Sunday, February 17, 2008

No Speaka Di Lingo? No Worries...

I only just caught the end of a piece on the BBC News. Did I really hear right that Sir Ron Dearing (a professional writer of idiotic reports) has seriously suggested that oral exams in languages should cease as pupils find them "too stressful"? It seems I DID. Whatever next. Does it not occur to him that language is first and foremost a form of spoken, rather than written communication? Of course an oral exam is stressful. All exams are stressful to one degree or another. Or is that the real agenda - to abolish exams? I'm sure there are plenty of trendy lefty educationalists who would be prepared to argue for that to happen.

PS I write as someone whose original career choice was to be a language teacher, and was trained as such.


Anonymous said...

I believe this follows on from an earlier recommendation that GCSE students should not be required to compose sentences in French. I guess that would also be too stressful.

So. No writing. No speaking. Just tick the boxes. BUT 'We are not dumbing down. Rigorous standards will be maintained. Blah Blah Blah. FFS.

Paddy Briggs said...


Oh dear!

Language learning can be an academic subject --- but for most pupils surely the task is to equip them with the skill to communicate in a foreign language.

I failed French "O" Level twice - but later learned to be tolerably proficient in oral French and fluent in another European language (don't ask!).

They should drop the written exam and keep the Oral - not the other way round!!

Anonymous said...

There was recently an announcement, I didn't not from who, but someone in the government or one of those quangos, that children should be allowed to sit exams "when they are ready".

They're certainly slicing up our society to make it more easily digestible to the EUSSR nomenklatura.

Flee now. You cannot win this.

Anonymous said...

A little bit over the top, I think, Iain. This government has introduced more tests and more exams than any other government in history. I doubt they're suddenly coming up with a big leftie conspiracy to abolish them all when they are so fond of them.

Benny said...

re: Paddy Briggs.

I agree with you to an extent. I think they should learn Oral, Reading & Writing but focus a lot more on the oral.

Maybe it's down to the family breaking up and the rise of emails and text messages that give that a preferred preference.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes - the old ways are always the best eh? Far better to rely on one 45 minute test than a couple of years of genuine evidence of ability....

Vindico said...

I also blogged about this here

Citing stress as a reason for scrapping it is just ridiculous. Are we to protect our little darlings from any kind of stress or emotion? Get a grip people.

Anonymous said...

It is a disgrace to the nation that the education of our young people is in the hands of such a man.Is he evil or merely stupid?

Still,No doubt Balls will declare next year that standards in languages are soaring,as demonstrated by GCSE results and Dearing will have a peerage for services to education.

strapworld said...


I really am afraid that Verity is spot on.

Whyen you consider this story, along with the facts that more and more of our young children are leaving school UNABLE to read or write then this Government has created an army of illiterates, who cannot work need benefits and will always vote labour!

Iain. There is an underclass created by this government and the conservatives must come out fighting.

Anonymous said...

That would figure. The general aim of Labour education policy is to achieve equality by destroying excellence. This makes everyone equal, including those evil Tory buggers who made sacrifices to send their kids to independent schools. Bastards! How dare they? How can Labour screw them? Aha - by giving everyone an A, regardless of effort or ability, and ordering universities to discriminate against pupils from independent schools!

We should not be surprised by this.

When my kids are a little older an I have more time I may start taking GCSEs for fun. You know - do no work, just turn up and see how many A* I can get in subjects I've never studied.

Prodicus said...

I heard this, too, and after the usual gasp of incredulity (why am I still surprised at what these stupid bastards come up with?) my first thought was to wonder which blogger would be first to explode. You win.

Anonymous said...


You are a very sharp cookie with your ear to the ground, and very sharp political antennae, but I feel you have missed the real story here.

A couple of years back, someone [can you guess who ? ] thought it would be a splendid idea to drop a requirement to teach secondary school children a language other than English at GCSE.

It was thought to be prescriptive, and forcing children down an alley they might not want to go down if their preference was for science or humanities subjects.

