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Languages at GCSE levels

(23 Posts)
Api2020 Mon 27-Jan-20 18:49:32

Am I being unreasonable or the school is being unfair?

This is just one aspect of my disappointed interactions with the school as there are other issues that cause be great concerns as a parent. My son finds languages hard and did not pick his home language unlike his siblings so when he began to speak English I went with it. He began to speak around 3 1/2 yrs old. As he grew he did not understand the home language and I realised languages were difficult for him. When he started secondary school I asked the school if he could drop French as I knew he would struggle. I was advised about the significance of the language but was assured that although he has to study it from yr 7-9 he can drop it when choosing his GCSEs.
When choosing his GCSEs he was told he had no choice but to study it. So I made an appointment to discuss this and was seen by a senior leader of the team (SLT).
He started by saying what is this you not wanting to do a language pointing to the handwritten note on the form regarding the above. He did not address me and instead told my son is that true? When my son tried explaining he snapped at him; shouted why don’t you go to a private school; where you can choose your own Menu? Why don’t you find a new school? My son appeared very uncomfortable with the questioning. When I tried explaining his difficulty with languages- the SLT wouldn't listen. When I asked him if other school had an option where languages are not compulsory. He said languages are compulsory at 95% of schools. I argued that this was very unfair as he was suggesting that I uproot son and If I took this option; he won't be able to do any subjects he wants as by the time he gets into a school; it will be too late. It would be very difficult to find a school as there is only 5%. I told him this was unreasonable as I was made to understand during the presentation evening that languages were optional. He shrugged his shoulders and reiterated the importance of languages.
He then looked at son and said you are failing in other subjects naming Computer Science. My son tried explaining that although he works hard and has a good teacher she cannot manage the behaviour of children as a result; she couldn't teach. He couldn't understand the low grade, as his test grade is good but the overall report doesn't show this. He didn't understand why everyone had similar grades as some children do nothing in lesson. The SLT member told my son what did he do to sort it, as he was a monitor and he should have reported this. My son tried telling him he spoke to his tutor who shrugged her shoulders- He interrupted son and said you should have gone to the Achievement Team Leader (ATL) and used some other abbreviation. Again my son appeared more distressed as the SLT then proceeded to name other subjects he could drop like RE, History, English, Maths,science etc.
At this point; I told him that French is not important unless we lived in France but since we lived in England; English is important and so is Maths for future job prospects so he couldn't possibly drop them. He said languages are compulsory and part of the curriculum. I realised he was very unreasonable and not listening so I left and complained to the school. I was seen by my son’s ATL and another member of staff who reiterated the significance of language and informed me that they can only apologise as I was misinformed at the start of the school. My son has a good grade in French but he told me that his teacher gave him a sheet to memorise and he forgot what he learnt once the exam was over.
I made an official complaint to the school as I wasn't satisfied by the response/behaviour of said individual and was informed towards the end of December that my son could drop the language(I have to withdraw him by writing a letter to the Head teacher) but have to pick up a new subject. In view of my previous liaisons with school I asked them to consider if he can drop the language and not do a subject altogether, as he would have to catch up for a whole terms from Sept-Dec) of work by himself. I was told this wasn't possible but after discussing my son’s situation; I was told by a deputy head that she can make it happen. Only to be told that she never said this. The Deputy head also defended SLT and said it was a persona and he was part of the SL T but I feel that is very demeaning to a child. No one should ever tell a child they are a failure, especially a teacher?

OP’s posts: |
TeenPlusTwenties Mon 27-Jan-20 18:56:29

A couple of short comments:
- schools change how they do options every year depending on how the wind blows
- our school (good comp) currently makes people doing triple science do a language at GCSE but not anyone else

RedskyAtnight Mon 27-Jan-20 19:00:55

a MFL is part of the EBacc which is why it is compulsory at many schools.

If it's compulsory at your school then, barring significant SEN, your child will have to take it. Your school will not make changes for one child. So the SLT is correct that, if you don't like it, you will have to change schools.

(MFL is not compulsory at my DC's school but they do enforce other options restrictions that are equally annoying!)

