Modern Foreign Languages: Transition from primary to secondary

By Suzanne O’Farrell, ASCL MFL Consultant

Success in modern foreign languages at secondary level is underpinned by a successful transition process and meaningful primary experience.

When secondary teachers have an indication of their new Year 7 pupils’ aptitude for language learning and language learning strategies, they can support these more effectively by making links to what the pupils have learnt and building on transferable skills. These skills may include gender, word order, patterns and cognates amongst other things.

This knowledge and understanding is relevant and valuable, irrespective of the language pupils have learnt at primary level. 

The first cohort of pupils that should have studied languages for four years throughout Key Stage 2 moved to secondary school in September 2018, and yet we know that due to a variety of differing issues, continuity in language learning and transition in languages between primary and secondary school remains underdeveloped

Sharing information
Several prominent publications highlight the importance and value of sharing information about pupils’ progress in languages between primary and secondary colleagues. The Teaching Schools Council pedagogy review (2016) states that secondary schools should build on pupils' primary school language knowledge, and the Primary Languages White paper (2019)  advocates that secondary colleagues should receive information about what pupils should know and be able to do at the point of transfer from KS2 to KS3. However, the 2020 British Council Language Trends report highlights that 46% of respondents have no contact with their secondary feeder school.

The 2021 Ofsted MFL Curriculum research review states that a high-quality languages education features a well-considered transition process.

Research by Baumert, Fleckenstein, Leucht, Köller, and Möller showed that poor transition, namely lack of continuity of the curriculum, is likely to be the most significant aspect in pupils not seeing the benefit of their language learning experience at primary school. 

Added to this, Florence Myles’s research into primary language learning states that in the second part of the primary experience, pupils are aware of what they are learning; they are aware of their progress and achievements and what they don’t know. They are also more aware of the intrinsic value of learning a language. In order to sustain this motivation, they need to see they are not starting from scratch again when they begin language learning in secondary school.

So why do we have so many references testifying to the value of effective transition and yet there is such little success? Until now we have only had pockets of effective transition and no nationwide solution. 

The research shows that secondary schools struggle to engage pupils in languages, which is not surprising if the pupils feel their previous learning is not acknowledged and they start all over again.

Pilot scheme
In spring 2021, ASCL member schools, SixIntoSeven and the Primary Languages Network collaborated on a ‘first of its kind’ pilot scheme to transfer useful, relevant primary language learning from primary to secondary schools. 

Supported by the ASCL Education Development Trust, the pilot offered schools the opportunity to understand and build on prior language learning, and opened up conversations between primary and secondary teachers.

Primary language teachers were given:
  • an effective way of sharing pupil progress at an individual level with their destination secondary schools
  • a simple framework to understand what the most useful information would be to send secondary feeder schools about their pupils’ progress
  • confidence that their curriculum planning end points match KS2 National Curriculum outcomes
  • knowledge that their teaching matters and will be built upon constructively at secondary level
  • online support and training in reaching professional judgements about their pupils’ progress in language learning
Secondary colleagues received information from primaries in June and were able to: 
  • inform setting and plan for those pupils with a particularly strong background in language learning and those who may need more support initially
  • adapt expectations of Year 7 pupils’ language learning experience
  • build on prior learning and provide pupils with genuine continuity of learning
  • demonstrate recognition and appreciation of pupils’ previous language learning experience with both pupils and parents
  • provide an actionable base for teachers to build upon, sustaining pupils’ motivation in language learning
The mechanism for information sharing is the web-based transition hub, SixIntoSeven. Built to share maths and English attainment securely in the absence of SATs during the pandemic, SixIntoSeven has evolved into a one-stop transition hub for primary to secondary including pastoral and SEND data, and now MFL attainment.

During the MFL pilot, primary teachers input ten language judgements for each pupil, which were then securely shared with the destination secondary schools.

The judgements were defined by a working group that included the Primary Languages Network, as well as the pilot schools, and represented a holistic picture of pupils’ languages learning, as well as the language(s) studied. 

The primary teachers also received online training in how to understand and make the judgements, which could count as CPD, and the secondary teachers were trained in how to interpret the judgements too. 

Feedback from the pilot schools shows that collaboration between primary and secondary on MFL can help raise standards in individual schools, and we look forward to hearing how sharing MFL attainment help helped this year’s Year 7 cohort.

To find out more about the pilot, read the blog here, and for more information about SixIntoSeven, please visit their website.

Suzanne O’Farrell is ASCL's MFL Consultant.
SixintoSeven is an ASCL Premier Partner. 
Posted: 15/11/2021 12:20:56