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Native speakers and A level modern foreign languages: can you help?

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Ofqual is set to conduct research on the impact of native speakers on exam results in A level modern foreign languages (MFLs). To ensure our research is as accurate as possible we’re asking for help from schools so that we can gain a greater understanding of the types of students sitting A level MFL this summer.

We’re conducting the research because we know from anecdotal evidence that there are concerns about the potential impact of native speakers on A level MFL results. In particular, there are concerns that the number of native speakers is increasing and that, as a result, students for whom the MFL is a second language are being disadvantaged. These concerns are mainly associated with the largest entry MFL specifications, rather than what are commonly known as community languages.

The research will aim to quantify the number of native speakers sitting A levels in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian this summer. Currently, this information is not readily available at the national level so if we can find out the numbers it will be a great starting point. We also want to explore how native speakers perform on the assessments.

This isn’t about advantaging or disadvantaging one student over another and it certainly won’t affect the results that an individual student achieves this summer. It’s about improving our information about the students sitting each subject and how they perform, and ensuring that all students are treated fairly.

To help our research, exam boards will be providing us with details of the students sitting A level French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian this summer. We’ll then ask all the schools that have entered students to these subjects to let us know if any of their students are native speakers or have native speaker characteristics.

Collecting this information won’t be easy, as there isn’t always a clear definition of a native speaker; their immersion in their native language will vary for a number of reasons. We will therefore be seeking feedback from modern language teaching associations to help us develop a questionnaire for students with the aim of gathering information about language experience and proficiency.

In addition, we will be asking teachers to identify which of their students they believe to be native speakers or possess native speaker characteristics. Again, this won’t be easy, but it will provide us with another piece of information to understand the language expertise of the students sitting these A level MFLs.

We’re currently paying careful attention to how we design and conduct this research, but we’re keenly aware that it will all rely on school engagement, as the more data we are able to collect, the more robust the research will be.

So I’ll end on a plea – for those schools that we contact in May: please take the time to support this research by asking your students to complete the questionnaires that we send to assess language expertise and proficiency. With your support, we’ll have a much clearer picture of the type of students sitting these subjects and how they perform. This will allow us to better understand and explore the concerns that currently exist about the potential effect of native speakers on all students’ results.

If you are interested in this research please contact

Rachel Taylor
Research Fellow

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