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"Only 3% of secondary schools enable all pupils to continue with the language that they learned at Key Stage 2."

Few roles have escaped Bridget Saul in the world of education. BA in Italian and French from the University of London, PGCE from Oxford University, MA in MFL Education from King’s College and currently studying for a PhD at UCL, not many can stand up to her credentials. Professionally, she is not far off such an impressive mark. She has taught from KS2 to 5 in grammar and independent schools, her roles including teacher, Head of Department, and Headmistress. We meet with her to hear more about such an impressive career.




 

When did you first fall in love with languages? And with so many of them, given that you have taught Spanish, German, Italian, and French(!)?

Since I can remember, I have always been fascinated by languages, the sound, grammar systems, and cultural turn of phrase. When my sister was asking for riding lessons, I asked my parents if I could learn Spanish!


In your teaching experience, would you say that you prefer teaching some languages over others? And any year groups in particular?

I really enjoy teaching languages at Upper Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. This tends to be the relatively early stage of language learning where the emphasis is on the acquisition of new language which lends itself to games, pair work and group work. Whilst French has always been my main teaching language, I have found that enthusiasm in Spanish lessons often abounds – it is often a new language to many learners and, due to its phonetic makeup, more accessible in the early stages of learning.


You are currently completing your PhD dissertation on the transition from Key Stage 2 to 3 in modern languages. What drove you to such a key topic and what insights did you extract your research and experience?

So much work has been done to introduce MFL at Key Stage 2 with many learners leaving Year 6 able to write in small paragraphs, understand conversations with familiar and some unfamiliar language, and take part in conversations to talk about themselves, their family, hobbies and school life and, perhaps more importantly, they are keen to learn more.

Various factors, such as intake from a range of primary schools and a lack of parity in terms of the quality of teaching learning, often sees children return to basics in MFL when they enter Year 7, as a result, progress slows, and learners lose interest when not challenged.

The research that I undertook at King’s for my master’s and at UCL all points towards the need for a clear and structured curriculum of learning to ensure continuity and progression across Key Stages 2 and 3. A wider issue, however, is staffing, with only 3% of secondary schools enabling all pupils to continue with the language that they learned at Key Stage 2.


You are also a French examiner for GCSE. Do you have any advice for students who will soon have to face them?

Little and often! Accessing the top grades at GCSE MFL involves grammatical accuracy and a wide variety of vocabulary. I would advise structuring revision on a weekly basis to revise grammar and vocabulary covered in class become very familiar with the mark scheme and what to achieve for each grade, the type of vocabulary and tenses required. For the speaking exam, practise speaking in front of a mirror; this can really help in saying your answers to questions out loud, or, if you have prepared a presentation, learning the presentation by heart.

 

You used to be an assistant housemistress. Reflecting on it, how do you think that affects, perhaps helps, your teaching role?

This was at the beginning of my career and really helped me shape my view that pastoral care and academic achievement are so intrinsically linked. Knowing about the wider challenges that pupils face can also add a very personalised perspective to teaching.


You have acted as Headmistress for nine years in your career. What are the qualities that one such person should have?

A successful career in the classroom provides most headteachers with a firm foundation in understanding teaching and learning, but the business of managing and leading a school has changed enormously in the past 10 years.  Managing staff is, in my experience, the most complex aspect of a Head’s role. Every headteacher aspires to leading a happy, productive team that feels respected and looked after – yet achieving this in practice requires skill and dexterity. The challenge is to keep your approach rooted in fairness and transparency, but with a personal touch that recognises and respects individual difference. The temptation may well be to write detailed policies designed to address every conceivable situation, yet this quickly becomes fraught with difficulty. Instead, Headteachers need strong principles and clear values that they can apply to the many and varied situations they’ll face.


As a polyglot and a Head of MFL, what would you recommend to those wanting to learn or practise a foreign language, with the Summer upon us? And for Spanish, any readings or music in particular?

Aside from immersing yourself in the country where the language is spoken, I would recommend Duolingo for those who are seeking to gain quick skills in communication in the target language. For those learning Spanish, why not bring learning to life by visiting lyricstraining.com, a great resource with contemporary music and language to enhance listening skills.

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