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Q&A with Dr Jane Jones, trainer of 2,000 MFL teachers at King's

Dr Jane Jones retired from her full-time role in 2022, although we have been immensely fortunate that she has continued to contribute to our provision this academic year. As Dr Jones passes on the baton to other colleagues, she reflects on her time at King’s, the strong links she’s made over the years with her trainees and colleagues and the status of Modern Foreign Language (MFL) in the UK today.

Dr Jones has worked for King’s for 49 years in some capacity – in the 70s and 80s alongside her teaching in schools, mainly as PGCE Subject Director. At the beginning of her association in 1974, the King’s filming unit produced a video of Dr Jones teaching French (see at the bottom of this Q&A), which was subsequently used for many years to showcase best practice in modern language teaching.

Dr Jones’s career in the School of Education, Communication & Society has involved leading what was acknowledged as an excellent specialist MFL MA, and the PGCE that has long been recognised as a very good course with great colleagues. Dr Jones has been nominated several times by students for Excellence in Teaching and won the Supervisory Excellence award in the Faculty in 2017.

How has MFL teaching in the UK changed since you started as a French teacher in the 1970s?

Strangely enough, in pedagogical terms, not very much in some ways! In the old VHS video of me teaching in 1974, this mode of teaching would be recognisable in many language classrooms today. Notable are: the energy of the teacher (not always matched by the pupils!), the use of realia, role-play and pair work, the incorporation of the four skills – listening, speaking, reading, writing – in the lesson, a good pace, time for pupils to think and a little quiet time, and a good old mix-up of target language and English!

There are of course changes. MFL classrooms now are for the most part high tech. Classes are ‘busier’ and more active, with a recognisable shape to lessons and more culturally rich and diverse.

Overall, in my view, the fundamental role of the teacher in engaging the pupils, modelling language for and with them and having a bit of fun has changed little. Pupils have always liked to learn from their teacher and their peers in an interactive classroom setting, tech or no tech, and I think our enjoyable learning dialogue is visible in the video.

Jane Jones speaking at a Decolonising curriculum project event

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing MFL teaching over the next 50 years?

There is currently a sense of concern in MFL generally. There were vibrant times in the late 70s and 80s, and early 90s, when there was a passionate MFL community of practice supported by MFL resource centres and excellent advisors. More common now are language hubs and groups and a buzzing social media reflecting modern ways of knowledge-sharing.

Some schools have been cutting back their MFL options, especially at post-16 level, meaning fewer students of MFL at university. Language options have been reduced, especially German, and Spanish is sometimes replacing French as main or sometimes solo language. When I began teaching, I joined a pioneering department of 22 MFL teachers offering five languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian. We had a Foreign Language Assistant for each language. That same school now offers only 2 languages, albeit successfully. Pressures on schools’ timetables are immense and priority is often given to other subjects over MFL.

The concern relates to the bigger picture of national MFL mindset. The media rarely trumpet our cause, preferring the ‘everyone speaks English’ trope. Recent political events have served to reinforce the island linguistic mentality. We have lost for the most part the wonderful opportunities offered by the Erasmus scheme. I was personally involved in some 18 European projects that changed me as a person and my outlook forever.

I am part of a big fight-back with colleagues and the community to reverse such trends and to promote more languages, more collaboration, more opportunities in MFL for all. Good news – A-level numbers in German have been increasing. For now! A new Department for Education Language Hubs programme is starting imminently and I am honoured to have been asked to participate. Very exciting.

Many of the teachers you’ve trained are still in touch with you even decades later; what do you see as instrumental in creating such long-lasting, fulfilling relationships?

I have always gone the extra mile for my students. I have learnt over the years that helping them to develop and sustain their confidence as teachers, new or more experienced, is the basis of everything.– Dr Jane Jones

I always gave them strongly worded suggestions about what to do and what perhaps not to do to guarantee success in their endeavours.This is about providing a safety net and a sense of security. I am always responsive. A quick yes or no might suffice to a query, sometimes a longer discussion is needed, whatever it takes to move them on. By way of example, if a student is stuck in an essay, I have found writing a sentence or two for them can ‘unstick’ them and get confidence back into their writing.

