Shrewsbury School

Modern Languages in the Sixth Form


The following information is taken from our document 'The Sixth Form and Beyond', which is updated each December. It can be downloaded as a pdf file.


Head of Modern Foreign Languages:  Mr T.C. Whitehead
Heads of Faculty: French Mr T.C. Whitehead
  German Mr H.R.W. Peach
  Spanish Ms P.E. Henderson

The School offers examination courses in French, German, and Spanish.  More and more pupils are choosing Modern Foreign Languages in the Sixth Form because of their ever-increasing relevance to the world of work.  As well as providing a fascinating insight into other cultures, all courses are designed to provide the opportunity to explore intellectually stimulating topics including social issues and current affairs.  Language skills are increasingly sought by employers in a wide range of fields; indeed, many international companies expect fluency in more than one foreign language.  As far as the School and universities are concerned, languages are compatible with almost any combination of support subjects, whether arts, sciences, or a mixture.  While it remains desirable that those aiming to read Modern Languages at Oxford or Cambridge should offer two languages, it is not essential.  

The study of languages is a demanding discipline, and we recommend that pupils do not tackle Modern Languages unless they have attained a high grade (preferably an A or A*) at GCSE, and already show an interest in reading.  It is also very important that those learning a foreign language visit a country where it is spoken at least once while they are in the Sixth Form, if possible staying with a family.  The School arranges study visits to France, Germany and Spain, and has established an exchange link with a well known independent school in Argentina.

In terms of examination specifications, French follows the Cambridge Pre-U syllabus (see below and also page 6 for further detail), whilst German and Spanish follow the AQA A Level specification.  The courses follow on sensibly from GCSE.  All of these courses feature defined topic content, a thematic approach to learning, and an integrated approach to language skills.  There is a greater emphasis than in the past on oral skills, and plenty of scope for independent study: pupils are encouraged to exploit our various resources (satellite television, the Internet and our multi-media facility).  

There follows a little more detail about the respective specifications.


Pupils will follow the Cambridge Pre-U syllabus.  All pupils will take the Short Course examination at the end of the Lower Sixth, acting as a progress test for those who wish to continue with French in the Upper Sixth, and providing certification for those who wish to stop at the end of the Lower Sixth.  The majority of pupils will continue to Principal Subject Level for examination at the end of the Upper Sixth – a Linear, not Modular, course.

The course is excellent preparation for Higher Education and it follows a series of topics concerning French or Francophone society and people, current affairs, literature, business and industry and the arts.  The focus is as much on the international world as on France, with an emphasis on persuasiveness in argumentative debate.  Pupils have a free choice of topic for the Oral exams, which is a particular feature of this course, along with the fact that Literature and culture will be studied throughout the course.  A strong grammatical knowledge must be acquired during the Lower Sixth.

The aim is genuine fluency and to follow an enjoyable course that stretches the best linguists to the highest level educationally, while ensuring that high grades are attained.  The Bordeaux Fellow is crucial in supporting pupils in these aims, and there is an annual Sixth Form Study Visit to Bordeaux in February: nearly all pupils participate in this integrated part of the course.

German and Spanish (AQA A Level)

Building on GCSE the AS units focus on accessible contemporary issues under the topic headings ‘Media’, ‘Popular culture’, ‘Healthy living / Lifestyle’ and ‘Relationships’.  As well as relating to the students’ individual experiences and ideas, these topics offer a good opportunity to introduce relevant German or Hispanic context.  In Unit 1 (worth 70% of the AS marks) candidates are required to tackle reading and listening comprehension tasks related to the aforementioned topics, and they will also be required to write an extended piece of target language on a related title.  The oral exam, Unit 2 (worth 30% of the total AS marks) requires candidates to think on their feet speaking about previously unseen stimulus material and then to engage in a general conversation where content, fluency, grammatical accuracy and pronunciation are all under scrutiny.  All in all the AS qualification provides an excellent platform for broadening and deepening knowledge of the language and its application in listening, reading, writing and speaking work.

Having taken the AS units at the end of the Lower Sixth, pupils who opt for the full A Level will proceed to fine-tune their grammatical knowledge and hone their linguistic skills.  In Unit 3 (worth 35% of the A Level) the candidates once again tackle reading and listening comprehension material but then also have to tackle more formal translation to and from the target language.  The exercises are taken from more in-depth topics of a national and international nature under the headings of ‘Environment’, ‘Multiculturalism’ and ‘Contemporary Social Issues’ (= Science, Law and Order, Wealth Distribution).  Finally the candidates are required to write at length and present a sophisticated argument in appropriate target language on a cultural topic which could be literary-based, about film, music or architecture, a historical event or period or an in-depth study of a particular region.  In Unit 4, the oral exam (worth 15% of the A Level), candidates are asked to prepare and defend a particular viewpoint in the face of strong and repeated counter-argument.  After that they spend the rest of the examination talking about two of their chosen cultural topics – discussion will be wide-ranging and intellectually stimulating and challenging!

We would encourage pupils who are aiming for genuine fluency in the foreign language to continue to the full A Level.  Candidates taking their language beyond GCSE into A Level will leave Shrewsbury linguistically well-equipped for Gap Year plans abroad and / or for entry to study languages at university.

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