Ask the Teachers! GCSE curriculum and exam content survey (2020)

Katrin Kohl

Modern Foreign Languages has long been subject to falling numbers at both GCSE and A level, with low motivation widely being perceived as a key factor. Researchers from the universities of Oxford and Reading have conducted a survey with over 600 teachers from some 470 schools across England to find out what they believe the curriculum and exam content should focus on. 

Person sitting at a table writing on paper with a pencil
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

Read the full survey report, "Consolidating the evidence base for MFL curriculum, pedagogy and assessment reform at GCSE: an investigation of teachers’ view", here.

Summary of the Context and Findings

MFL curriculum, pedagogy and assessment reform at GCSE: An investigation of teachers’ views

Low motivation for studying Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) and falling uptake of the subject at both GCSE and A Level are long-standing challenges in English secondary schools.  Much work has been done and is currently underway to address these issues at a policy level, including:

  • Ofqual’s recent decision to adjust grading standards at GCSE in French and German
  • The government’s announcement of an ambition for 75% of pupils to take EBacc examinations (which includes a Modern Foreign Language) by 2024, rising to 90% by 2027
  • The introduction of MFL as a compulsory part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum from 2014
  • Current reviews of GCSE syllabuses and examinations by Ofqual and the DfE.   

Against this backdrop, the project was designed to seek evidence from MFL teachers who deliver the MFL curriculum, are in close touch with the learners, and prepare them for the GCSE examinations.

 A dominant theme in all strands of the analysis is the importance attached by respondents to developing students’ knowledge of other cultures and a positive, tolerant attitude towards these – what might be termed ‘Intercultural Understanding’ (ICU). This emerges not only as a key aspiration in terms of respondents’ motivation for teaching MFL, but also as something which they feel should be assessed at GCSE.  ICU has not been assessed in examinations to date, and it is perhaps hard to see practical ways of doing so; nonetheless, the survey suggests that it is important to reflect this aspect of MFL learning in assessment. Also important to the respondents, both in terms of curricular aims and what should be assessed at GCSE, were: language skills and the ability to use these in simple conversations and for practical, real world purposes; and the development of knowledge, particularly a broad vocabulary.  By contrast, respondents placed less emphasis on accurate language use and the development of grammatical knowledge.  They also saw less value in training the ability to access specific types of authentic target language, such as literature, music or film.