KoalasandRabbit Tue 28-Jan-20 00:40:45

At our school different staff are also saying different things about whether a language is compulsory - languages say it is if a child will pass it is when I asked for clarification but DD asked Acting head at same time and he said it's negotiable. The booklet says in one place its negotiable but then the form can only be filled in taking it and options evening implied it was almost compulsory. I wish they just had a clear rule given everywhere as DD takes this as its not compulsory when it may well be for her and we don't find out officially until July.

Languages said they make exceptions for special needs or learning difficulties. Has your son got any special needs - if he didn't speak until 3.5 there could be a difficulty with communication so he may fall into that category but maybe difficult if he's not on SN register. I think it was mean to tell you to find another school but I would imagine there's quite a lot of children / parents trying to choose their preferred options rather than ebacc. If he's not in either category I think he will have to take it but it does have benefits.

KaptainKaveman Tue 28-Jan-20 06:43:19

Your son would not have been told he could drop Maths, English or science because they are core curriculum subjects.
Most of this sounds highly unlikely to have happened as you describe - what school is it?
You got what you wanted - permission to drop French. You cannot then complain if the school wants it ti be replaced by another subject.

finkploydthethird Tue 28-Jan-20 06:52:20

* - our school (good comp) currently makes people doing triple science do a language at GCSE but not anyone else*

That's ridiculous! They have less choices if they do triple and that just limits them more. My DCs have to do a humanity, Maths, English, and a science. They can do two languages if they want to if they are top set English.

thelongdarkteatimeofthesoul Tue 28-Jan-20 06:55:39

On a slight tangent you can pass a language at GCSE without being good at, or indeed genuinely able to speak, the language. This does depend on the teacher, and in some ways MFL teachers are between a rock and a hard place in terms of striking a balance between actually teaching the language, and teaching the children how to pass the exam (this applies to most secondary subjects up to GCSE level in one way or another to be fair).

cauliflowersqueeze Tue 28-Jan-20 06:57:22

You don’t get to pick.

thelongdarkteatimeofthesoul Tue 28-Jan-20 07:03:10

The Ebacc is just a backtrack anyway - when GCSEs were first introduced back in the 1990s it was compulsory for anyone without a special need to take pretty much exactly the same range of subjects.

Schools only made a MFL optional somewhere in the mid to late 00s, so that was basically just a blip.

In almost every country in the world except England and Wales (not sure about Scotland) a MFL is required for university entrance no matter what you want to study, in the same way maths and the official language of instruction are required even if there is absolutely no maths content on the course.

KaptainKaveman Tue 28-Jan-20 07:07:42

What does the Op mean by picking the 'home language'?

GoldenRuby Tue 28-Jan-20 07:08:19

Ofsted mark schools down if they do not make the majority of pupils study a MFL, as they will not be providing a broad enough curriculum. Based on guidance from the DfE I presume. So it's very difficult for schools to make the subject optional other than for those DC who are receiving SEN interventions and doing fewer subjects.

thelongdarkteatimeofthesoul Tue 28-Jan-20 07:14:17

KaptainKaveman she means that they speak another language at home - say Polish or Urdu.

So the OP's other children have all effortlessly picked up Urdu which is spoken within the family and English which the family speak outside the house and to guests. However the child the op is posting about didn't pick up Urdu at all and finally started speaking English at age 3.5.

This does happen - most children's brains cope brilliantly with bilingual language learning but some don't. Often those who don't are neurodiverse, but not always. It is a good indication that this child isn't naturally good at languages obviously, but not that they couldn't pass GCSE french if taught "to the exam" and if they're generally academic. They wouldn't genuinely speak French but could approach it as an academic discipline.

TeenPlusTwenties Tue 28-Jan-20 08:28:09

@finkploydthethird re 'less choice if they do triple'.

Actually school were quite cunning with that. If you do triple you do no ICT in KS4. Most others do 4 lessons ICT/fortnight. That way they enabled triple without losing another option. basically they said if you were clever enough to do triple you were likely to be clever enough to do an MFL. (NB I don't know if they quietly relaxed this for any kids with SN).

Api2020 Tue 28-Jan-20 08:32:27

The SLT spoke to him in front of me as I had arranged the meeting to discuss his choices. I could not believe what I was hearing.

