French is a popular subject at The Perse, with the vast majority of pupils continuing to GCSE and many studying French in the Sixth Form and beyond. We believe that the reasons behind this success are three-fold; we aim to foster in our students a passion for French language and francophone culture by creating proficient French users, independent learners and global citizens.
In lessons throughout the school, rather than teaching to the exam specification, we ensure that pupils develop the ability to use French as a means of practical communication for future study, work and leisure. We encourage spontaneous speaking, expose students to sophisticated language and authentic texts and teach them to write fluently from day one.
We also put a strong emphasis on language learning skills. By giving pupils an understanding of the process of language acquisition (how to learn vocabulary, grammar etc.) and explicitly teaching key skills (phonics, dictionary skills, receptive skills etc.), we are able to foster independent learning. This gives our pupils the confidence and ability to succeed at GCSE and beyond.
Finally, we aim to stimulate a passion for exploring francophone cultures. Cultural awareness is becoming increasingly important in our society and in the global economy. What employers will be looking for in post-Brexit Britain is global citizens with the intercultural skills to drive our economy. We aim to foster this awareness as we study francophone culture across the different continents.
My child is a native speaker of French. What will they do during their curriculum lessons?
Teachers will aim to differentiate the content of their lessons and will recommend library resources for stretch and challenge. Where it is appropriate, native speakers should consider early completion of GCSE from Year 9 onwards. Extension lessons with an oral language teacher may be a possibility depending on timetabling and teacher availability.
Can students take early GCSEs in languages?
Yes, we usually enter students for early GCSE from Year 9 onwards, if they are native speakers and fluent. This is done by entering the student as a private candidate through our exams department. The department cannot offer specific exam-related support to students entered as private candidates.
How is setting done in MFL (modern foreign languages)?
Normally setting is done during the first half term of the year. The department decides on sets according to a range of factors. First, a setting activity allows students to demonstrate their level of understanding across familiar topic areas and grammar points. Second, teachers also contribute to the decision with their knowledge of the students’ commitment, aptitude and work in previous years. We want students to feel comfortable, knowing that they are in the right group for them. Teachers are constantly reviewing student progress and it may be that alterations are made to sets over the academic year.
If a student is doing an extra-curricular language, do they have to take a language for GCSE in the curriculum?
- Learning journey - Years 7 and 8
In Year 7 and 8, pupils are assigned to a teaching group based on their ability in French. All groups follow a common course that we have designed in-house. This course ensures that pupils develop a firm grasp of the foundations of the French language, whilst at the same time stretching and extending each pupil so they reach their full potential.
In Year 7, the main focus of the course is developing language skills. Oral and aural work form the basis of most lessons, with French phonics and listening skills taught explicitly, so that from day one pupils are confident communicators. We also put a strong emphasis on grammar, different verb forms and French expressions. This removes the language limits that frustrate many novice language learners, allowing our pupils to read and write sophisticated, interesting texts straight away. By the end of the year, not only do our pupils know about school life and sporting events in Francophone countries, but also they are able to describe their family, school, hobbies and more.
In Year 8, pupils further extend their language skills. Some of the topics previously covered are developed further and new ones – holidays and travel, francophone celebrations, food, local area and environment – added. Furthermore, by the end of the year, all pupils can recognise and use a wide range of high-level structures confidently, including the three main tenses. They are now ready to move onto the GCSE course.
- Learning journey - GCSE
In Year 9, pupils start the AQA GCSE French course. This qualification gives students the opportunity to develop their ability to understand and apply a range of vocabulary and structures, apply effective language learning and communication skills, understand and respond to different types of spoken and written language and communicate effectively in speech and writing for a variety of purposes.
Doing the course over three years has many benefits for our pupils. It enables us to tailor the pace of the course to each individual group, providing sufficient consolidation and challenge for all. It also allows us to extend beyond the specification into interesting topics, such as French cinema and cuisine (find out more in ‘providing stretch’ below).
