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Fewer pupils studying tough subjects

(54 Posts)
GeorgeT Thu 20-Oct-11 17:14:54

According to Telegraph fewer pupils are studying tough subjects.

I am not surprised by this. Over 7 years ago I felt that many able pupils failed to take tough subjects leaving them with fewer options post 16 and beyond. I fear this is a symptom of league tables. While a Modern Language may not be for everyone I think it should be for many. Also many pupils opt for subjects with little writing so their only essay subject is English. Hardly surprising employers complain about written skills.Is it possible that parents don't understand the impact of the choices made at 14?

inkyfingers Thu 20-Oct-11 17:32:54

Schools are very influential with 14-16 subjects. Some encourage lots of BTECs for pupils who could do GCSEs although I think parents and teachers are wising up to this as they don't feature in the EBacc. many parents on here are concerned about single or double science etc in case it limits A level choice in science. Michael Gove has been talking about doing languages from 5 years old and I think was generally well received, but of course no significant funding so bit meaningless.

My DCs go to a school which was a 'language college' until last year and everyone took a MFL to 16 which I think is great.

Most pupils can't easily get out of 'written' subjects unless it's all dance/art/tech/PE/science. So poor writing skills are possibly a result of writing not being taken seriously in English/humanities they did.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 20-Oct-11 17:44:00

The EBacc isn't perfect, but at least it should do something to address this issue in schools motivated by league tables. Their sudden introduction was quite revealing. Some schools which had highish scores using GCSE A*-C % dropped way down.

cricketballs Thu 20-Oct-11 17:57:19

But the problem with the Ebacc suddenly being introduced is the fact that MFL was taken off the national curriculum for 14-16 year olds a number of years ago and therefore unless it was a specific language college it was an optional subject for GCSE and a lot of students chose not to study it.

If there was detailed survey into the results in terms of students whom would have achieved the Ebacc if they taken a language (thus, showing if they took history or geography) then the result would be a far higher percentage for the majority of schools as a large number have always chosen these subjects.

You will also find that if a student was capable of achieving the GCSE Science at grade C or higher, then these weren't the ones who were taking the BTEC Science as most schools kept the higher ability students on the GCSE route for this subject

The BTECs are only used (in the main) for vocational optional subjects and they are invaluable for allowing a lower ability student (especially those who can not undertake examinations easily) to achieve a qualification. And, believe me they are not easy to do; a lot of work has to be done for these

bruffin Thu 20-Oct-11 19:50:47

Sorry I think MFL is a complete waste of time at GCSE level for those not interested. My DS is very bright to the point of gifted in some areas but has taken german because he knows he will need it for his university application. However due to sn issues he cannot remember the long passages in german they use for exams and will hopefully only get a C at the highest, which may ruin his chances of getting into the university of his choice. Whereas if he could have concentrated on another Hummanity he will more likely come out with A/A*. He is doing one vocational subject which is Electronics but that will actually earn him points towards his A level maths as the higher level Btec electronics covers some of the same areas, so not exactly an easy subject.

DD yr 9 will have to take Italian or French, neither of which she is particularly interested in so I suspect probably won't do as well as she may do in some other subjects that she won't have room for because she has to do an MFL.

kritur Thu 20-Oct-11 20:15:03

The real value of MFL at GCSE level is how much it improves written and spoken English, especially with the lack of emphasis on grammar in English lessons these days. MFL isn't about remembering long passages in foreign languages, it's about learning how to conjugate verbs correctly and pay attention to tense and sentence structure.

There are lots of perfectly able students who aren't studying the 'tougher' subjects for lots of reasons, they think they are trendy eg, media, they are their hobbies eg, PE, dance, they think they are easier..... This can be damaging to their university applications later on. The daughter of a teacher at my school was applying for English degrees with good A-level grades and could find very few who were willing to accept her because she didn't have an MFL GCSE.

BTECs have their place IF they are correctly delivered. That is unfortunately a very big if! Many schools give the students far too much help and guarantee a C equivalent for students who aren't of C ability or don't have the motivation to get a C for whatever reason. In many cases there are perfectly decent GCSEs covering the same programme of study that are less open to 'intervention'.

EBacc will help as schools will want to steer students capable of getting those subjects towards them and I can already see parents are quite keen on it. It's a shame RS isn't there as a humanity though.

bruffin Thu 20-Oct-11 20:25:08

"MFL isn't about remembering long passages in foreign languages, it's about learning how to conjugate verbs correctly and pay attention to tense and sentence structure. "

But the exam itself is no more than learning a prepared text, whether it's oral or written. DS only managed 150 words of the 500 he needed for his test this week.

