Immersion Language Teaching

Immersion Language Teaching

In 2010 Bohunt School in Hampshire, one of the three schools led by Bohunt Education Trust, was the first secondary school in the UK to introduce immersion language teaching (CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning). This innovative teaching pedagogy sees a group of students in Key Stage 3 taught a third of their curriculum in the target language, French, Spanish or Mandarin. Native language speakers take tutor time and teach subjects like PSRE, ICT, PE, History, Science and even Maths in the target language (the Maths lesson that is taught in Mandarin also uses Chinese Maths methods).

Many schools have launched short term projects using the CLIL template; for example a module of work within the MFL curriculum looking at an artist in the target language. However, at Bohunt, we have taken one third of the students’ curriculum and conducted these lessons in the target language. That the approach is so innovative was shown by students from Bohunt School being asked to visit David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister, to teach him some Mandarin before his visit to China.

The choice of this style of learning came out of an in depth discussion of why we teach languages. We don’t teach students languages so they can get outstanding grades in their exams, we teach them languages so they can thrive in foreign countries that speak that language; we teach them foreign languages so they can be great linguists. CLIL goes far beyond just teaching a student a language though. Immersion/CLIL teaching enables teachers to challenge students cognitively, whilst improving their linguistic skills.

Communication is the key to their progress. If they can communicate about their learning in Drama or IT via the target language then they are gaining knowledge of the subject and advancing their language skills. The cognitive learning should not be compromised to accommodate their level of language. The teacher needs to prepare material that is accessible yet still cognitively challenging. Their ability to persevere, problem solve, work collaboratively, work independently and link up their learning are all skills that are explicitly developed  in a CLIL programme.

4c's approach

The evidence that the approach is working is now, after just over four years of the programme, clear. First of all, and unsurprisingly, the language results are superb. Students take their GCSE languages at the end of Year 9, two years early, as they are ready: 100% pass rate including 72 % A* – A in our first French Clil group in 2013 followed by 100% pass rate including 75 % A*-A in our first Spanish Clil group in 2014.

The impact of the cognitive challenge and enhanced behaviours for learning, developed through the need to work collaboratively in order to understand what is going on, is also clear. By the end of the first year of the programme, students in the CLIL groups are outperforming their peers in ALL subjects, not just the languages. By the time the students reach Key Stage 4 there is no clear gap in attainment, although they are still outperforming their peers in some subjects. In essence students are well equipped to deal with other challenges across the curriculum due to the transferable skills they have gained in the CLIL lessons; an emphasis on skills and communication is enhancing attainment. Even more interesting, is the way that being in the CLIL group enhances students attitudes to learning. This gap doesn’t close over time (see graph below). The enhanced challenge, the students developing resilience and the students having enhanced communication skills is improving their attitude to learning overall.


Graph showing average Attitude To Learning scores by year group

This critical finding has far reaching implications. For example, it suggests that Bohunt School’s results improving by 25% as its Outdoor Programme grew from zero students spending two or more nights under canvas in a year to over six hundred, is no coincidence; the confidence, attitudes and communication skills developed by these challenging situations were helping students attain higher in lessons. Two students with the same quality of teaching and same ability will differ in results if one believes they can do well and one does not.

Schools don’t concentrate so much on attitudes and communication skills because they are hard to develop in students and don’t seem core to what schools do. The results of Bohunt’s immersion language programme suggest they should be concentrated on for students’ futures as well as the schools’ results.

BET is continuing to develop this focus on attitudes, ambitions and communication skills through their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) and Technology projects (see other educational innovation case studies). Furthermore, they are looking to better qualify the impacts through their engagement with the Centre for Real World Learning at Winchester University’s two year ‘Engineering Habits of Mind’ project.