Nuffield Primary French 1963

The aim was to enable all primary children to learn French rather than just those at selective schools.

Communicative approach

The focus was on communication – reading, writing and speaking. The language was introduced orally, with vocabulary and grammar learnt in context rather than in the abstract. Words were only to be seen written down after they had been mastered.

Ideally the teacher spoke only in French, and glove puppets were used to stimulate informal conversation. Some classes studied subjects such as Geography or History in French.



French in a primary school

Alan Moys writes... In the late 1970s, I was a local authority adviser for languages in Derby, and taught French every morning for an hour in a local primary school. The eight-year-olds were not in any way confused by this stranger who spoke no English, and they thoroughly enjoyed the games, puzzles and fun approach to new sounds. Within a few weeks they could all respond to instructions, talk about themselves, and copy the sounds of a new language. Visiting teachers from the local secondary school were greatly impressed by the children's progress. After two years we all went off to Le Touquet for a week, where I remember the children entertaining the hotel staff with a concert of French songs.

20% of schools

A 1976 survey of local authorities suggested that modern languages including French were taught in 20% of maintained primary schools.

Primary school priorities

Schools teaching French tended to be those with French-speaking teaching assistants and with high-achieving pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds. The British government’s French pilot scheme was troubled by over-rapid expansion. It turned out that for the majority of schools there were other priorities for their limited resources, and the lack of continuity between primary and secondary schools meant that pupils were not able to build on what they had already achieved in French.