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Last update: 27/05/2012


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Consultation on revised level descriptions for MFL

This page draws attention to the public consultation on proposed new MFL National Curriculum Level Descriptors.


Link to consultation [Takes about 15 minutes to process and answer]
Questions on the consultation
Responses from the fora

Consultation Link

The direct link is (or enter and then click on "subject level descriptions").

OR here::

Overview for the national consultation
Proposed new level descriptors

In order to contribute, you need to register online, and then you receive a link to the online questionnaire which must be completed in one session, and does not allow for review once you have left a page.   

To assist those who wish to take time to consider their answers, and to discuss with colleagues before submitting a representative response, there is a copy of the questions for both the initial registration and the consultation itself in a word document here.

It is important that teachers contribute to the consultation. There is a statutory duty on QCA to produce a report on the outcomes of the consultation.

As Chair of the Secondary Special Interest Group, Helen will be working with ALL Director Linda Parker to coordinate a response on behalf of ALL.  Please do not hesitate to contact her with any comments.  They do not have to be direct answers to the questions on the survey.  (Please state if you are a member of ALL).


There are 7 questions and the opportunity for a free flow comment of no more than 200 words.

The first question asks you which subject you are referring to.

Then for each of the 6 questions below you are asked to what extent you agree (strongly agree, tend to agree, tend to disagree, strongly disagree, not sure)

The proposed level descriptions from levels 1 to exceptional performance maintain standards

The proposed level descriptions from levels 1 to exceptional performance provide appropriate progression

The expectations set out in the proposed level descriptions from level 1 to exceptional performance are appropriate for children

The proposed level descriptions are an appropriate basis for National Curriculum assessment requirements of relevant aspects of the proposed new primary curriculum

The proposed level descriptions are an appropriate basis for assessment of secondary National Curriculum subjects

The proposed level descriptions from levels 1 to exceptional performance can be used and applied to assess children's work

If you would like, please give reasons for your responses (maximum allowance is 200 words)


Click here to download a collection of responses as gleaned from various emails to the fora, or read below ..

Proposed Changes To National Curriculum Attainment Targets - Modern Languages

(Separate document for context / questions etc)

This is a formal public consultation which is analysed and a summary of the responses will be made available. Up until last week, only 40 responses had been submitted.

Direct link to the questionnaire: (or enter and then click on "subject level descriptions").
On the right hand side of the page you can download the proposed revised level descriptions and also register to complete the online questionnaire.
If you are only responding about the MFL level descriptions (and you can simply ignore all the other subjects if you wish) it will not take you long. There are only seven statements to respond to.
There is an open response box, but if you feel that 200 words are not enough for your comments, send an email to Chris Maynard All responses, whether online, via email or verbal to Chris are recorded.


Would suggest 'Strongly disagree' to all questions so that the statistics flag up disagreement expressed in the text.

"Reasons for responses"

There is a space for 'reasons for responses' at the end of the questionnaire of up to 200 words. The first art of the text below is within this limit. However, Chris Maynard (QCA ML Subject officer) has indicated that he would be interested in further longer responses. Note that these would not be part of the 'statistics' so it is very important to responses to the questionnaire as well as sending any other comments.

Ideally, different responders should respond in their own words (although realistically a straight 'cut and paste' would be better than nothing!) please note that there are many point/phrases in the second part of this document which individual respondents may wish to highlight.


(as gleaned from various meetings / emails to fora etc)

These are grouped under the two main areas of change:

(1) The addition of the attainment target 'Intercultural understanding'

(2) The merging of 4 separate ATs (L, S, R and W) into 2 (L&S, R&W)

(1) The addition of the attainment target 'Intercultural understanding'



It is important to distinguish DELIVERY from ASSESSMENT.



Delivery very important

ICU is already in the Programme of study. We strongly support this and wish to promote this very important area of the curriculum. No teacher would disagree with the aims of the NC in respect of intercultural understanding:
"Pupils learn to appreciate different countries, culture communities and people. By making comparisons they gain insight into their own culture and society". (The National Curriculum 2007)

Equality, diversity and community cohesion are all high on the educational (incl OFSTED) agenda and ICU fits very well with this.

