Student mentors help pupils say ‘si’ to GCSE languages

It is a question arguably more fiendish than mastering the French subjunctive or the thousands of characters in Mandarin. How can schools halt – and even reverse – the swift decline of languages at GCSE and beyond? The Guardian reports 

Now a pilot project may have found the answer. A report published yesterday finds that numbers of pupils choosing to take a foreign language can be dramatically increased by mentoring from undergraduates who have chosen to specialise in the subject at university.

Independent analysis of a government-funded pilot in 10 Sheffield secondary schools found that more than half of participating pupils said they would take a language GCSE as a result of mentoring by undergraduates. The study showed that the programme also boosted take-up among pupils who were not mentored: GCSE entries this year for languages across schools in the Sheffield pilot are up 43% on 2018.

“This shows it is possible to tackle the language crisis,” said Teresa Tinsley, director of research consultancy Alcantara Communications. “The success of this project is down to targeted intervention at a key moment before pupils are choosing their options, and the leadership shown by the university partners in developing and implementing an imaginative and effective scheme. The ability to draw on the enthusiasm of university students as mentors has been critical: they are closer in age to pupils than their parents or teachers, and offer real-life examples of the future opportunities that learning another language opens up.”

The project surveyed all the pupils in the year they choose their GCSE options, usually year eight or nine, and found that in eight of the 10 schools more than 70% of pupils said they did not intend to choose a language or were not sure they would. After five weeks of face-to-face and online mentoring by language undergraduates at Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities, 55% said they had chosen to take a language at GCSE.

Jennie Skitt, modern foreign languages subject leader at Stocksbridge high school in Sheffield, said the programme was “something completely different to anything we’ve ever done before at Stocksbridge”.

“The idea of getting undergraduates to work with our year eight students at the time of choosing their options seemed great in opening up the world and them hearing about languages from someone other than just their language teachers and their peers.”

Skitt said half the participants chose GCSE French – the only language available – and overall entries for French GCSE doubled.

Read the full article Student mentors help pupils say ‘si’ to GCSE languages 

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