Saturday, 20 February 2010

Options Evening - or - What's your subject worth?

This Wednesday is Options Evening.
Options Evening is the time of year when non-compulsory subjects in school compete with each other to try to get the Year 9 (14 year old) students (and their parents) to choose to study their subject for the next two years. This also has massive implications on departmental budgets and, quite possibly, staffing levels.

Over the last few years attracting students has become harder for the Languages Department due to the way options groups are set up and the increasing popularity of non-exam subjects which, it is claimed, are "worth" 2 or even 4 GCSEs.

So, what is a qualification in a modern foreign language worth?

Well, imagine you are a 14 year old boy.....(Horrible, isn't it?)

You can choose to study French, for which you will have to learn vocabulary and grammar, do homework regularly, revise and then sit exams and at the end of the course, if you have worked hard over 2 years, you will get a good GCSE grade.


You can choose to study a subject for which you must produce a portfolio of work and at the end of the course you get the equivalent of 4 GCSEs. If you haven't achieved the required grade you can go away do it again and keep resubmitting until you achieve your target.

Which would you choose? (If you say "French" you are not 14, you are lying, or you are French.)

When will schools and parents realise that it isn't the number of qualifications but the quality of education the students receive which matters?


Langwitch said...

This is one of the many reasons I am loath to leave teaching in a Language College. We are very lucky that the 1st Language is compulsary. I really don't envy the task of MFL teachers in non-Language Colleges trying to recruit against the many more attractive options! Good luck!

Isabelle Jones said...

Hi there

What matters is that students are properly informed about what their choices mean, a lot of them do not know what their career plans are (or they will change them a few time by the time they reach 16), so let's not put all our eggs in the same basket. Likewise, if you want to be an archeologist, it is likely that a Food Technology GCSE will not necessarily boost your career prospects...


Moodle Fairy said...

yep - I know exactly where you are coming from, sadly :(

Miss Collins said...

We're lucky to have a Language as compulsary (at the moment) so we don't have the same problem. But I understand where you're coming from. I often hear yr11s say at the moment 'why should I bother working for German, it's only 1 GCSE'. It's such a shame that they are thinking like that!

We have our options evening coming up next month, although our students pick their options in year 8!! We offer Spanish as an option and last year we had one of the biggest uptakes of all subject - 50 students (don't ask me how we did it though).

Good luck for your options evening - I hope you get a good uptake!

Clare Seccombe said...

So true, so true. The HTs who value a good academic, all-round education are sadly a dying breed. There are too many who only value results, and will do anything to get them, regardless of the favours they may or may not be doing their students.

Besides which, young people have to learn how to work hard.

Anonymous said...

Like Langwitch, I work in a Language College, so don't have the pressure of Open Evening. Instead, we almost have an inter-departmental battle to attract students to either French or German. Last year the more able all chose French!
I do think, however, that all pupils should be advised to continue with an appropriate language course, particularly if they're uncertain about career paths, and lets be honest, how many 14 year olds really know what they want to do? I wanted to be a dentist, so dropped German in favour of Chemistry - big mistake!
Surely it's our responsibility, and that of HTs and parents, to promote a balanced choice for GCSEs?

Steve Smith said...

Hi Dom
Yes it's an unfair competition. They should give extra VA ponts to languages in schools. This might make heads focus on it more carefully.

On the other hand, I've never been a languages for all person, so the school curriculum model should be set up to get a healthy proportion of kids doing languages, if not all.

froggieflo said...


we have the same problem here in NZ. languages are not compulsory and you get as many credits as a subject where students'work load is not as heavy. as you said why would students pick French ??

Dom said...

Thanks for all the comments. Like Steve, I've never been a languages for everyone teacher, I just feel that we are doing a disservice to our students by allowing them to choose "easier options".
I think that in Year 9 we should advise students to study as many different subjects as possible to enhance their prospects.
PS: At my school now students get 9 GCSE equivalents in PE.