European Conference on Educational Research - European Educational Research Association

Henderson, L. (Presenter), Carruthers, J. (Presenter)

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Individual Paper Presentation Language Learning Policies and Practices Under Devolution: Learner and Teacher Perspectives from Northern Ireland UK citizens, compared with the EU average,are more likely to report that they found lessons at school to be the mosteffective way to learn a language (EuropeanCommission, 2012, p. 108). However, they are amongst the least likely to report themselves ascompetent or confident users of a second language when compared with their EUneighbours (Ibid., p. 30-40). Theperception of English as a global lingua franca, and the accompanying rhetoricof ‘English is enough’ (Lanversand Coleman, 2017), serve to entrench the notion of theBritish as notoriously poor language learners (Coleman,2009). Some argue that the reputation of othernations as motivated and proficient linguists stems from their desire to becomestrong English speakers. Macaro (2008) proposes that ‘all other Europeancountries (apart from Ireland) are learning Englishas an L2’ (p. 105). Although thedata shows that they are not only learningEnglish: just over 50% of students in upper secondary education across the EU learntwo or more languages (EURYDICE,2017, p.166). More than 90% of young Europeans, compared to 50% of UK students, continueto study a language at this level (Ibid.). The appetite for language learning appears to be lower amongst UK teenagersthan their other European counterparts. Close examination of the educationpolicy context shows that the downward trend in language learning in the UKcannot be simply ascribed to individual young people’s aspirations. The decision to remove the statutory (modern)language requirement at upper secondary level (post-14), part of the thenLabour government’s policy to improve flexibility and choice for schools andindividual learners (Pring,2005) began a decline in uptake whichendured over many years. Theincreasingly neoliberal educational culture, characterised by an emphasis onperformativity and accountability (Lingard,2014), influenced school and pupil level decisions about language learning andcontributed to the steep and consistent decline in popularity of modernlanguages which were ‘perceived’ as more difficult than other subjects (Gill,2017; Tinsley and Dolezal, 2018). Education was one of the social policy areas devolved to theadministrations in Northern Ireland (NI), Scotland and Wales in the early 21stCentury, whilst authority over education policy for England resided inWestminster (Birrelland Heenan, 2013). The result is significant jurisdictional variation in how languageeducation policies (Ayres-Bennettand Carruthers, 2019) are developed and enacted (Ball,Maguire and Braun, 2012). Within this complex policy landscape the extent to which young people,across the devolved jurisdictions, experience genuine choice in relation tolanguage learning is very poorly understood. In the context of Brexit[1]the UK’s languages capacity is a recognised cause for concern, with severalchapters in a recent volume dedicated to understanding its related challenges (Kelly,2018). It is timely to reconsider the linguistic challenges that the UK willundoubtedly face in its relations with other nations within and beyond the EU atthis time of significant political instability. The crisis of language learning in UK schools is well documented and seriousinequities in access to language learning were identified in 2014 by the All-PartyParliamentary Group on Modern Languages. Multiple structural barriers to equitable and effective provision oflanguage learning opportunities for all young people at each stage of educationhave been identified (CambridgePublic Policy Strategic Research Initiative, 2015). This research seeks to understand how these barriers impact on youngpeople’s experiences of navigating the landscape of language learning and theirmotivations for continuing to study languages. Methods This research addresses thesignificant gap in our understanding of the perspectives of young people andtheir teachers in relation to the processes of decision-making around languagelearning in NI. The research questionswhich guide this research relate to three main areas: language (education) policyin the devolved regions; the provision and practice of language learning andassessment; and the future of language policy, provision and practice. The overarching aims are to better understandthe extent of genuine choice experienced within the system and how structuralbarriers constrain individual and institutional decision-making. Areas where appropriate intervention has thepotential to improve agency and choice are identified, particularly in relationto language learning and motivation to continue with language study. This mixed-methods research projectwas planned and conducted in three discrete sequential strands. Each strand engaged with the views andexperiences of both learners and teachers. The first strand comprised initial stakeholder consultation meetings toinform the research purposes. Thisimproved the likelihood that the research addressed issues which were ofimportance to those most affected by policy decisions which were beyond their control. The second strand adopted survey methodologyto gather data pertaining to how modern language learning at secondary level isplanned, delivered and experienced. Following quantitative analysis, the data offers insight into theexperiences of sub-groups across a broad sample of the student and teacherpopulations. The third strand adoptedqualitative focus groups to develop a better understanding of the extent ofchoice experienced at individual and institutional levels. The main emphasis was on