ICU is the responsibility of the whole school

ICU is a critical part of the Citizenship Programme of Study.

It would be insufficient to deliver it solely through the experience of language lesson .. possibly limiting the experience to understanding of the culture of the language being taught

Evidence of ICU beyond the ML department

Skills of understanding and empathy are best evidenced in the way that pupils behave to one another, to their family, .. in their response to national and international issues.

It would be artificial to limit delivery to the experience of the language lesson.

If limited to the language lesson, the lesson would have to allow for more use of English in order not to exclude those with language learning difficulties.


ICU is not an appropriate aspect to be assessed

ICU is extremely important.

Note that it is

a sensitive area
a subjective area
involves feelings, empathy and understanding

Assessing ICU would have a counter-productive / damaging effect

It is paradoxical that at a time when it has been widely recognised that formal assessment damages a creative and inspirational curriculum (the Rose Review) there should be a proposal that such an important and sensitive topic as intercultural understanding should be assessed.

As soon as you have to assess something, it can destroy the climate you need for teaching (especially for such a sensitive area)

A colleague in Australia reports on the enormous problems they have had in trying to assess ICU. (Ref: Steve Smith's blog)

Assessment would be detrimental to the teaching of ICU

There is worth in a curriculum area, even if it is not assessed

We need to move away from the obsession that 'if you can't measure it, it is worthless'.

We note that there are other areas of the curriculum which are very important but which are not assessed in levels (e.g. other areas of the ML PoS, PSHE, cross curricular elements)

Attainment targets are not the appropriate means to 'lever' a school into delivering the PoS

OFSTED's new framework, (especially with a school's delivery of equality, diversity and community cohesion as a limiting grade), should make it easier for qualitative judgements to be made, not based on statistics of levels e.g. ensuring schools have EDCC (Equality, Diversity, Community Cohesion) in place, interviewing pupils, watching more lessons etc

Assessment levels potentially narrows / limits / reduces the curriculum

There is a danger that if levels are reported, by which schools are openly judged, the curriculum will be narrowed to focus on the level descriptors, encouraging a 'tick box' mentality.

Levelling will have a reductive effect.

Note the concerns about the primary curriculum e.g. in Year 6 when schools focussed on those areas for which there was an external test, with results published.

Contrast with the generally positive experience of primary languages where teachers do not have to report levels publicly and can enjoy teaching them without the stress / constraints of assessment.

Reductive description of levels

Note that the language of the levels reduce ICU to those outcomes which are objective / identifiable. The words 'understanding' and 'empathy' do not appear.

They cannot help using factual language. They reflect an intellectual approach rather than an emotional approach.

1:identify; 2: show knowledge/awareness; 3: identify, compare; 4: understand, identify; 5: understand, describe; 6: select, present, compare; 7:investigate, explain; 8: research, present, conclude, compare. EP: research, analyse, present, respond

Inappropriate element to merge with language skills for an overall level.

There is no connection between the level descriptors for ICU and those of the other 4 skills.

It would be totally feasible for a pupil to have a EP level in ICU yet not to be able to use the language. They would be penalised if evidence had to be shown in Target language (this would be unreasonable).

This raises the same CLIL discussion points which are raised across Europe - testing the knowledge over the language ability or vice versa.

These changes would result in very different ATs between KS3 and KS4 + AS/A2, and lead to a variety of problems

(2) The merging of 4 separate ATs (L, S, R and W) into 2 (L&S, R&W)

Why take it from 4 to 2?

What is to be gained?

There would need to be a compelling reason for change

If there is a desire to change the status quo, a process needs to be established for consultation over a reasonable length of time to allow the whole language community to be involved and to discuss fully.

Currently teachers are facing a wide range of changes (KS2 Framework, KS3 Framework, new GCSE specifications, variety of externally accredited qualifications, new A2, Diploma). Where these changes clearly benefit learning and teaching, they generally are willing to co-operate and support. If there is no compelling rationale, this could be 'the straw that breaks the camel's back'.

The levels have just been amended with the introduction of the New Curriculum in 2008. It is time again for some consolidation

4 skills a national an international 'norm'

For many years, the international language community has defined language skill in the 4 skill areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing for the purposes of assessing attainment.

The reality is that everything is organised around those 4 skill areas.

