Choosing GCSEs 2014 - missing a MFL?

(79 Posts)
allweneedislove Fri 24-Jan-14 09:36:19

Started this new thread as all the others I found related to previous years.
DS 13 chooses his options this week. He's a bright lad at a just slightly above average state school. He's setting his sights high as his step dad went to Oxford and he'd secretly like to get there.
His dilemma (if indeed it is one) is he has to choose between Spanish, which is his worst subject but his only MFL, and Engineering which is just up his street. His other subjects are triple science, English, Maths, RS and History (and perhaps something else). He'd like to be a nuclear scientist.
Will the lack of an MFL at GCSE hold him back? Many thanks for any advice.

surreytuition Sun 16-Feb-14 14:55:27

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Coconutty Sat 01-Feb-14 20:06:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MillyMollyMama Wed 29-Jan-14 10:06:20

It is true that MFL grade offers are lower. Students will often actually get an offer for a very over subscribed course at very popular universities if they do that subject with an MFL because the university language departments are short of top grade students. That is why lots of independent schools value languages and someone with an A grade in an MFL actually has currency. MFL A levels keep doors open. State schools and many parents do not appear to be clued up about this.

It is unlikely to apply to French/German/Spanish but ab initio students are usually still behind their A grade A level counterparts and would be noticeably so at the start of the year abroad. Students do have to submit work on their year abroad to their home university but this does not have to be a subject they have studied. The people working obviously could not do that. Some universities offer triple language degrees which seem to be a lot of breadth but no depth.

There are also problems on the year abroad in that the home students ie French/Italian/Spanish etc are not that bothered about mixing with huge numbers of Erasmus students in their universities. My DD was forced to make friends with English and Australian students as in her second semester the home students would not even go out with her for a coffee. They completely ignored the foreign students. She was astounded how unfriendly they were. However in the lectures the home students either talked, ate or snogged all the way through the lectures! The lecturers were often late as they had a fag with the students outside the lecture hall! Also the exams were based on text books and the lectures were often cancelled or were an irrelevance to the exams. Hence they were poorly attended. This was at the oldest university in the world which has 88,000 students! It is not always the fault of our students that they do not engage quite as much as they should.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 09:46:25

MillyMollyMama - AuldAlliance has given a very complete professional response to your question.

I am an MFL graduate and have met many others over the years. I grew up partly abroad and was much better prepared, more fluent and had higher aspirations than most of my fellow students whom, even 25 years ago, had language skills that were too limited for much practical application when they graduated. My former university friends seem mostly to have forgotten how to speak any French/German/Spanish/Russian unless they have pursued exceedingly international careers. Their grounding just wasn't very sound.

I also meet current English MFL students/graduates in Paris (loads show up as au pairs at DD's school and similar) and I am not impressed either.

I don't know what the UK can do to get back on track in mainstream schools but I am encouraged by the French "Plan Ecole UK" that is building a real and meaningful base in bilingual French-English education in London and some other places. Perhaps these bilingual schools will create a benchmark that other neighbouring schools will emulate?

senua Wed 29-Jan-14 08:36:00

Oooh, there's a new section in MN

wordfactory Wed 29-Jan-14 08:13:04

auld I think the problem is a cumulative one.

GCSE in MFL isn't especially difficult for those without specific issues. And even an A* is no mark of proficiency.

Little grammar is involved and lots and lots of phrases. So students might learn 'usually, I play tennis at the weekend.' But then have no idea how to extend that to different pro nouns and/or tenses.

Getting that A* grade is all about including the extra mark stuff. Which a student can simply learn off by heart.

A good school will take its students way beyond the syllabus, but as we know, many school will not have the capacity or the will to do that.

Thus many A level students have little in the way of linguistic skills.

The knock on effect is that some of those A* students will not be up to top grades at A level, yet they will still find places at university. The grades required to study an MFL are typically lower than STEM or humanities or law etc.

curlew Wed 29-Jan-14 06:12:25

Frankly, the sort of candidate likely to get into Oxbridge is unlikely to have much trouble getting an A at GCSE Spanish.

