Languages Learning at Key Stage 2 - A Longitudinal
The Open University, University of Southampton and Canterbury
Christ Church University
Commissioned by DCSF
Longitudinal study, commissioned by the DCSF, investigating
progress in the teaching of languages at Key Stage 2 over three
This study accompanies the longitudinal
research conducted by the NFER which followed the
implementation of KS2 languages over the same period. Whilst the
NFER study concentrated on quantitative aspects of national
provision e.g. number of schools teaching languages and most
commonly taught languages, this present study focused on
qualitative aspects of delivery.
The main aims were to:
- Review existing evidence on the impact of languages learning on
- Investigate the nature and quality of the provision of
languages learning at Key Stage 2 in a range of schools; and
- Assess its impact on children’s learning in languages and
across the curriculum
1. Literature review
- Background to study.
- Looking at what is known about language learning and teaching
in primary schools in Anglophone contexts.
2. Qualitative case studies
- 40 primary schools already teaching languages in 2006 and
prepared to commit to the three years.
- Selected to reflect a range of school types and models of
- Involved lesson observations, interviews with staff, group
discussions with children in Years 3-6, attitudinal questionnaires
3. Assessment tasks
- Groups of children in 8 schools completed annual assessments in
oracy and literacy. These were specifically devised group
assessment activities based on the Key Stage 2 Framework.
- Some Year 6 children also completed Asset Languages
- A survey was used by Year 6s in the first year of the study to
investigate the cross-curricular impact of language learning
(impact on wider attitudes to learning and metalinguistic
knowledge). Sampling issues meant that in 2008/2009
cross-curricular impact was investigated through interviews with
literacy co-ordinators, gauging their perception of the impact of
languages on wider learning with a focus on literacy skills.
Research brief: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/DCSF-RB198.pdf
Final report: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/DCSF-RR198.pdf
1. LITERATURE REVIEW
International evidence suggested:
- Rationale for primary languages mainly based on increasing
opportunities for language learning and capitalising on
- General weaknesses of primary models – assessment and
- Limited evidence of learning outcomes – suggestions of a focus
on formulaic expressions, and of benefits for learning strategies
and language awareness.
2. QUALITATIVE CASE STUDIES
a) Perceived benefits of languages learning
- Enthusiasm and commitment of heads, languages co-ordinators and
most teachers involved.
- Teachers – belief in contribution to personal/social learning,
cultural understanding, communication/literacy skills, KAL and
attitudes to learning.
- Some heads – belief in positive contribution to valuing
diversity and school ethos.
b) Children’s attitudes
Majority of children:
- Enthusiastic and positive.
- Enjoyed wide range of active learning – games, songs,
- Strong sense of own progress.
- Positive impact on self-esteem - those will difficulties in
literacy in English appeared assured in languages and gained
confidence through the structured varied oral interaction in
Minority of children:
- Excessive repetition of topics.
- Limited individual work.
- Few opportunities for reading and writing.
c) Key issues in provision
- Discrete timetabled lesson of 30-40 minutes, with extra time in
Years 5/6 (few offered 1 hour as recommended in the KS2 F/W).
- 1/4 of schools used specialist teachers; 1/3 used class
teachers; others a combination (these schools are ‘early adopters’
of languages which may influence the large proportion using
specialist teachers, i.e. to ensure progression).
- Staffing was a key concern of Head teachers – e.g. maintaining
provision, ensuring progression, staff mobility. A number commented
languages ability was now a recruitment criterion.
d) Staff training and development
- Impact of training on teaching and particular appreciation of
opportunities available through LAs, regional support groups and
- Areas for development – training provision in cross-curricular
learning, intercultural understanding, reading and writing and
e) KS2 Framework and schemes of work
- Increasing use of Framework to inform planning.
- Incorporation of learning objectives for oracy, and to a lesser
extent literacy, into schemes of work.
- Little evidence of infercultural
understanding referred to systematically.
- Increasing use of commercial resources e.g. DVDs, schemes of
work, interactive whiteboard materials to support
teaching and learning.
f) Teaching and learning
- Key aims focused on promoting enthusiasm for languages and
developing speaking and listening skills.
- Focus on topic-related teaching of vocabulary; emphasis on
producing memorised items and formulaic phrases
- Increased attention to literacy activities over the 3 years but
they did not form a substantial part of most lessons.
- Focus on reading rather than writing.
- Literacy limited by shortness of lessons and limited confidence
and expertise of staff.
ii. Intercultural understanding (IU)
- Limited – in some cases IU objectives being introduced e.g.
factual knowledge and expressing attitudes. Some use of native
speakers e.g. FLAs, visiting students or other staff.
- Increase in whole school events focusing on culture, and of
international links but these were rarely linked o F/W
iii. Cross-curricular links
- Some evidence of an increase but mainly by individual teachers
rather than whole-school planning.
- More frequent when delivery was by class teacher.
- Those with 4 years of learning demonstrated some evidence of
progress. Need to work on developing consistency in this area.
- Specialist teachers considered necessary by some school
managers to ensure progression.
- Variable performance across schools.
- Findings indicate that children can achieve nationally expected
outcomes in listening, speaking and reading after 4 years of
learning 1 language.
- Writing remains a challenge for most, limited by lack of verb
- Performances were best where provision had been consistent and
teachers had strong linguistic skills.
i) Leadership and management
- Commitment and vision of Heads and effective subject leadership
- critical in establishing and sustaining provision.
- However, many languages coordinators were working largely in
isolation from other areas of the primary curriculum.
j) Transition and transfer
- Some primary schools passing on information to secondaries, but
many were not confidence it was being effectively.
- Concern for possible loss of motivation in KS3.
k) Sustaining provision
- Majority has a school-wide vision for languages, originating
with Head; and supported by languages coordinated and
class-teacher’s willingness to engage.
- Funding for training and resources was significant in this –
and expectation that it will continue.
- Uncertainty about place of languages in curriculum /
- Those with most sustainable models had capitalised on a range
of training opportunities including local networks, projects,
international partnerships, local and national funding and