the factorsinforming decision-making about language learning at secondary level in NI, howyoung people described their motivations and whether they experienced agency inthese processes. Whilst it is not uncommon to engagewith language learners in conducting research about language learning (Grahamet al., 2016), aside from some notable examples,there is relatively little evidence of how young people experience choice andmotivation in relation to studying languages (Taylorand Marsden, 2014; Coffey, 2018). A guiding principle of this research is the recognition of young peopleas experts in their own lives (Clark,2004). Therefore, the primary focus on engaging with young people’s views andexperiences of choice and decision-making in language learning, at threecritical moments in their own language learning journeys, provides much neededdata in this area. Conclusions The principle of choice has becomedeeply embedded in education systems internationally. Ball (op. cit.) has challenged the portrayalof choice in education policy as neutral, suggesting that it serves toperpetuate existing inequalities in education. Divergence in ideological beliefs and practical challenges haveinfluenced the development of devolved policies relating to modern languageseducation. Nonetheless, a significantdegree of alignment persists across the regions, such as the timing andduration of compulsory foreign language learning. However, there are also notable differences,such as approaches to the status of indigenous languages in the schoolcurriculum at primary and secondary levels and the formal assessment mechanismsby which students may be accredited for their language skills andcompetences. One overarching policy objective inNorthern Ireland is to reduce educational inequality (NorthernIreland Executive, 2016). However, this research shows that the policy and practice of languagelearning in NI schools are characterised by differences in the opportunitiesavailable to young people. The dataconfirms that language learners’ experiences differ at each stage of theirtrajectories through and beyond compulsory education. The paper will discuss: the differentialprovision of primary languages (Joneset al., 2017); inefficient arrangements fortransition from primary to secondary education (Collen et al., 2017); differential access (particularlyby school type) to language learning beyond age 14, when the phase ofcompulsory modern (foreign) language learning ends (Educationand Training Inspectorate (NI), 2011); and young people’s accounts oftheir future aspirations for language learning. A full discussion of the different reasons that young people give fortheir own decisions about language learning will be provided. This research demonstrates the value ofaddressing gaps in evidence at the local level to better understand thesignificant impact of education policies on the lives of young people. References Ayres-Bennett,W. (2015) The Value of Languages. Ayres-Bennett,W. and Carruthers, J. (2019) PolicyBriefing on Modern Languages Educational Policy in the UK. Ball, S.,Maguire, M. and Braun, A. (2012) Howschools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. London:Routledge. Birrell, D.and Heenan, D. (2013) ‘Policy style and governing without consensus: Devolutionand education policy in Northern Ireland’, SocialPolicy and Administration, 47(7), pp. 765–782. Clark, A.(2004) ‘The mosaic approach and research with young children’, in Lewis, V. etal. (eds) The Reality of Research withChildren and Young People. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, pp. 142–161. Coffey, S.(2018) ‘Choosing to study modern foreign languages: Discourses of value asforms of cultural capital’, AppliedLinguistics, 39(4), pp. 462–480. Coleman, J.A. (2009) ‘Why the British do not learn languages: Myths and motivation in theUK’, Language Learning Journal,37(1), pp. 111–127. Collen, I.,McKendry, E. and Henderson, L. (2017) TheTransition from Primary Languages Programmes to Post-Primary LanguagesProvision. Educationand Training Inspectorate (NI) (2011) AShort Report on the Provision for Modern Languages in a Sample of Non-SelectiveSchools. EuropeanCommission (2012) Special Eurobarometer386: Europeans and Their Languages. EURYDICE(2017) Key Data on teaching Languages atSchool in Europe. Gill, T.(2017) The impact of the introduction ofProgress 8 on the uptake and provision of qualifications in English schools. Graham, S.,Courtney, L., Tonkyn, A., and Theodoros, M. (2016) ‘Motivational trajectories forearly language learning across the primary–secondary school transition’, British Educational Research Journal,42(4), pp. 682–702. Jones, S.,Greenwood, R., Purdy, N. and McGuckian, E. (2017) Review of Current Primary Languages in Northern Ireland. Kelly, M.(2018) Languages after Brexit. Cham:Palgrave Macmillan. Lanvers, U.and Coleman, J. A. (2017) ‘The UK language learning crisis in the public media:a critical analysis’, Language LearningJournal. Taylor & Francis, 45(1), pp. 3–25. Lingard, B.(2014) Politics, Policies and Pedagogiesin Education. Oxon: Routledge. Macaro, E.(2008) ‘The decline in language learning in England: getting the facts rightand getting real’, Language LearningJournal, 36(1), pp. 101–108. NorthernIreland Executive (2016) Programme forGovernment Consultation Document. Pring, R.(2005) ‘Labour government policy 14-19’, OxfordReview of Education, 31(1), pp. 71–85. Taylor, F.and Marsden, E. J. (2014) ‘Perceptions, attitudes, and choosing to studyforeign languages in England: An experimental intervention’, Modern Language Journal, 98(4), pp.902–920. Tinsley, T.and Dolezal, N. (2018) Language Trends2018-England. [1] The term used to describe the process of the UK leaving the EU
Period03 Sep 201906 Sep 2019
Event typeConference
LocationHamburg, Germany
Degree of RecognitionInternational