Much communication [again, I think you can guess where it originated] maintained that it would not lead to a drop in the linguistic ability of school leavers, as those that liked languages would continue to choose it, and those that did not would not have passed the GCSE.

Of course, when the requirement was dropped, many schools just 'gamed' the applications for GCSE, in the same way that hospitals can 'game' the figures for Accident and Emergency by parking some poor old soul in a holding pattern in the bloody car park.

They saw that the pass rates for languages were lower than some other subjects - I am contractually prevented from referring to these as 'Mickey Mouse' subjects as it may upset the Disney corporation.

So pupils who might have 'failed' a French GCSE could now legitimately be entered for a Food Technology GCSE. And lo, it came to pass that the numbers leaving school with no language skills beyond English fell down a well.

Some bright spark has now realised that in a job market which is going to increasingly dominated by EU multinationals, this vacuum is going to be, to use the technical term, a pain in the arse. And hence it has fallen to some 'bright spark' to address this issue by luring pupils back to languages.

Now, of course, they aren't going to do anything so foolish as to own up to the strategic cock-up, much less fess up to the fact that the only way that they can achieve this is by lowering standards or scaring the middle-classes by lowering pass marks.

So the question is, how are they going to achieve success and crack this little chestnut ? Hmmm.. I'm sure that they must have a little solution up their sleeve for this.

"Can you guess what it is yet ?.."

Anonymous said...

What is amusing to me is that this is happening exactly in parallel with plans to REDUCE the amount of course work in other subjects, due to the amount of plagiarism and parental input to the assignments making fair assessment completely impossible.

Vienna Woods said...

I just cannot believe this Labour government! They appear to be on a hell bent mission to make UK education the laughing stock of Europe. My daughter attends a semi private grammar school and is currently in her A-Level year, hoping for a university place studying medical research. During the last 6 years she has worked hard to achieve good grades, not only in the subjects that interest her, but in the language subjects which she doesn't really care for. Language examinations here in Austria, ALWAYS include an oral test, because it otherwise makes no sense . She has achieved good grades in French, German, Latin and of course English through sheer hard work and that is the crux of the matter. During last summer we had the pleasure of two exchange English kids staying with us, supposedly with GCEs in German and French. They had to attend classes at my daughters school several times a week and couldn't string more that five words together fluently in either German, French, or ENGLISH. Totally appalling and my daughter told me that they were really nice kids, just badly taught. It came to the point where most had to be placed with second grade classes for them not to feel too inadequate. I really feel for kids in the UK as they are really not going to be internationally competitive if the standards are not drastically improved.

I suppose if Labour remain in power for long enough they can always arrange for a new wave of immigrants to take over the rest of the jobs that the Poles haven't got already!

Anonymous said...

I understand that later this week it will be announced that no-one taking Maths GCSE will be expected to do long division or trigonometry, as these topics are particularly stressful to young minds.

Oh, and a true story illustrating the way history has been taught for many years now:

A friend in hospital giving her history recently to a young doctor happened to say she was born just after the war (she is 62).

Doctor: 'Which war?'
Friend: 'The 2nd World War'
Doctor: 'No, it can't be that one'
Friend: 'Yes, 1945'
Doctor (completely serious): 'No, the 2nd World War finished when the Berlin Wall came down'.

Richard Edwards said...

This is simply I suspect at driving up the pass rate. If you are crap its going to come out in an oral pretty darn fast. Whereas the old coursework bollocks can be easily plagiarised with via Google and Wonkipedia for the 'economically disadvantaged' or bespoke with those with the dough.

I expect a 'miracle breakthrough' in languages in about three years once the new debased system has bedded in.

Anonymous said...

c'n'est pas etc etc 6.37pm

My child is at a very good school in Cheshire. At his parent's evening,the only drama teacher in the school struggled to name my son - she was also at a loss to name a child of mixed race in the same year, even though there is only two of them. We are supposed to believe then that teachers can evaluate spoken foreign language in the classroom - even though there may be more than 30 pupils in the class?

I wonder if the people who think this recommendation of not having oral examinations in a foreign language are a bit stupid;their children are not as bright as they would wish; or they don't have children and have no idea how competitive children can be: children will make a competition out of anything and nothing, and nobody can stop them - it is part of their DNA.

