Language Horizons

Following the success of the national award winning MFL Student Mentoring Scheme in Wales, the Department for Education has funded the pilot of a similar initiative in South Yorkshire. Together with The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, the MFL Mentoring team at Cardiff University have designed a five-week programme of online and face-to-face mentoring specifically for the Sheffield area. Our goal is to increase uptake of MFL at GCSE, enthuse pupils about language learning and raise aspirations for Higher Education by partnering school pupils with university students.

What’s it all about?

The programme does not target pupils studying a specified language but rather encourages pupils to be curious about all languages and cultures. It asks pupils to challenge and question their perspectives and assumptions about others by validating a sense of multiplicity and plurilingualism in the individual and in society. It endorses the idea that everyone is part of a global community since no society is mono-lingual nor mono-cultural. It problematises the notion of a fixed identity and encourages a view that being influenced by others, other languages, and other cultures is additive, not subtractive. Ultimately, it demonstrates that globality is a mindset, an outlook and an attitude, as such it is not dependent on actual mobility and so is open to all, regardless of which language they are learning or of their proficiency. By approaching MFL in this way, we aim to give pupils agency over their language learning and their sense of who they are.

How does it work?

Language Horizons is a blended project of both online mentoring and face-to-face mentoring. Each week of the programme is themed with the first and final week being face-to-face and the three weeks in between being conducted online, using a platform that has been designed specifically for this scheme.

For the first week, the mentor goes into the school to work with their group for two hours. During this time, they build rapport with the pupils, introduce them to the online platform and begin to address the theme of a global identity. Weeks two to four take place online with the pupils being able to chat to their mentors through a secure chat facility that runs alongside a suite of bespoke resources. The online sessions last approximately 40 minutes. Week two asks pupils to consider how they engage with other cultures through the food they eat every day. Week three highlights the many languages spoken in the UK and uses colour to explore how language constructs the world around us. Week four encourages pupils to consider languages as part of their future, not only for their career but also for their wellbeing. For the final week, the mentor returns to the school for another two hour session during which they summarise and encourage pupils to reflect on their experiences. The programme is supported by a small ‘colouring book’ reflection log called a travelogue.

The mentoring scheme pairs pupils with local university students from The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, who act as near-peer role models in order to encourage pupils to continue on their language journey. In total, 21 mentors were recruited; 13 from The University of Sheffield and 8 from Sheffield Hallam.  The mentoring took place over five weeks starting in February 2019. The scheme ran in ten schools in the South Yorkshire area. Twenty pupils from each school, who are about to choose their GCSE options but were unsure, or not going to opt to take an MFL, were chosen by the school to work with the university mentors . Groups were 1 mentor to every 10 pupils. 210 pupils participated in the project in total.

At the end of April, all the participating mentees came to their mentor’s university to take part in an Award and Recognition ceremony. They were given a tour of the university and took part in a number of creative sessions around the theme of languages, cultures and performativity. By seeing what languages look like at university, we hope pupils will envisage themselves at university with languages as part of their study.

Results so far

An initial report by external evaluator Teresa Tinsley has highlighted three key areas of success following the completion of the scheme:

  • Just over half of mentees went on to opt for MFL at GCSE.
  • The greatest impact was felt in schools with the lowest uptake prior to the project taking place.
  • The project positively influenced wider perceptions of languages within the schools, beyond just those pupils who were mentored.

The complete report will be published shortly.