This is a copy of a post I put up on the 'Speak to the Future' group on Linkedin. If you are a language teaching professional at whatever level, and you haven't yet done so can I encourage you to join.
A week ago I attended a conference organised by Musical Futures. In the plenary presentations I heard the same concerns expressed by Music teachers as I read on MFL forums, that their subject was under threat, that music's exclusion from the E-bac is already encouraging schools to re-prioritise resources at the expense of the Arts, that Music teacher trainee numbers are in sharp decline. The same question was asked: 'How can we make our case to the Government more clearly, more cogently?
The same economic rationale I read on this forum was being posited, that the UK Music industry is one of the biggest income earners for the UK. Fail to support Music education and our economy will go down the pan. Of course their arguments and ours may well be true. It doesn't follow however that in PR terms, they will have an impact. Governments tend to be resistant to metaphorical guns held to the head by individual interest groups.
I wonder how many other subject associations are holding their annual conferences and rehearsing the the same arguments? To any Government hearing this message repeatedly from many subject bodies, our howls of protest are in danger of becoming just so much 'noise' however cogently argued.
One inescapable fact of all successful PR campaigns is that you have to stand out from the 'noise' and you don't do that by shouting the same 'noise' as everyone else, only a little bit louder. You have to be different.
Personally I think that running a PR campaign for the government to listen to us more clearly is targeting the wrong audience. The people we desperately need to sell languages to are our pupils, NOT the government, that is the PR campaign we haven't been very successful at winning. If the government was faced with a generation of pupils buzzing with excitement about their experience of learning a language they would back the curriculum to the hilt.
To create such a buzz, you do not need to pile up ever more utilitarian arguments that point to how much wider job opportunities will present themselves were they to pursue a language or how much easier it would be to order an ice-cream when on holiday! I have never yet come across a pupil truly inspired by these. I think they are as bored listening to them as I have felt when I thought I ought to say them.
To start with, for the pupils who are of an age to understand these arguments, those in KS4, they will have long made up their minds about the subject before such thoughts enter their heads. It is already too late. You need to 'sell' what we do to children in KS2/KS3.
To do this we need a national event that will fire the imaginations of our pupils, that will engage them creatively in language learning, that will prompt them to seek out and forge links with co-collaborators in other countries. This needs to be an event that engages as many as possible at a regional level but that culminates in something spectacular at a national level.
If there was one message that heartened me from this weekend's ALL conference it was that right across the KS2/3 curriculum there is a wind of creative change blowing. Talented teachers are freeing their programs from the shackles of narrow topics and are building courses around activities and concepts that fire their own and their pupils' imaginations. We need a national event to celebrate this.
So, somewhat timidly because I'm in danger of sounding like a one-beat drum, could I suggest as I did at Saturday's Language World Speak to the Future presentation, that we consider a National MFL Singing Event to celebrate language learning?
I truly believe that correctly organised, engaging schools throughout the country and marketed cleverly through the media to follow the transformational impact on the children taking part, we would have a winning formula. It would be an event those taking part in at every stage would remember for the rest of their lives. It might even be fun!