In an innovative scheme, three secondary schools in Brighton are hiring foreign students from the University of Sussex to help with language teaching. So far, the program has had positive effects on language learning in Brighton, and it is hoped that it will catch on in other schools across Britain.
Between 12 and 15 Sussex students are hired at each school involved in the scheme, mainly to aid with oral communication and pronunciation skills. “The children from the secondary schools can just have conversations with us and improve their verbal communication skills,” said one of the students involved in the program.
In GCSE modern language exams, spoken skills count for just 25% of the grade, which emphasises the importance of using native speakers to boost language skills in Britain.
Brighton secondary schools involved in the scheme have benefited greatly. For example, at Hove Park High School, the percentage of students passing GCSE with high marks has increased from 38% to 56% in two years. Moreover, the number of students studying languages has doubled since the scheme was initiated.
The head of the foreign language department at Falmer High School, Kate McAllister, said: “It is like I’ve suddenly split myself into five in the classroom [she has four Italian students] and the pupils can all have individual attention. The standard of the work is much better, especially in their speaking examinations.”
Before the government made languages in secondary schools voluntary, schools would hire foreign language assistants to help students develop conversational dexterity. Once the voluntary language option was initiated, the number of students studying a language decreased by half. The new scheme is quite reminiscent of the French assistantes, or the foreign nationals hired to help develop language skills in schools.
The students-teaching-students method is quite popular with the secondary school pupils, as the small age gap allows them to relate. “Talking to someone who is a native speaker and closer to your own age allows you to really experience the world in a different light,” says a Hove Park High School student.
Luc Lacroix, a French student at the University of Sussex, spends 3 days a week at Falmer and Hove Park high schools, helping the students with their French. “We help them decide what they want to say in French.Even though it is quite basic, we try to get them to express themselves” says Lacroix. “We are not really here to teach them, but more to help them. Maybe being exposed to foreign cultures will encourage the students to live more global lifestyles.”
Diane Rodrigues, a Spanish-speaking post-graduate at Sussex states: “I used to be a social science teacher in Colombia [her native country] and I was looking for a job here to help me get through my studies. This was just what I needed; it doesn’t interfere with my studies. I wanted to know how the British education system worked.” Paul Waterworth heads the educational supply company, MCS Projects, which co-ordinates the scheme. He expressed his intention to expand the scheme to other parts of south-east England and, while planning a meeting with Boris Johnson, hopefully London. Mr. Waterworth explained the benefits of such a scheme by stating that: “At about £12,500 per school, it costs less than hiring one extra teaching assistant.” He also stated that all three MPs from Brighton were backing the scheme.