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RitaTheBeater Tue 28-Jan-20 08:47:25

I don’t think the school have handled this very well at all.

I also know how difficult it can be to navigate schools when you haven’t grown up in a country yourself and gone to school there or where you are having to deal with stuff in a language that is not your native language.

Like people have already said, the school will have wanted your son to so the EBAC as they have to publish data on how many if their pupils do it so it’s better for them. They will have looked at all of their children and decided which ones they thought could do a language and which ones wouldn’t have been able to manage it. They might have got it wrong with your son.

Now they’ve said your son doesn’t have to do French and they want him to choose something else to replace it. I’d do this if I was in your situation. He will be doing a subject that he has been doing before so he won’t be completely lost.

finkploydthethird Tue 28-Jan-20 10:34:29

@TeenPlusTwenties at my DCs school they lose the enrichment time if they do triple so, for example, they have to do d of e after school instead of during the day if they want to do it. If they choose triple they have three other slots to fill,

KoalasandRabbit Tue 28-Jan-20 10:46:10

At ours triple is taken out of PE and they still have 4 options but makes a lot of work overall - my DD will have 11.5 to do or 11.

lanthanum Tue 28-Jan-20 11:42:12

The problem is that the schools are measured on how many pupils get the EBacc (Engl/Maths/Sci/language/humanity at 5+), although it does not necessarily matter to an individual pupil. So they're under pressure to get as many of the able kids to do it as possible, hence some making it compulsory for the abler ones. The emphasis on EBacc has increased, which is why what they're saying now is not the same as they said in year 7.

Furthermore, although they might recognise that there might be a handful of kids for whom it's definitely not the best option, it's more difficult to construct a timetable that allows that handful to do something else when everyone else is doing languages. It's doable (eg have two option blocks containing French, so that each block has a reasonable number not doing French in that block), but not as easy, and can mean that each language groups has a wider spread of ability.

doritosdip Tue 28-Jan-20 12:01:30

Yabu to expect the language lesson to become a free period. There's no adult to supervise him?

My Ds is not doing GCSE German (he's dyslexic and finds writing in English hard enough) and is studying another subject instead. He's very happy with this arrangement

doritosdip Tue 28-Jan-20 12:04:31

I think that you were unreasonable not to sort it sooner. My son is in y9 and just started GCSE and his school insist that swaps are ideally done by the end of September, October half term in special circumstances.

Api2020 Tue 28-Jan-20 16:49:44

@Doritosdip I have tried from the start even before he went to the school and was told there was alternative subjects that he could do. That’s why we chose the school. Last July I spoke to SLT who told me I was misinformed and there are no options. I spoke to two more individuals who reiterated the same. I was only told late December that there is an option. In view of this I feel it’s unfair to my son that he had to start a new subject. I feel the school should have clear policies and advise parents/children instead of imposing subjects on children.

OP’s posts: |
SpiderHunter Tue 28-Jan-20 17:04:20

The school should have had a clear policy at the time he chose his GCSE options. Schools do, however, change things over time so you can't reasonably hold a school to whatever their system was three years ago. Not least because they may have changed the policy in response to guidance from Ofsted or DfE.

However, schools have to impose some GCSE subjects on students. The must do English, maths, science and increasingly an MFL and humanity. They are required to do that because children need a broad and balanced curriculum.

Api2020 Tue 28-Jan-20 17:32:15

@doritosdip I am so glad your school is being so helpful and your son enjoys his chosen lesson. Had my son been given the option at the start he would have been so happy. At the start I wasnt expecting him to have a free period as the extra lesson would have been in English and he would have coped well. Since the option was offered so late I had asked for him to use the library during that period (there are two supervisory adults). I was advised that was not possible but consideration would be given and the DH stated she could make it happen. My son had used the library during lunch and after school on regular basis and made improvements to his computer science grade from 1, to 5. His grade was 1 from year 7 until half way though to yr 9 which was mainly due to behaviour issues in his class and the teacher not being able to mange it well. He couldn't understand why the grade would not improve despite him working hard and doing well in his tests.

OP’s posts: |

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