Speaking endorsement for MFL GCSE 2021

Last week we saw the final criteria for the MFL speaking endorsement published by Ofqual (link here). For our colleagues in English this is not a new thing, but for us in MFL it is a novelty and as such it has raised a certain amount of uncertainty and concern. How can we decide fairly and systematically if our pupils deserve a pass, merit or distinction? What kind of activities can we use? How will it all work?

Embrace this as an opportunity

The removal of the formal speaking assessment for this summer intends to alleviate pressure. For once we don’t have to put our Year 11 pupils through the most gruelling 10 minutes of target language of their lives: most of us still remember our oral exams at school, often as a nightmare. We usually have to prepare our pupils to use every structure under the sun, not to forget to include verbs in the three time frames, and to ensure they show off a wide variety of vocabulary in 10 minutes in which they are risking it all. This time we can assess their speaking ability holistically and not worry about them forgetting to include future wishes in a particular oral exchange: that’s got to be a good thing. We are free from the constraints of speaking exams, but freedom always comes with responsibility, and in this case huge amounts of it. It is natural that MFL teachers are wondering what activities to use, how to interpret the criteria easily and how to keep evidence.

What can we do?

Our task is to continue to provide our pupils with opportunities for speaking the language in lessons through a variety of everyday classroom activities and to accumulate evidence over time on which we can base our judgements (pass, merit or distinction). The government and the exam boards have repeated that there is no requirement for an awarding organisation to review this evidence but, of course, we want it to be robust and fair. So how do we gather it?

What type of activities would be suitable?

The published guidelines state that “teachers should arrive at judgements taking into account a learner’s strengths and weaknesses in performance across a range of contexts, themes and activities with different purposes” and that different purposes may cover for example, conversations, presentations, transactions, formal and informal settings, descriptions and narrations, and others too.  “Learners can demonstrate their speaking skills in relation to different purposes in a whole class context, working in pairs and groups or in a one-to-one interaction with the teacher”. Therefore the world is your oyster! Pretty much any activity involving oral exchanges in the target language could help with your assessment, but you need a variety of them. Think of your already established classroom routines, the usual pair activities or games that elicit real communication (such as “steal the sentence” or “battleships”), any spoken communication with a partner school online that you might have organised, and of course any exam-type speaking tasks such as role plays, photo descriptions or general conversation. Ofqual even specifies that “speaking activities can be integrated into the teaching and learning of these skills in order to develop the skill of speaking in its own right as well as supporting the development of the other skills”, so any speaking in the target language while practising reading, listening or writing counts as evidence too.

How do I apply these criteria in practice?

We don’t want to overcomplicate things (after all, this has been introduced to make life a little easier), but we want to make sure we apply these fairly and consistently. So, how?

Remember: this is not a marking scheme, the criteria intend to provide an overall description of a learner’s performance and a “best fit” approach is encouraged. Your assessment of a pupil’s performance should start with the Communication and interaction aspect. See below:

To be awarded a Pass, Merit or Distinction a Learner must:

(a) take part in different tasks that are varied across different themes

(b) use language for different purposes, and

(c) meet all of the criteria at the level for the Communication and interaction aspect, and all of the criteria at the same level for at least two of the three other aspects of assessment with one aspect permissible at the level below. This includes awarding a pass to Learners who fail to meet the criteria for one of Range of language, Accuracy or Pronunciation and intonation.

I suggest you create a spreadsheet with the descriptors (such as the one generously shared by Helen Myers here) and have one per student, where you tick after an activity all the elements of the criteria that have been met. Over time this will give you a very comprehensive view of the level achieved by the pupil and constitute your evidence.

Remember that the government encourages us to share the criteria with our pupils, as well as their working at level, to enable them to discuss, monitor and assess their own progress and to identify strengths and areas for improvement.

I hope you feel empowered to take this speaking endorsement as an opportunity to continue showing your pupils how crucial oral communication is and how much fun it can be.

Mariu Hurriaga is United Learning’s MFL Subject Advisor with responsibility for raising standards in more than 50 Secondary MFL departments, in both Academies and Independent Schools. Previously, she taught Modern Languages (Spanish, German, French) and Latin at a variety of schools and was Head of Department for 15 years. She is also an examiner for GCSE and A-level.