Tongue-tied: Britain has forgotten how to speak to its European neighbours

Dr Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, University of Bristol

Dr Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, University of Bristol

The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.
As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.

Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.

A Level language entries, 2006-2015. JCQ

A Level language entries, 2006-2015. JCQ

It’s hard for language learners and teachers to remain optimistic in this climate, and harder still with widespread Euroscepticism and the possibility of the UK voting to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23.

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From the narrative of failure to the narrative of potential?

Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.

Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.

David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at the School for Policy Studies, considers the process of making an impact on policy and practice by discussing his research on children in care.

It is interesting, and advisable, at the completion of a research project to reflect on how it went. There can be a tendency to delay this process, encouraged by feelings of relief as well as driven, no doubt, by the need to catch-up with other, overdue responsibilities.

These thoughts were with me at the end of 2015 on the conclusion of our research on the Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England.  Many challenges arose, including: obtaining and analysing large government databases; negotiating access to six contrasting local authorities; contacting groups of older teenagers in care, their social workers, carers and teachers; obtaining and analysing large amounts of qualitative data; and writing-up the results.

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Schools need to do more to improve children’s religious literacy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.

British society is in serious need of higher levels of religious literacy. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge – and schools have a big part to play in putting this right.

Religion has dramatically changed in Britain. Fewer people profess Christianity, more profess a post-Christian spirituality, humanism or atheism, while Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities assert themselves in public and seek to play a role in shaping policies.

Yet the degree of understanding of these faith actors and of religion in general is low. The need for investment in religious literacy is one of the main themes of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB), which has just published a report called Living With Difference – in which I was involved as a member of the steering group. As religious literacy and experience of diversity begins at school, we have recommended some changes to the place of religion in state education.

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Is it really worth investing in smaller primary school classes?

Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education, Head of Graduate School of Education

Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education, Head of Graduate School of Education

Ed Miliband’s pledge that Labour, if elected, would limit school classes for five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 pupils reignites a core question about how best to spend money to improve education.

In making this a plank of Labour’s emerging manifesto, Miliband blames the coalition government and, in particular, the former education secretary Michael Gove, for a trebling of the number of primary pupils in classes with more than 30 children from 31,265 in 2010 to 93,345 in 2014.

Labour’s policy – which echoes a pledge by Tony Blair  in 1997 – might appeal to parents and teachers, but it is also backed by evidence that smaller class sizes do help push up attainment in the first years of primary school.

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The abolition of AS-Levels will make assessing university applicants harder: greater reliance on GCSE results will penalise late developers

Michael Gove and David Laws justified their decision to restructure A-level examinations on the basis of a flawed piece of statistical research, claiming that the absence of AS-level grades for university applicants would not harm the admissions process. Ron Johnston, Richard Harris, Tony Hoare, Kelvyn Jones and David Manley of the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol have re-examined the data and reached a contrary conclusion: without AS-Levels, late developers – which may include many from educationally-disadvantaged backgrounds – could well have their potential to succeed on a degree course at a prestigious university not recognised.

In 2013 the former UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and his Minister of State, David Laws, decided to change the A-Level qualifications taken by English and Welsh post-16 students with academic aspirations. Most of those students currently take GCSE examinations at age 16, in eight or more subjects. In the first post-compulsory year they are examined in four subjects leading to the award of AS-level grades followed, a year later, by exams in three or all four of them for A2 qualifications. The AS and A2 marks are combined to form an A-Level grade.

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The FAB Kids outreach project

Dr Mark Edwards, Research Associate, School for Policy Studies

Dr Mark Edwards, Research Associate, School for Policy Studies

Food, Activity and Bodies (FAB) Kids is a school outreach project based on the importance of healthy lifestyles. It’s a free, fun and educational workshop aimed at encouraging children to think critically about their lifestyle choices (with regards to nutrition and physical activity in particular).

The project, led by Dr Mark Edwards, is being delivered by research staff in the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences (ENHS). We do a lot of research into physical activity and nutrition, and much of this research is conducted in primary schools in Bristol and the surrounding counties. FAB Kids is our way of thanking the schools and children who take part in our research.

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Learning from the sharp end: Education for sustainable development in small states

Terra Sprague, Research Fellow, Graduate School of Education

Terra Sprague, Research Fellow, Graduate School of Education

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are quickly finding themselves at the sharp end of global climate change, yet they often get overlooked when it comes to international policy deliberations and decisions. So, why should we listen, and what can we learn?

When it comes to global policy deliberations about internationally agreed education targets and goals, such as the Education for All (EFA) goals and the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), small states have often found that their priorities are largely overlooked.

Michael Crossley, Professor of Comparative and International Education

Michael Crossley, Professor of Comparative and International Education

At the Education in Small States Research Group in the Graduate School of Education (GSoE), our recent research focuses upon the educational policy priorities of Commonwealth small states, and others with populations of up to 1.5 million. There are 32 of these states within the Commonwealth alone, generally concentrated in the Caribbean and Pacific regions, but with some additional members such as Botswana and Namibia. These states often share common factors such as isolation, remoteness, and susceptibility to natural disaster shock, but they are extremely diverse in terms of their cultures, languages, human development indicators and gross domestic product (GDP).

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Oral language and reading development: the dialectal divide

Emma Bent, Visiting Fellow, Graduate School of Education

Emma Bent, Visiting Fellow, Graduate School of Education

Educational policy and documentation concerned with reading and literacy over the last 40 years has altered dramatically. The Bullock Report, a comprehensive review of reading and the use of English in the 1970s, recognised the linguistic diversity that exists within the English language. Crucially, it also recognised the strong sense of identity and belonging, both geographically and socially, that such dialects provide their speakers with. More recently, The Cox Report and The National Curriculum have moved away from such a sociolinguistic perspective and prioritised Standard English over other dialects.

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Education spending, pupil attainment and causality

Professor of Economics Director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation

Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics &
Director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation

In these hard times, spending government money effectively is more important than ever. Last week Fraser Nelson challenged the effectiveness of spending in schools, one of the areas relatively protected from Coalition cuts. He said: “The biggest surprise, though, was the money: no matter how you split the figures, the amount spent didn’t seem to make the blindest bit of difference”, his reading of a report by Deloitte commissioned by the Department for Education.

What is the evidence? In fact, it is surprisingly difficult to establish the impact of spending more money on student achievement. This is partly due to shortage of data (researchers always want more data), but there is a more fundamental reason too. Continue reading