This does not mean that teachers have ever taught these skills in isolation.

4 skills are not taught in isolation ; they are combined in a variety of ways

The proposal may be based on a well-meaning aim to encourage teachers to avoid teaching skills in isolation one from another and to encourage them to use the guidance of the Frameworks.

However, there is no need to use 'assessment levels' as a lever for this. The established and well used methods of teaching naturally bring all skills together, in a variety of combinations - not just those implicit in the proposed ATs e.g.

When presenting language, the pairing tends to follow the pattern of (1) a receptive skill followed by (2) a productive skill

listening and understanding .. leads to speaking
reading and understanding ... leads to writing

When practising language ...

any number of skills can be combined e.g.:

listen to a news item then

- give a verbal response (S)

- read a newspaper article to see if matches (R)

- write a letter to a newspaper to give a response (W)

The KS2 and KS3 Frameworks give helpful non-statutory guidance on teaching. Awarding separate levels to separate skills will not compromise good teaching.

4 skills an external assessment 'norm' in UK

Skills can be used separately in authentic situations e.g. listening to a range of media for enjoyment / information (TV, radio, film, web); reading for enjoyment / information (e.g. newspaper, magazine, web, letters); giving an oral presentation, leaving a message on an ansaphone; writing a letter, an account, a poster, an advert etc)

GCSE tests 4 skills separately

Language Ladder (Asset) tests 4 separately.

To assess separately is a fair, valid and reliable way to assess performance e.g.

It would be unfair to penalise the standard of someone's speaking skills they failed to understand a question posed in a particular way.
It would be unfair to penalise reading skill for failing to understand the specific question posed in French

Less manageable in on-going assessment for learning

It is false to assert that a reduction in ATs would be 'more manageable' for teachers. In fact it makes it much worse. And if ICU were included this would in fact increase teacher workload.

The reality is that teachers will try to be as precise as possible when assessing pupils for their learning, and unpick the elements even within a skill area.

To combine 2 skills will necessitate even more 'unpicking' and make it more difficult to assess progress. e.g. typically pupils find the receptive skills relatively quicker to pick up than the productive skills.

It would be rather confusing for colleagues using both systems of National Curriculum levels and language ladder levels to compare the two systems. The aim of a reform is to make things more logical and it should work in favour of the students. This has to be doubted in this case.

Not appropriate to draw direct comparison with learning mother tongue

The process for learning a second language is different from mother tongue, and it is not appropriate to align language ATs with those of English. In a foreign language the difference between reception and production is very marked. It will be very difficult for teachers to make an accurate assessment of pupils' progress using these new ATs.


It may be worth raising the concern about the lack of definition in the skill descriptors... although it would be understandable if this were not changed now, as we are arguing that it is not appropriate to change without the usual full process of revision.

Here is a reminder of the nature of concerns expressed during the last revision:

Nature of the descriptors - little change from the separate skills .. brought together.


It is understandable why the individual descriptors have not changed, as they have been subject to recent discussion.

It may be worth repeating the points made in the original consultation about the danger of context-free or content-free descriptors. Currently the wording does not give any indication as to the breadth of vocabulary needed to demonstrate a level and can be seen as too 'vague' or 'woolly'

It can be argued that it is possible to get a student to level 6 by teaching him/her all the necessary phrases, grammar, etc. within one topic area - e.g. holidays. As soon as the student has to talk about food / health problems / issue with a car / tell a story /write a creative poem the only things he/she can think of have something to do with the topic area holiday. Another student might not be taught the grammar needed to gain the necessary level but has learnt a variety of phrases / verbs etc. in conjunction with many topic areas. Who is more likely to get along in a conversation - the latter one!

At what level ought a pupil to be able to use conjunctions (rather than connectives e.g. then, finally etc) to make compound sentences (as opposed to complex). It still appears that you can reach Level 5 and still not be joining sentences with and / but (?). Complex sentences have different implications across the languages, and this has never been resolved. Where do modal verbs fit in? - again a complex issue, depending upon the language.

Role of Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) guidance to address these concerns

One of the value of APP would be the elaboration /clarification / amplification of the level descriptors .. BUT this would be contingent on the APP strands matching the Attainment Target strands.