Modern Foreign Languages
At Weatherhead High School we believe that knowledge of modern languages affords plentiful opportunities which can both enrich a person’s life and shape their character. Language studies help students to understand different cultures, alternative viewpoints and diverse ways of seeing the world around them.
From a practical perspective, we believe that language knowledge can also offer possibilities for employment, especially in today’s global world in which distances between countries are becoming ever smaller. Increasing immigration and emigration in our society demonstrate that mobility and multiculturalism are the order of the day. Therefore, language knowledge is important for everybody, since we inhabit a world in which countries are becoming ever more dependent on each other. Language skills also help our students to become better citizens, and more easily able to relate to a wider populace. Ultimately, we feel that languages are valuable and enjoyable in their own right, and we strive to convey this idea to our students every day.
The languages department at Weatherhead is a progressive and dedicated team of linguists, who, via a carefully crafted and varied curriculum, encourage the development of students’ skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing, in line with the National Curriculum. The curriculum has been checked against the requirements of the National Curriculum with regard to the pillars of phonics grammar and vocabulary and the development of linguistic competence. We foster students’ curiosity and aim to deepen their understanding of the world, as well as learning and appreciating new and different ways of thinking. We encourage students to willingly step out of their comfort zone and master the use of the target language imperfectly, with the successful communication of ideas being the ultimate goal. There is a positive learning environment within our classrooms, where students become confident and independent young linguists.
As a department we have a rich extra curricular programme, enjoyed by students across all year groups. KS4 & KS5 students participate in immersion trips abroad to Madrid and Barcelona and KS3 students have the opportunity to visit a Spanish restaurant and experience authentic Spanish food. In addition we run various extra curricular clubs such as Reading Club to foster students’ love for languages and books, and French Club where students work towards FCSE and GCSE qualifications in a second language. We celebrate European Day of Languages every September with a week-long timetable of activities including an European-themed bake-off and prizes for the most impressive cakes. We also enjoy language enrichment days for Year 9 students where we have a local Spanish chef visit school to cook a paella on the school playground that we eat together. Students of all year groups enjoy the competitive element of participating in online Languagenut competitions across different classes and we run a Translation Bee competition for KS3. Finally, KS5 students have a Spanish pen friend that they write to on a regular basis.
We use innovative strategies to ensure that languages remain accessible to students of all abilities, including those on the special needs register. We have different qualification paths available to our KS4 students, ensuring that all Weatherhead students leave us with certification of their language proficiency. We have high ambitions for all of our students at Weatherhead, and everybody has the opportunity to study a language, irrespective of their ability profile or any SEND needs.
We take immense pride in the design of our curriculum which builds on the communication skills acquired through KS2 language studies. At KS3, we build confidence through use of the target language and authentic texts in order to boost student engagement and develop resilient linguists who are comfortable in making mistakes. At KS4 and KS5, students become adept across the four language skills and in manipulating language. They also become comfortable in dealing with authentic texts. The design of our curriculum means that vocabulary and grammar are revisited throughout students’ time at Weatherhead and addressed in further depth each time, again building on prior knowledge. Additionally, our planning accounts for gaps in learning that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.
For those students who arrive at Weatherhead and need extra support in their language studies, we have adapted schemes of work, intervention programmes and lunchtime and after-school support clubs. We adapt the curriculum skillfully to meet the needs of our SEND students, developing their knowledge and skills. Teaching staff have expert knowledge of the subjects that they teach, and through mastery tasks and retrieval opportunities in our planning, we ensure that all students are able to embed key structures and grammatical concepts in their long-term memory.
Assessment is ongoing throughout students’ language learning and used to inform planning. Knowledge is assessed through mastery tasks and retrieval opportunities at the start of language lessons to recap prior learning, and half termly assessments are conducted to consolidate learning and provide further opportunity to adapt planning going forward.
Homework is purposeful and provides students with the chance to practise and reinforce the content and skills that have been taught during lessons. Tasks consist of reading comprehension, translation, listening tasks and written assignments and are consistent across classes and year groups, with differentiation in place to suit the needs of different groups and individual students. Languagenut is also utilised to supplement student homework and revision and to provide them with further practice.
Language provision at Weatherhead has gone from strength to strength in recent years. In 2020 KS4 students were receiving two language lessons per week, alongside drop down days and additional sessions put on at lunch and after school by staff. In 2021 we adapted this model to three lessons per week to encourage further uptake and increase student confidence, and our current Year 11 students have received three language lessons per week throughout their KS4 studies. We also have in place a post-pandemic support plan to recover and build the confidence of our students. We have extra staff in the department to assist with intervention within the MFL timetable. Increased staffing also allows for much smaller class sizes which will allow for extra student support within lessons.
In recent years MFL have achieved outstanding results at GCSE level and in 2019 were amongst the top 20% nationally in both Spanish (value added score 0.97) and French (value added score 2.22). The prior high attainers value added score was 0.8, significantly above the national average. KS4 students are primed for their next stage of language study, and well-equipped with the knowledge and skills that they need to progress further with their learning. As part of a three year strategic plan, we increased our entries for GCSE Modern Foreign Languages from 31% in 2019 to 63% in 2021. In addition, a further 28% of the cohort achieved the Spanish FCSE qualification. At Weatherhead, languages are valued very highly and can be accessed by all.
We know that our curriculum is highly effective in the MFL department through the engagement of our students throughout the school. This is observed through student voice and learning walks, and we have a rigorous departmental quality assurance programme which ensures teaching and learning of the highest standards across all key stages. All students study languages at KS3 and KS4, with a number of students continuing their studies to A level in both Spanish and French.
Various students who study A Level MFL choose to continue their language studies at university, many at Russell group universities. Our alumni students often return to Weatherhead either in an observational capacity with a view to becoming a teacher, or simply to share their experiences of university and their time abroad. Our students often comment on how their language studies at school prepared them well for university.
Ultimately, and equally as important as academic outcomes, the impact of language teaching and learning is that our students become better citizens. Participation in the extra-curricular opportunities enriches their experience and nurtures a love of the subject. Speaking a second language takes courage and is often a transformative experience for people. When our students have mastered the challenge of communicating in another language, using their native language promptly seems much simpler. Students that were perhaps a little fearful of sharing their ideas in lessons can be more forthcoming once they have contributed in a second language. The ultimate impact of our teaching is the generation of self-confident and appreciative students with an enhanced cultural capital.
Students have access to an extensive range of support, including electronic and online resources such as Languagenut, to enhance their learning experience.
There are a range of support sessions that run at lunchtime and after school for Students in all of the three key stages. Students can practise their language skills with native language assistants. Additional revision classes are also available for all students before they sit GCSE and Advanced Level examinations.
The department is committed to providing varied and meaningful opportunities for pupils to apply and further develop their language skills in real contexts. Year 7 students take part in The Times Spanish Bee. Regular trips to Spanish restaurants are organised, enabling students to experience authentic cuisine and practise their conversational skills. For GCSE and A level students, we offer unique opportunities to get the most out of language learning through our immersion weekends and trips. An annual Spanish immersion weekend takes place in March to help GCSE students prepare for the summer examinations. The 6th Form students are given the opportunity to attend a language college in Madrid to enhance their communication skills and cultural awareness.
Visit weatherheadhigh.co.uk/extra-curricular-clubs for our current programme of extra-curricular activities.