Three major shortcomings of SEN provision in modern languages teaching (guest post by Ian Young of BISHMC Vietnam)

Please note:  this is a guest post by Mr Ian Young, Head of Learning Support at B.I.S. (British International School Ho Chi Minh City)


Mr Ian Young, the most talented  and passionate head of Learning Support I have ever come across in 25 years of teaching careeer. During his tenure at Garden International School he often shared with me his serious concerns with the often superficial and nonchalant way students with emotional and cognitive deficits are dealt with by us MFL teachers in schools. I often asked him to put his thoughts down in writing in an attempt to raise language-teacher awareness of the issues that in his opinion undermine LS provision in their subject. He has finally acquiesced and sent through this very concise but hard-hitting piece which definitely resonates with my own experience.

My immediate reaction in reading this was ‘guilty as charged’ and I would be very interested in hearing your reaction, so please do leave a comment below if you can spare a minute or too. Here it is.

SEN Coordinator: Three things that keep me up at night about MfL Departments…

by Ian Young

1. Not realising that SEN is the responsibility of ALL Teachers

MfL teachers, on average, get fewer students with significant SEN because it is where most students are pulled from for their additional support lessons (this is true in UK, American and Canadian schools). As a result there tends to be an undercurrent of “SEN matters do not apply to me and my department” and they are grouped with underachievers who may seem to have the same difficulty as many other students but for very different reasons.

Because of this potential for “blending”, it is crucially important for MfL teachers to confirm with their registers because these needs will likely cause a greater level of difficulty for many LS students (hence their need to often be withdrawn), and may impact SEN students differently than

2. Disregarding how specific learning disorders impact their subject

There are LDs (learning disorders) that impact students in MfL much more acutely that it may in other subjects. Specifically, students who are hearing impaired of have a receptive language difficulty will need a great deal of individual support. Students with Dyslexia will have the added challenge of accents or different alphabets altogether to contend with that can be indecipherable without appropriate support (e.g. blue or yellow paper, and use of a clear font that provides adequate space in between letters and accents).

In fact, there should be specific intervention planning – in coordination with the SEN Department – to address these needs.

It is even worthwhile to go deeper than the IEPs and Profiles, as Speech and Language Therapists and Educational Psychologists may have included in their written reports useful recommendations that did not get transcribed into the documents that are designed for all teachers.

3. Neglecting proper assessment planning for SEN students

There are a lot more listening exams in MfL that many departments often fail to plan for with SEN students.

This can often be unique to MfL and there are even specific regulations as it relates to topics such as additional time in listening exams (note: additional time is not granted in exams as replays of the audio, it is granted by pausing the audio and resuming as appropriate).

Many of these exams – listening in particular – will require additional equipment, staff, and a separate setting – all of which will need to be planned. Unfortunately, the end result in many cases is very last minute and incomplete or it is not done at all.

Therefore it is always a good idea to review access arrangements for students and get an idea which students are recommended for individual support on listening exams by your SEN Dept. They should also be able to assist with providing additional staffing and space, provided advance notice is given.

Concluding remarks

Overloaded as we are with lesson planning, marking and classroom management and student-behaviour issues, we do not always devote to SEN students the special attention they deserve, from carefully reading their IEPs and information about their specific learning disorders to effectively liaising with LS staff. I have been guilty of that in the past and I have only got better in recent years, after becoming a father and asking myself ‘What if my daughter was one of those kids?’. The emphasis MFL teachers lay on SEN provision is often a reflection, in my experience, of the whole-school attitude towards it; where SLT are sensitive to the needs of SEN students MFL departments tend to be more switched on and proactive. As Mr Young often said to me, it all starts with the powers that be; however, ultimately, we do have an important duty of care which must fulfil to our best.

Thanks, Mr Ian Young Head of LS at BISHMC for providing this very useful reminder that very child matters – the first guest blogpost on The Language Gym !


4 thoughts on “Three major shortcomings of SEN provision in modern languages teaching (guest post by Ian Young of BISHMC Vietnam)

  1. When I queried how ‘extra time’ exam concessions worked with listening, I was informed that they just get their extra time at the end of the exam in order to review the paper a bit more. Otherwise I would have thought that exam boards should actually be producing CDs for the exams with 25% extra time (which seems to be the norm). There is certainly very little concession made for any kind of SEN with listening.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of overwork and planning though. Should a teacher get extra support if they have a child with SEN in their class – to organise photocopying in large print / other font / different colour paper? To create a differentiated worksheet to meet their needs?

    I have had a mixed experience of whole-school support when working with children with SEN. At its worst, they get pulled out of MFL for a term to do a special literacy project, and then are thrown back in a term later. Or they get pulled out of 2/3 of the lessons and are expected to attend the other ones. I have also had the very horrible experience of meeting with a TA to work out how best to support a particular child, only to be hauled in by head very soon afterwards, with my words twisted, thrown back at me. It made me feel VERY suspicious of liaising with a TA again. I have had another experience where a special SEN group for MFL was created in year 7. It was brilliant. Four kids, two TAs and me. My colleague had the same group on the other ‘wing’. Her group was constantly growing as more and more children were removed from mainstream MFL for all manner of reasons. In the end her group grew from 5 to about 13 of the most troubled children in the year. Bouncing off the walls. It became a dumping ground. (Mine didn’t, because all the other kids on my ‘wing’ were doing a different language.)

    Just a few ‘stream of consciousness’ thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ian, Gianfranco
    Just have to say that my daughter IS one of those students, and ended up with only one MFL lesson a fortnight when moving to secondary school, in order to facilitate extra English and Maths. Unfortunately, the MFL teacher seemed to take this as a signal to not bother aiming for any genuine academic progress, as the teaching group were simply told to log in on “Mylo” online each lesson, and explore the games. For me this was an awful, dismissive attitude, driven by the thought that my daughter’s group would never be expected to start GCSE, so had no need of real knowledge and skills. Whenever I have taught SEN students in MFL, I have always tried to differentiate to make real progress accessible, and since becoming a parent to SEN children I have felt even more strongly that appropriate differentiation is just part and parcel of what we have to do in our teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

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