Later this week, I am due to attend the BAISIS/BSA International Conference which is aimed at all staff working to support international students in British Independent Schools. One of the conference talks is about “translanguaging” a subject which is long due for discussion in our sector.
Broadly speaking, “translanguaging” relates to how multiple languages are used, especially for learning. As British independent schools have increasing numbers of international pupils on their rolls, they are probably witnessing it happening on a daily basis. And yet they may still be furiously applying an “English only” policy, stamping on mother-tongue use wherever it happens.
This is often based on the misguided view that this will speed the pupils’ adaptation to English medium instruction and enhance their progress and attainment. It is also a view which is potentially leaving British independent schools blind to a rising and dynamic competitor in the education market.
While it is true that there is a severe attainment penalty for EAL learners who have not achieved a high degree of proficiency in English before taking critical exams, it is also the case that pupils who are literate in more than one language will out-perform monolingual speakers. Thus, DfE data from 2019 reveals it was pupils with a foreign first language who were scoring the highest grades in English and maths GCSE.
“Being able to function at an advanced level in two or more languages, evidence suggests, confers distinct academic advantages.”
Similarly, Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data from the same year shows that considerably more EU than UK students achieved a first class degree (35.7 per cent vs 29.4 per cent). Being able to function at an advanced level in two (or more) languages, evidence suggests, confers distinct academic advantages, including improved executive function, better problem solving skills and increased learning capacity.
This flexibility in using two (or more) languages is facilitated by translanguaging, slipping in and out of more than one language to negotiate a learning point and, while not generally encouraged in British independent schools, is a natural feature of bilingual education. Hence a trend towards bilingual schooling is rapidly catching on across the globe, including in key markets our independent schools hope to recruit from.
Why, you may be asking, does the advantage mainly seem to accrue to EU students at university level? The answer lies in education policy from the early noughties. Just as New Labour ditched the compulsory requirement to study modern languages at Key Stage 4, the EU was implementing a language policy advocating that every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue.
In support of this policy, the EU went on to promote excellence and innovation in language teaching, with the view that a multilingual society is both culturally richer and more economically agile. Thus, while language learning in the UK, particularly in the state sector, went into free fall, schools in Europe were looking for ways to enhance their teaching of foreign languages, including English, and Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) methodology was being rapidly developed.
“The number of schools with bilingual streams in Germany stands at 600 in the state sector alone.”
CLIL is a form of bilingual education, where an additional language is used as the language of instruction in other school subjects, not just MFL classes. From the early 1990’s onwards, many German Gymnasium (the equivalent of grammar schools) were teaching subjects such as geography, history and social studies in a language other than German (typically English or French). The number of schools with bilingual streams has been rising ever since and today stands at 600 in the state sector alone.
In France, pupils have been able to take an Option Internationale du baccalauréat (OIB) since 1981 and in this case, history-geography, life sciences, maths and sometimes sport are taught using the selected second language (from a choice of 16) both taught to first language level. By 2016 there were 478 lycée (High Schools) in France offering the OIB. In the Netherlands, where one in five of all secondary schools offers a bilingual education, everyone has the opportunity to participate in a bilingual stream if they desire.
I could continue, but you get my gist. It is a phenomenon found commonly across Europe in both state and private education and it is catching on worldwide. Bilingual schools and a CLIL curriculum is, for example, increasingly popular in Asia, with names like Wellington College China and its Institute of Learning, or Wycombe Abbey, leading the way. Cambridge Assessment, which includes such familiar names as OCR and CEM in its portfolio, is already deeply embedded in work across the globe on bilingual education.
In addition to their considerable presence in Europe, Cambridge Assessment International Education is now working on bilingual projects in countries as diverse as Argentina, Egypt, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, often collaborating directly with ministries of education. Within the UK, both the Scottish and Welsh governments are following the European example, too.
Scotland’s Mother-tongue +2 languages strategy, in place since 2012, was a direct response to the acceleration in language learning across the EU and to the number of different community languages present in their schools as a result of global migration. It aimed to respond by supporting EAL learners in their bilingual development and affording monolingual learners the opportunity to match the language skills of their EU peers.
In Wales, the government has recently begun reframing its Welsh language strategy in terms of developing bilingualism and has introduced an incentive to target prospective secondary teachers to teach subjects through the medium of Welsh and/or bilingually.
“The hard truth is, bilingual CLIL initiatives in England’s schools are extremely limited.”
So, given we know that students with bilingual skills outperform monolingual students academically, what of bilingual or CLIL initiatives in England’s schools specifically aimed at native speakers building comparable language proficiency to their global peers? The hard truth is, they are extremely limited. Examples include, at prep school level, the Cothill Trust, which provides children in Years 6, 7 and 8 from all 6 of its schools with the opportunity to attend a term of French medium education at its boarding campus in the South of France.
There is also the state funded Europa School in Oxfordshire, offering a curriculum delivered in two languages, chosen from French, German or Spanish and which teaches pupils from 4 – 18, up to the European Baccalaureate. The Bohunt Education Trust, an academy group of schools, has a longstanding CLIL programme, where a third of the pupils’ curriculum in Key Stage 3 is taught in their target second language. It was pioneered in 2010 at Bohunt Hampshire, beginning with French, and is now also available for learners of Spanish and Mandarin.
Students in the CLIL programme at Bohunt take their GCSE languages at the end of Year 9, two years early, and in 2019, 96 per cent achieved grades 7 – 9. Of the 102 IB schools in the UK, a mixture of state and private schools, only four offer curriculum instruction in a language other than English (French), although at least students are required to continue learning a second language until they take the Diploma. Why is the situation so radically different in England? This is, undoubtedly, the result of the DfE having no specific policy on language acquisition.
Meanwhile, I have lost count of the number of independent school websites I have read proclaiming their aim of preparing pupils for a global future. In my view the evidence shows schools in England are a long way behind the curve for all their pupils.
“Many international parents fear that sending their child to a purely English medium instruction school means they will miss out on developing their mother-tongue.”
International parents, it seems, are starting to agree. As far back as 2016, China’s Global Times was reporting a “surge in demand for bilingual education” which allowed Chinese students access to a Western style of education without losing touch with their own language, culture or curriculum.
Globally, surveys indicate that international parents are choosing dual language education because they want their children to have an advantage academically, socially and culturally. Many also fear that sending their child to a purely English medium instruction international school or a boarding school overseas entails them missing out on the continued development of their mother-tongue which can conversely narrow their future choices relating to university and career. The idea that this is development that can be ignored by any school that is highly dependent on recruiting international learners from overseas seems absurd.
I have made the argument elsewhere that Brexit gave independent schools the opportunity to review their language teaching, and to be more forward thinking in ways which would benefit both their domestic and international pupils, including dropping the “English only” mantra and allowing for more “translanguaging”. I also suggested that a CLIL approach was one which would have advantages. My argument here, is that it would be strategically wise, to be increasing your school’s awareness of where its future educational competition lies. It may not, as you might think, be directly on your doorstep!