Foreign recruits boost language learning

Schools toast revival of French assistante scheme in the classroom
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A pioneering initiative under which foreign students studying in the UK are hired to teach languages in secondary schools is having adramatic effect in reviving language lessons in disadvantaged areas.

The scheme, reminiscent of the old-fashioned French assistantes, is being trialled in three secondary schools in Brighton and may spread to other parts of the country. Each school is taking on between 12 and 15 international students at Sussex University who can engage youngsters in conversations in the language they are studying. Speaking is a major part of any GCSE in a modern foreign language, accounting for at least 25 per cent of the overall marks.

One of the biggest impacts has been at Falmer High School, which serves the socially-deprived Moulscomb estate in Brighton and is to become one of the government's flagship academies.

The number of youngsters studying a modern foreign language for GCSE has doubled since the scheme started two years ago, and 54 per cent of those taking the subject gain a top grade A* to C-grade pass despite academic experts claiming languages are among the hardest subjects to study.

At nearby Hove Park High School, which is now a specialist language college where all youngsters are expected to take at least one language at GCSE, the percentage getting top grade passes at GCSE has risen from 38 per cent to 56 per cent in two years.

The scheme brings back echoes of the days when schools hired language assistantes from abroad to boost their language teaching. Many have scrapped this because languages have declined after the Government's decision to make the subject voluntary for children aged 14 to 16, which has cut GCSE take-up of the subject by half.

But the Brighton initiative offers the youngsters more concentrated one-on-one sessions with foreign speakers because of the number of international students employed by each school. The students are paid £10 an hour.

Kate McAllister, head of modern foreign languages at Falmer High, said: "It is like I've suddenly split myself into five in the classroom [she has four Italian students] and the pupils can all have individual attention. The standard of the work is much better, especially in their speaking examinations."

Paul Waterworth, from MCS Projects, an educational supply company which co-ordinates the scheme, said about 125 students had put their names forward at Sussex University.

Many of the pupils said their new-found enthusiasm stemmed from the fact they were being taught by students who were not much older than themselves and they could therefore relate to them easier in conversations.

Spanish-speaking Diane Rodrigues, 26, a volunteer from Sussex University who is studying for an MA, said: "I used to be a social science teacher in Colombia [her native country] and I was looking for a job here to help me get through my studies. This was just what I needed. I do three hours a week so that's okay; it doesn't interfere with my studies. I wanted to know how the British education system worked.

"They really teach much more for examinations here. Sometimes that can be boring but I enjoy speaking to the youngsters and finding out more about things over here. I can also help them with grammar and vocabulary."

Mr Waterworth is planning to widen the scheme to other parts of the south-east and is seeking a meeting with the London Mayor, Boris Johnson to discuss offering it to all schools in London. At about £12,500 per school, it costs less than hiring one extra teaching assistant, he said. All three Brighton MPs are backing the scheme.