Anonymous said...

Cheshire Kat - and your point?

Anonymous said...

What successive governments have done to language teaching is a bit of a disgrace. Ten and a bit years ago I finished my A-Levels in French and German. Nowadays, I can't speak either language fluently, because I haven't had the practice -- but I can make myself understood. What I think it did do was improve my English.

If I had any kids I'd be advising them to learn French or Chinese or Arabic or Spanish. Anyone who does will be set up for life as far as I'm concerned. Shame the government don't think so.

Verity -- I don't really understand your point about this being the EU's doing. The EU is the most linguaphile organisation I can think of. Surely it's Her Majesty's government letting kids do the easy exams so they can massage the pass rates upwards...?

Anonymous said...

Wer lauft die strasse mit kutgelschreibe und papier.

I hope that the grammar is correct, it has been more than 20 years since I did german, french, spanish and latin. I still go abroad and make myself understood with spoken language, and don't rely on pen and paper.

Anonymous said...

bj - The EUSSR needs ignorant serfs who will obey. If they can't make themselves properly understood, they can't ask questions of bureaucrats.

Newmania said...

Briggs is fluent in gibberish I see .I do love a bit of oral I think we should keep it .

Ifan Morgan Jones said...

The problem with oral tests at my school was that you were always tested alongside two other students, so it was always a case of the gobbiest, not the smartest, wins.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a langugae teacher, and a French/German teacher at that, I'm all for teacher assessment (e.g. in this case of oral ability in a foreign language). Although external exams are a necessary evil, successive governments have allowed the exam boards to bloat into huge cash-sucking empires. Teachers know what level their students are at, and exams are only necessary to ensure uniformity of standards and a lack of cheating. Keeping that in mind, the emphasis should be on reducing the number of external exams to the bare minimum necessary.

Anonymous said...

"The general aim of Labour education policy is to achieve equality by destroying excellence. "

Say what you like about the FSU; it protected the gifted. Labour together with their lackeys and running dogs in the teaching unions would shoot the gifted, given half a chance.

Broon dit Bawgie a raison.

Vienna Woods said...

cheshire kat wrote...

Wer lauft die strasse mit kutgelschreibe und papier.

2/10 See Me!

Adrian Bailey wrote,

Teachers know what level their students are at, and exams are only necessary to ensure uniformity of standards and a lack of cheating.

I would agree that internal assessment would be ideal if the teachers were also 100% professional and not susceptible to rectascope pupils or pressure from the over-indulgent parent. In Austria schools set their own examinations, causing a variation in standards. This in turn leads to particular schools being preferred by the universities and employers alike. I make no secret of the fact that my daughters school was chosen because of its academic prowess. Several of her friends of equal ability at junior school went to state Grammar Schools and most of them are having to repeat classes or are receiving external paid tuition to bring them up to standard. If a way could be found to really standardise, not only the curriculum, but also the appropriate level of teaching then external examinations would be unnecessary, but I suppose I can dream on! The reason my daughter's school is good at what it does, is to do with self discipline and regime, for which most of the pupils are proud to be a part of. Her class is just 23 pupils of six nationalities and they are bound together by loyalty to one another. Their Form Teacher has been with them since the beginning and while they think she is a horror, she commands respect and all parents value her decisions.

The UK seems to have lost the art of education which has been blackballed by Labour louts, who first trashed the Grammar School and during the last 10 years, wrecked the Universities. Despite the "improvement" rubbish being constantly reiterated by Brainless Brown, the standard of UK graduates that I come across nowadays is really pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago when studying Spanish in preparation for my move to sunnier climes on my retirement I decided that I might as well sit the GCSE. The written paper was a joke! Multiple choice questions many of which were accompanied with an illustration so full of obvious clues to the correct answer that anyone who had once spent a 2 week package holiday in Torremolinos could make a decent stab at it. The only remotely stimulating and testing part of the examination was the oral.
Of course exams are stressful; real life and work are stressful and we should be preparing young people for it.