And a MFL is a very useful thing to have.

AuldAlliance Wed 29-Jan-14 06:09:02

Sorry, I posted too soon. Erasmus is a delicate system of reciprocal contracts, whereby our French students can study at UK universities w/o paying the exorbitant fees. While I have in the past contacted the tutors in my specific partner universities to suggest that a student might not be able to follow my class, it is undiplomatic to tell colleagues all over the UK that their students are weak; after all if the students can't understand what I am saying, it'll be the same for most classes they follow here and I'd basically be rubbing my partners' noses in what they probably already know.
I'm not sure I've been unlucky, sadly. I've been doing this for yrs and the overall trend is clearly a negative one and affects RG as well as other universities.
It is revealing that a number of UK universities (including some reputed ones) require their MFL students to spend their 3rd yr abroad but do not require them to pass the courses they follow here. The students often thus don't bother attending classes, so their language skills don't improve much.
The colleague who teaches Erasmus translation in semester 1 doesn't like to mark too stringently...the aim of a year abroad is not to fail, she says, which is kind of true. So no one gets a low grade for her course.
n.b. I am not suggesting this is how your daughter got her excellent marks! There are a few v good students out there and I am sure she is one.

AuldAlliance Wed 29-Jan-14 05:54:21

Grandes Ecoles are indeed selective; they aren't exactly universities, though, so I wasn't including them in my remarks.

MillyMollyMama Tue 28-Jan-14 23:37:14

AuldAlliance. Thank you for your explanation. It makes perfect sense now! However, I thought the Grandes Ecoles in France were highly selective? I think you have been very unlucky in the students you have dealt with. Although, interestingly, DD said she met uk students during her year abroad who were, in her view, not degree standard but I have a feeling there are just not enough strong language students to go round all the universities so some recruit not so good ones. It is possible to do a language degree with CCC at A level at a Russell Group. Not that selective really. It keeps the language departments open though. Do you not contact the Erasmus Tutors at the UK Universities and express your concerns that the students are unable to do the translation course? It also appears some Universities are way better than others and, of course, the students do not actually have to pass your module to pass the third year abroad. It might transform their performance if they did have to pass. I am delighted to tell you that my DD got very high marks in her translation courses from her year abroad! Phew!!!

AuldAlliance Tue 28-Jan-14 23:05:57

MillyMollyMama, I see them during their 3rd year abroad, at a French university.
I receive their e-mails upon their arrival here and see that they cannot conjugate a single verb correctly in the first person singular, whatever the tense; I then meet them and converse in French with them, and at times have to resort to English for even basic phrases. I also teach French-English translation to a group of 30-odd Erasmus students from UK universities. Many of them have spent a semester here already before taking that class.
My hmm about "harsh" grading in MFL was not an expression of doubt as to the idea that, in relative terms, MFL marking may be more stringent than in other fields. It was more a questioning of whether that makes it objectively harsh, or whether that isn't just a damning indictment of the criteria used to mark other subjects. Arguably, things are no better in France, but the French university system is non-selective, whereas UK universities do select at entrance. As a graduate in French from a UK university, I am struck by how little French these students can produce and/or understand, be it written or spoken.

MillyMollyMama Tue 28-Jan-14 20:46:07

Can I ask what evidence you have for this, Bonsoir? What do you consider to be shocking and what do you think the graduates should be able to do that they cannot? Where do you consider to be reputable Universities? Also many language graduates never use their languages in their jobs. As earlier posters have said, we are not a country interested in languages. Unfortunately.

Bonsoir Tue 28-Jan-14 17:26:13

"I don't understand how MFL graduates from good universities cannot be any good at languages."

It shouldn't be the case, but the standard in MFL at even reputable British universities is fairly shocking!