GeorgeT Thu 20-Oct-11 20:26:15

Kritur I agree with you. Shame RS isn't regarded as a humanity. Many do opt for Media or dance etc as they are trendy. My take is I would let one subject can be chosen for pleasure but dance, drama and sport can be pursued through extra curricular. I think it is important to look at the bigger picture, less choice earlier means hopefully greater choice later!
Re: other comments about MFL, as I said it is not for all but do think it shouldn't be disregarded as much as it currently is.
My ongoing gripe that pupils take less academically challenging subjects remains a concern, well at least in the state sector.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 20-Oct-11 21:11:44

>a lot of students chose not to study it.
because MFL are viewed as 'tough' subjects.

Our local comp is a language college yet its EBacc placing was way lower than its (quite good) GCSE ranking. The sudden introduction of the thing exposed various weaknesses in different schools. Its fairly meaningless for last years/this years students, its what it says about the schools and the choices they steered there pupils towards which is revealing.

>But the exam itself is no more than learning a prepared text, whether it's oral or written

really? If that's the exam then surely they must be doing a lot of coursework too or something - any language teachers around to comment?
(my DDs only in yr 8 so I don't know what MFL gcses are like but I can't believe that learning a prepared text is the be all and end all nowadays)

kritur Thu 20-Oct-11 21:13:35

I know MFL is taught practically as rote learning in lots of schools these days (including the one I taught in until the Head of MFL left and they started teaching it properly). MFL GCSE can be a real joy when it is taught well and the rules of language are taught (which makes things much easier as you only have to learn the rules).

cricketballs Thu 20-Oct-11 21:55:43

Grimma - MFL wasn't chosen because it is tough; but because very few students have any interest in it or any ability in it.

As with Bruffin my DS has achieved very good grades (14 A*-C) in English, Maths, History, Geography, Science, ICT, RE, Resistant Materials and BTEC Sport.

His school wanted him to do German, but there was absolutely no chance of him ever achieving higher than an E in the subject as it neither interested him nor did he have any ability to even think about a good grade.

He is currently studying AS History, Geography, Law and PE (neither of us are bothered that Law and PE are not 'RG' subjects, but that he studies subjects he enjoys grin)

bruffin Thu 20-Oct-11 22:29:23

Ds hasn't decided what AS levels he wants to do yet
It will be most likely maths,either 1 or 2 sciences, or further maths, or history. None of them easy subjects.

troisgarcons Thu 20-Oct-11 22:34:07

My Y11 is doing AS Maths and Psychology alongside his remaining 12 GCSEs having fully banked 5 through Y8,9, 10. It does my head in really.

CustardCake Thu 20-Oct-11 22:34:10

It used to be that taking one MFL GCSE was compulsory in most schools. I don't remember anyone getting particularly awful grades as a result. In fact most of us were stunned that we all got Grades A - C in our language option (and this was when GCSEs were quite new and a Grade B or C was considered to be very good). Obviously there will be some children who perhaps struggle with written English where it would not be an ideal choice, but I think it should go back to being the norm that MFLs are taken by all at GCSE.

Some schools have definitely jumped on the "GCSE equivalents" bandwagon which is fine if they also offer more academic subjects but, in our area at least, we have "good" schools offering traditional and some vocational courses and other schools which don't even offer separate sciences as an option let alone a choice of languages. It makes the school admission process doubly unfair when your whole GCSE options are potentially limited for you aged 11 by being sent somewhere that won’t allow you to do 'proper' subjects.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 20-Oct-11 23:00:30

> but because very few students have any interest in it or any ability in it.

...
>It used to be that taking one MFL GCSE was compulsory in most schools. I don't remember anyone getting particularly awful grades as a result

I seem to remember French and/or German being pretty much compulsory for O-levels and the degree of interest/ability didn't seem way out of whack with other subjects. The quality of the teaching was more mixed than most other subjects though... maybe there weren't quite enough excellent teachers of MFL even then and its gradually declined further? (just speculating. DD seem to have some excellent MFL teachers and the class appears to have interest and ability...)

CustardCake Thu 20-Oct-11 23:11:13

Grimma - you are probably right. Don't get me wrong, given half a chance I'd have dropped GCSE MFL like a hot brick because it was hard work and required a lot of study and time devoted to it. Given a choice, none of us would have chosen to do a language I don’t think. However, I got a really good grade (which is now seen as quite an achievement when fewer people have the same) and it is something that is useful in later life purely in the sense that it is seen as ‘more academic’ that other GCSE options so carries more weight.

But, because MFL became optional, loads of students did what we would have done and dropped it like a hot brick so MFL departments in schools have suffered. Now the EBacc has come in and all of a sudden schools need a lot of students to choose MFL and get really good grades and this is harder to achieve with depleted departments that have been neglected for all the years that MFL were neither compulsory, popular or seen as an advantage.

mummytime Thu 20-Oct-11 23:32:46

MFL is compulsary at DCs school, and always has been. However although students get good grades at GCSE; they can neither: order a baguette in France or even have a clear idea of what a verb is or how to conjugate it.

cory Fri 21-Oct-11 08:59:38

I think MFL at CSE levels would be absolutely fine if taught in a slightly different way, i.e. learning to use the language rather than memorising passages.

