic success has long been a priority for me personally and for the Welsh Government more broadly and it’s fantastic to see skills acknowledged in this way.
“I would like to say well done to everyone who has competed this year and add my congratulations to Katie and Ben on their brilliant achievement. Best of luck to them in the next stage of the competition and I look forward to seeing them prosper in their future careers.”
Vocational qualifications importance emphasised
THE IMPORTANCE of vocational qualifications to the Welsh economy was emphasised at the launch of this year’s VQ Awards in Wales at the Senedd in Cardiff.
Speakers called for vocational qualifications to have parity of esteem with academic qualifications and for the Welsh Government to continue prioritising investment in the sector.
Iestyn Davies, chief executive of ColegauCymru/CollegesWales, said Wales was one of the remaining parts of the world where there had been a reluctance to recognise the value of vocational qualifications.
Academic qualifications had hogged the limelight when young people were considering a career path. However, he believed a significant change was underway with politicians now accepting the key importance of vocational qualifications to the economy of Wales.
He called on the people assembled at the launch event to spread the word about the success of vocational qualifications and lifelong learning in Wales to ensure that the Welsh Government continued to prioritise investment in the sector.
Vikki Howells, AM for Cynon Valley, who sponsored the launch event, said during her 16-year teaching career she had wished that there was a greater vocational offer for her students.
There remained a challenge to make young people and their parents, who played a crucial role in directing their children, embrace everything that vocational qualifications had to offer.
She praised the Welsh Government for the work it had already done and continued to do to promote vocational qualifications.
The VQ Awards are jointly organised by the Welsh Government, the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), ColegauCymru/CollegesWales, Qualifications Wales and the Education Workforce Council. The Welsh Government’s funding has support from the European Social Fund.
The Education Workforce Council’s chair Angela Jardine said it was exciting to be a new partner in the high-profile awards which celebrated the success and high standards achieved in vocational education to create the Wales of the future.
By maintaining a Register of Education Practitioners, the council aimed to contribute to improving the standards of teaching and the quality of learning in Wales. The register would provide the professional evidence to achieve parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications, she added.
Sarah John, chair of the NTfW, said: “The VQ Awards provide a great opportunity for learners, employers and their trainers to celebrate and publicise the positive impact that vocational qualifications have on the lives of individuals and the productivity of businesses in Wales. Upskilling in the changing vocational skills needed by businesses to be competitive is critical as they continue to evolve.”
Cassy Taylor, Associate Director for Vocational Qualifications with Qualifications Wales, said: “Vocational qualifications are the gateway to a rewarding career and we are delighted to be sponsoring the VQ Awards again this year.
“The awards are a perfect way to showcase the talent of learners and the commitment of tutors and employers to develop the skills in our workforce that are the bedrock of the economy.”
Stacey Davies, Human Resources Manager at Gestamp Tallent Ltd, an automotive manufacturer from Llanelli, spoke about the company winning the VQ Employer of the Year Award last year.
“Winning this prestigious award was an immensely proud moment for the plant,” she said. “To be recognised for the early accomplishments of an ambitious but exciting learning and development strategy continues to be very encouraging for all the stakeholders.”
Vocational qualifications play a key role in the Gestamp Tallent Growth Programme, which aims to upskill the entire workforce by creating tailor-made, individual development plans, revamping an apprenticeship programme and introducing leadership and management solutions and a programme for high potential employees.
The VQ Awards are designed to recognise and celebrate star learners, trainers and employers in every part of Wales who have used technical, practical and vocational qualifications to achieve success.
Nominations are now sought in four categories: VQ Intermediate Learner of the Year, VQ Higher Learner of the Year, VQ Trainer of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. It’s easy to enter the awards. Just download a nomination form at https://www.vqday.wales which has full details about the awards. The closing date is noon on March 8.
From the entries, a panel of judges will select the category finalists for a high-profile awards ceremony to be held at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff on May 15 to coincide with VQ Day.
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