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New £2.17m centre for excellence to boost modern foreign language skills

Posted on 10 January 2019

The University of York has been awarded government funding to launch England’s first modern foreign languages (MFL) centre for excellence.


The Centre will work with schools to help more young people learn foreign languages.

The Centre for Excellence – backed by £2.17m, with potential for this funding to be extended up to £4.8m - will coordinate the work of 45 MFL hub schools all over the country to promote pioneering teaching practices and encourage uptake.

The Centre, which will be known as the National Centre for Excellence for Languages Pedagogy, will work with schools to help more young people learn foreign languages. It is the latest in a series of government initiatives to build a nation of confident linguists.

Unique opportunity

The University will coordinate the work of nine leading schools - which are working with other schools and sharing best practice - to boost the teaching of Spanish, French and German.

Director of the Centre, Professor Emma Marsden from the University of York’s Department of Education, said: "This very solid investment in foreign languages education is welcome evidence of a commitment to nurturing relations with other cultures and offering a broad education to all.

“Learning languages is associated with a whole raft of benefits - personal, cognitive, cultural, social, and economic. Yet, in a largely English speaking population, we have a special set of challenges in teaching foreign languages and the centre's work will help teachers to make the most of every opportunity that can be offered by secondary schools.

“In fact, in the history of public support for languages education in England, this investment offers a unique opportunity for researchers and expert teachers to work together and draw on high quality, international research into language learning and teaching.

“This research will inform rigorously designed materials that will be made freely available to all."

In 2017, a survey of employers by the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) and Pearson found that only a third of businesses rate the foreign language skills of school and college leavers entering the jobs market as satisfactory, with the major EU languages of French, German and Spanish most in demand.

Vision and expertise

The University was chosen as the Centre for Excellence after a competitive tendering process that judged it against a number of key criteria including its plans to improve modern foreign language take up in participating schools and its approach to teaching practices. 

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “It is important to equip all young people, regardless of their backgrounds, with the language skills this country needs as an outward looking global nation.

“In the application process the University of York demonstrated that it has the vision and expertise to be at the forefront of the work to improve the way in which foreign languages are taught in schools and to increase the take up of languages at GCSE.

“The hubs are already having a positive impact and this direction will help them go from strength to strength”

Lead role

The centre for excellence – backed by £4.8 million over the next four years – will raise the standard of teaching in languages based on the Latin alphabet like French, Spanish and German by taking forward recommendations made in the Teaching Schools Council’s Modern Foreign Language Pedagogy Review led by expert headteacher and linguist Ian Bauckham CBE.

Ian Bauckham said: “Improving the teaching and take up of modern foreign languages in our schools is a central priority.  Languages are an essential part of a rich and rewarding school curriculum, and an improved national language capacity is needed for the United Kingdom to continue to play a role as an outward-facing trading nation. 

“I am delighted that the Government is investing in a centre for excellence to play a lead role in helping school and teachers to develop practice in MFL on the basis of research and evidence. 

“The University of York will be collaborating with a number of strong partners to support the newly created national network of MFL lead schools and hubs, basing its work on the 2016 Teaching Schools Council report on MFL pedagogy. 

“I have every confidence that this work will help lead to a much needed renaissance in the teaching and learning of languages in our schools.”

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