As the students take up a post, I remain there for them, to answer any queries and to provide encouragement and support. When they seek promotion, I always have provided a constructive reference and offered guidance. This has generated a wide-reaching network of MFL teachers taught by me, all over the UK but in other countries too, such as across Europe and in the Middle and Far East, and in South America. Many keep in contact with me, share their news and take on roles to promote MFL, often mentoring further generations of my students. I bump into them, too, in random places, at airports, at conferences, at concerts, on Waterloo Bridge. They always greet me warmly. It is a pleasure to see them and to learn how they give the same messages. Furthermore, some of my former students have become good friends.

I think this connectedness comes from my non-stop confidence-giving messages, and perhaps a bit of my Northern straight-talking. My rule is, no one leaves my office or conversation without being sure of the next step.

Jane Jones and school mentor Juanita

Are there any anecdotes from your time training MFL teachers at King’s that you’d like to share?

I have no special anecdotes, rather a general warm glow thinking back about seeing my students listen, think, reflect and develop confidence to become constructively critical. I enjoyed seeing their teaching, engaging with them in sessions, seeing/ hearing some beautiful work, having one-to-one chats.

I had the pleasure of teaching an opera singer on my MA. She sings regularly in the Royal Opera House choir and ‘sings to me’ if she sees me in my regular perch. Music features large in my life and many of my students have been musically talented. In many groups, we have created a choir and have sung as a way to relax, bond, learn to breathe in the classroom and for general wellbeing. The students have played a range of instruments, from guitar to tin whistle, and played them in class. We have also done drama, art and made artefacts in class.

Some of my students have benefitted from some straight Yorkshire talking. I will never forget the astonishment on the face of a student I came across in the local swimming pool where I swim who had called in sick to a college session. I said good idea to swim and to relax but always to be honest. But the odd incident like this is massively outnumbered by the many students just getting on with it, giving me such nice feedback, a personal thank you, their undivided loyalty and gratitude. They did it all themselves, really.

What will you take away from working at King’s?

As before, it has always been a surprise that my students – PGCE, MA, even PhD – always believe in me and have great trust in what I say… and usually do what I say! I am very proud of the nearly 2,000 MFL teachers who have passed through my hands in some way to teach MFL and spread the word that languages are good for the health! The last day/ evening of every teaching cohort when we have said good bye and when they leave to continue their career pathways has left me with both pride and a tear in my eye. Knowing I have had some impact is truly humbling. Being part of the Assessment for Learning group has been the highlight of my career (thank you Paul Black) and as a result of this collaboration, my booklet, ‘MFL and Modern Foreign Languages’, written with Dylan Wiliam, is in use in every MFL ITE in the UK .

I have enjoyed working with colleagues far and wide, not just those in the same school/ subject area but in other schools and faculties at King’s, and the many contacts from schools and universities across Europe and in Canada, Latin America and the USA. The many European projects in which I have been UK coordinator have spawned wonderful friendships and collaborations as well as always making formal King’s connections. I have participated not just for my own learning but on behalf of King’s College London.

The lasting memory is to do with how I have experienced the whole King’s culture over time. Under the leadership of a large number of Principals and Heads of Department/School, I have noted that, although each new appointee brings their own style and mission, there is a sense of continuing tradition and continuity and although King’s is at the cutting-edge of some research and a pioneer in many ways, tradition and sense of continuity is the essence of King’s College London. I have felt and will always feel a huge sense of pride when I pass King’s buildings wherever they are and I say to myself or to anyone I may be with – ‘that is my place of work and where I belong’. It has been an honour. Thank you for having me.


Watch Dr Jane Jones teaching French at King's in 1974:

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Jane Jones

Jane Jones

Senior Lecturer in Education

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