Noone suggests that only very bright Dutch or Scandinavian students can learn MFL: they get on with it because they are expected to get on with it. And they think of is as something practical that they intend to use for practical purposes (to see the world) so they don't just settle for memorising a few bits for the exam.

My own g&t -and bilingual- dd is doing her GCSE in French and I just can't believe how low the expectations are and how little has been explained to her.

I never understand how students supposedly can cope with difficult concepts in maths and science and nobody asks whether they have an interest in or not, yet when it comes to French grammar we go all whimpy. When did you last hear a maths teacher explain that equations are really going to be too difficult for most of the class or apologise because they have to learn them? Are equations really easier than the imperfect tense?

schoolhelp Sat 22-Oct-11 11:59:07

The EBacc isn't perfect, but at least it should do something to address this issue in schools motivated by league tables. Their sudden introduction was quite revealing. Some schools which had highish scores using GCSE A*-C % dropped way down.

I too thought little of Mr Gove's experiment, but have revised that initial opinion. A much vaunted comp boasting 91% for five A*s-C only must have been very red-faced with 40% on Mr G's measure. Made even worse by a footnote on their website saying GCSE options were chosen before its introduction. Which parent is going to be fooled by the evidence that they teach to the performance measure?

The possibility of your child being steered into taking a worthless subject to boost the school's performance rating, instead of a subject that will serve them better, is truly scary. Scary because your child will spend most of their life around people with questionable professional integrity. Who knows what else they will pick up about how to live their lives, as well as the dodgy qualifications?

cricketballs Sat 22-Oct-11 15:20:03

Schoolhelp - please read my earlier post MFL has been an option subject for a number of years on the NC so it is not about 'dodgy' qualifications more that students opted not to study a language but to study a subject they enjoyed along with more 'academic' subjects.

If the figures showed english, maths, history/geography, science only then the figures will be a lot higher. Most parents aren't fooled so to speak but are aware of the issues as to why a school can achieve 70%+ % GCSEs including English and Maths but only achieve 10% Ebacc

schoolhelp Sat 22-Oct-11 15:48:01

cricketballs - do you think that schools like that, with that sort of footnote to their results, will be able to resist raising their 5+C+ EB score from now? Which means that despite MFLs being widely available, they were deemed low priority until included in how the school is assessed. Also we may find in these 'top' league table comps, suddenly MFL becomes a compulsory GCSE option. As is already the case for many more lowly schools who think more of children than league tables.

Children love lots of subjects and excel in them, but they need a sound general education, and that includes academic rigour. How can the exclusion of a foreign language at entry level be even considered acceptable for 15 year olds? Even in the UK. shock Mr Gove is growing on me!shock

alice15 Sat 22-Oct-11 15:55:47

Completely agree, cory. My DD did 3 languages to GCSE and is doing 2 to A level, but she still had to do Maths and dual award science, even though she knew years ago that she would be dropping both as soon as she could. Her GCSEs in those subjects show she is able across the board academically, and a language GCSE would show just the same for someone on the science side. Our family went to Stockholm a few years ago, and every ticket collector and attendant in the fairground spoke pretty good English, just because it's automatically expected. People here aren't any stupider than people in Sweden, so the only difference can be in the expectations of the educational system and the way MFL are taught here. At my school, 30 years ago, everyone had to do French O level and pretty much everyone got a C or higher. I am sure that most people could get a good grade in a MFL GCSE if they were taught properly - but learning rote responses for the oral exam doesn't teach anyone anything - it's a real shame.

wordfactory Sat 22-Oct-11 17:37:25

I think far too many students are steered into subjects which will reduce their options movinng forward, rather than increasing them.

It is not fair to these students and hopefully the introduction of the EBAC (although imperfect) will force schools to address the issue.

cricketballs Sat 22-Oct-11 22:52:56

schoolhelp - I have not suggested at any point that I don't think a language etc is important but just made it clear that for many years it has not been compulsory within the NC for 14-16 years olds and therefore an optional subject. Therefore, schools facing the ECM agenda have explored other subjects for their students as the focus was on individual learning with subjects that they wanted to study.

Mr Gove was very harsh in his sudden changing of the goal posts for schools as changes to educational policies take time for planning and implementation and we have only just got our heads fully around the last governments ideas...

bruffin Sat 22-Oct-11 23:20:29

You cannot compare Europeans learning English with English speakers learning another language. Most European children are immersed in English from a young age through pop music, tv and films from a young age.
How much exposure do English speakers actually get to French or German.
Basic maths and science are a basic necessity. Mfl are fine if you have an interest, but are totally unnecessary to every day life. There are so many languages to choose from, how do you pick the most relevant. Dh has worked all over the world without learning another language because English is universal. He didn't do a foreign language at school due to dyslexic problems.

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