We are also very lucky to have many extra resources for our GCSE students. We have a wide range of subscriptions to interactive language learning websites that allow students to develop key skills further, which are available to all GCSE classes. In Years 10 and 11, pupils also have a small-group lesson with a French native speaker once a week to help them develop their spoken French.
- Providing stretch
In every lesson, we provide extension opportunities so that pupils are stretched and challenged. For students wishing to take their learning further, there are also plenty of opportunities beyond the classroom.
In all year groups, pupils will find optional extension activities for each topic in their curriculum booklets. These can be anything from researching an aspect of French life or making a Kahoot quiz to listening to French music or making a traditional French dish for your family to eat.
There are also recommended film and book lists for pupils in both the Lower School and Middle School. We have a fantastic range of easy readers and DVDs in the library, as well as lots of French magazines.
Year 7 and Year 8 pupils can stretch themselves by learning the extension vocabulary and grammar in their course booklets. Every topic has a range of fancy structures and interesting vocabulary that can be learned to extend pupils’ speaking and writing even further. This vocabulary is also available on Memrise and Quizlet.
In Years 9 to 11 we provide extension sessions for the highest sets, designed to stretch pupils both linguistically and culturally well beyond the confines of the curriculum and give them a taste of the A level course. These sessions take place during normal lessons and include:
- Trying drama and improvisation to increase confidence speaking spontaneously
- Reading short stories to explore more sophisticated literary language
- Studying a film to sample French cinema and learn the basics of cinematography
- Debating to develop the ability to phrase points succinctly, listen to others and refute arguments
- Looking at music and rhymes to study the links between sounds and meanings in a selection of famous French songs.
We also run a language day for Year 9 and 10 with Business Language Champions to enable pupils to put their language skills into use in a practical setting and show them the key role of foreign languages in science and business. We organise a language breakfast for Year 11 so pupils can find out more about languages at A Level, university and beyond.
- Beyond the classroom
Another great opportunity to extend beyond the curriculum is by getting involved in some of the wide range of extra-curricular opportunities on offer, for example trips, French society events, debating or competitions.
Pupils in Year 9 can take part in our exchange with Notre Dame de Sainte Croix, an independent Catholic college/lycée in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a western suburb of Paris just two métro stops from the Champs-Elysées. Each year, around 30 pupils visit Paris for a week in November and spend a week exploring the sights and experiencing French family and school life. French pupils stay with their Perse partners in February.
In Year 10 we run an exchange with Lycée St Thomas d’Aquin in Saint Jean-de-Luz at the heart of the French Basque country. French pupils visit in December and Perse pupils go to France in March. In addition to practising their French, pupils have the opportunity to experience the strong and distinctive identity of the French Basque region.
The Junior French society runs a whole range of events for pupils in Year 7-9, from a French bake off and cookery classes to a pétanque competition and mini Tour de France. This year, for the first time, they are also looking to stage their very own French play.
The Senior French society, for pupils in Year 10 and above, organises lunchtime lectures with visiting speakers from top universities and careers talks. They also run a variety of cultural events throughout the year: film screenings, book club, competitions, food tastings etc.
The French Soirée is a popular annual event in the Lent term during which we celebrate texts under all forms in cabaret style; pupils across the whole school (about 60 take part) read, recite, sing or act out a French text of their choice, studied in class or written by themselves. Parents and staff as well as all pupils are invited.
Thanks to the dedicated preparations of the French Debating Society, who meet regularly to perfect arguments and techniques, Perse debating teams have had considerable success in competitions over the past five years. As well as winning many regional titles, they regularly make it to the national finals – in 2017 they were crowned national champions and in 2019, despite being one of the only Lower Sixth teams at the competition, they came runners up.
In recent years, we have also had success in the Oxford French Flash Fiction competition and the UK Linguistics Olympiad. In 2019, a Perse pupil was highly commended for their short story and two Perse pupils were selected to represent Great Britain at the International Linguistics Olympiad in South Korea.