MillyMollyMama Tue 28-Jan-14 17:23:24

As the Mother of a DD doing MFL in her 4th year, at what time AuldAlliance do you see them in their 3rd year? They should be on their year abroad! After their year abroad they should be pretty fluent and obviously some in two languages. My DD attended various courses at world class universities abroad all taught in the target language. She also had to do translation modules in French and clearly living in the countries for 6 months where her languages are spoken made a big difference.

I don't understand how MFL graduates from good universities cannot be any good at languages. Would an answer be that they spend too much time speaking, researching and writing in English on their courses? I know some universities let students onto language courses now with pretty low grades so maybe they are just not up to it?

Bonsoir Tue 28-Jan-14 17:13:27

My understanding is that the root cause of the poor relative performance of MFL pupils in their GCSEs is the poor quality of the curriculum and text books that do not enable a firm enough grasp of an MFL to be examined meaningfully. It's a big mess.

Slipshodsibyl Tue 28-Jan-14 16:56:04

Auld Alliance this has been an issue for some years and of concern to teachers of languages and affects the uptake of languages at all levels including the top end since those wanting 3/4 top grades know that a language might pull them down. Oxford tutors are aware of it and have said so to groups at open days. Exam boards are currently conducting a review. There is quite a lot of information on this in national newspapers if you are interested to do a search.

AuldAlliance Tue 28-Jan-14 16:48:18

I have to say that I am a bit hmm at the idea that MFL grading is too harsh.
I deal with 3rd year students of French from a wide range of UK universities every year and I am increasingly struck by their (in)ability to understand and speak French, even those from universities one might expect to be fairly demanding.
I can't imagine what the grading is like in other subjects...

Slipshodsibyl Tue 28-Jan-14 14:19:55

Academic mice? Academics I mean.

Slipshodsibyl Tue 28-Jan-14 14:19:22

Indeed. And getting a consensus is hard for the admissions tutors since university academic mice often barely agree which day of the week it is. Rather like Mumsnet subscribers, in fact!

wordfactory Tue 28-Jan-14 10:45:05

slip I was at a meeting about widening access this weekend, when that exact subject came up.

What's becoming clear is that whilst there is s real commitment to including students from as many backgrounds as possible, there is a tipping point of just how lenient departments will be. Certain colleagues are getting mightily fed up with being expected to drop their standards, when they feel it is the job of schools to raise them!

There is increasing resistance to contextualised offers in all but the most obvious cases.

Bonsoir Tue 28-Jan-14 10:28:20

I agree, slipshodsybil, that the language that university departments use is designed to sound encouraging and can be interpreted in ambiguous ways. I am forever explaining to French families whose DC are at high-performing schools that they should consider any requirements outlined by universities to be absolute minimum requirements for their particular very advantaged DC!

Slipshodsibyl Tue 28-Jan-14 10:25:43

Access initiatives mean that the advice from these institutions can sound more relaxed than it is. It is quite easy to find successful candidates who haven't quite followed the ideal pattern. They are usually a little less advantaged by background or are specially talented in something like maths so may be a bit off the wall, or they have applied for a less well subscribed subject.

If you are from a fairly advantaged background and applying for a popular subject, you will be best advised to conform to the ideal as well as you are able.

wordfactory Tue 28-Jan-14 10:05:07

I also think it is more important in some disciplines than others.

In my department, you could expect to be asked outright why no MFL. And a mumbled excuse that you didn't like it, were no good at it or didn't think it valuable would get you short shrift.

However, the mathmos are a whole heap more single minded and will forgive an awful lot if they find someone who shares their world of number grin.

Bonsoir Tue 28-Jan-14 10:01:41

I agree with slipshodsibyl.

The international trend among the rich/educated is to be plurilingual. The risk averse strategy is to learn languages when you have the opportunity.

Slipshodsibyl Tue 28-Jan-14 09:54:13

'I think it depends on the competition'

Yes, and it is best to assume that the competition is tough at the top.

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