Using video-conferencing to improve English students ...
Using video-conferencing to improve English students’
conversational skills in French
Part I: Innovation description
A. Descriptive background information
Belgrove College was a large co-educational high school (13-18 years) located on the
outskirts of a small coastal town in the North East, with 823 students on roll. The
innovation was predominantly used by students learning French at GCSE and A-level.
All members of staff within the Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) department had
been involved in the innovation: video-conferencing with students in other countries,
which enabled students to improve their oral and listening skills in conversations with
native speakers of other languages. For students studying French, the video-
conferencing allowed them to take part in sessions with French students learning
English. Video-conferencing sessions took place both during regular lessons and as a
voluntary lunchtime activity.
B. Summary of the innovation
Initial work on establishing links began in April 1995, as part of the Students Across
Europe project (supported by the Education Department’s Superhighways Initiative).
Subsequently, the headteacher conceived an extension to this – the Students Across
Europe Language Network (SAELN) project, which was set up in 1996, to run until
1999, and was funded by the European Union (EU), together with sponsorship from
commercial companies. Belgrove approached other schools (one in Spain, two in
France and one in Germany) to take part in video-conferencing activities in MFL. The
aims were to improve students’ fluency and listening skills in real conversations with
native speakers of other languages. The project had been well supported by two
companies, PictureTel and Research Machines (RM), who provided much of the PC-
based video-conferencing equipment at reduced cost, and which has been in use since.
The video-conferencing was organised in two ways:
• for students in regular French and Spanish lessons (German had been involved in
the past, but was not at the time of data collection) in KS4 and KS5. This
occurred typically three or four times per year for each student, in sessions lasting
approximately 30 minutes; and,
• for volunteer students in Year 11 taking French only. These optional sessions
took place during lunchtimes; the programme consisted of one 20-minute session
per week for ten weeks for the volunteers, leading up to the GCSE oral
examinations. These sessions were offered to higher ability Year 11 students (15-
20 students took up the offer), who were seen by staff to be more likely to
improve their conversational skills.
Belgrove provided the video-conferencing equipment for the schools in other
countries (MFL staff had visited the schools to install the equipment and train the
partner teachers), and initiated each video-conferencing session, thereby bearing all
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 1
the costs. In-between the sessions, there was little or no sustained contact by email
with the paired students, although this was considered to be an area for future
For the purposes of the SITES research, the main focus was on the voluntary course
for Year 11 students.
Part II: Analysis
A. Meso-level context of the innovation
A1. School background
Belgrove was a language college (specialist status) and also a community school. The
school was part of a three-tier school system, with students attending a first school
(five to nine years), a middle school (nine to 13 years) then the high school. The
majority of students were of white, UK heritage. There were 33 students on the
school’s register for special educational needs (SEN) and the number of students
eligible for free school meals (159) matched the national average. The school
occupied a range of buildings mostly built during the 1960s. In the majority of
subjects, attainment was in line with national expectations and GCSE and A-level
results were improving at a faster rate than nationally.
A2. School culture
The main aim of the school, according to the prospectus, was to ‘enable students to
acquire knowledge, skills and qualifications, relevant to their adult life in a fast-
changing world’. According to the school’s latest OFSTED report (1998), Belgrove
… is both an innovative and improving school with many significant
strengths...the school has a very high quality of leadership provided by the
governing body, headteacher, senior staff and middle management…
The headteacher’s approach to education was based on empowering both teachers and
students, and he was receptive to requests for resources which would improve the
quality of teaching and/or learning. Both he and the rest of the staff regarded ICT as a
tool to support teaching and learning and this was evident by the wealth of resources
around the school, and exemplified in the video-conferencing activities supporting
The headteacher was supportive of educational research, and liked to view the school
as a research and development site for products and practices that could be replicated
in other institutions. The school had been involved in a number of other innovations
using ICT in the past including Open University courses for students on A- and AS-
level courses, and Family e-Learning sessions which provided short courses in ICT
for whole families in the local community. The school had also worked with the
European Commission, Granada Learning, and British Telecom, all of which had
been initiated by the headteacher.
As stated above, the school had been involved in the Education Department’s
Superhighways Initiative (Students Across Europe project). This project was based at
the school and the aim was to implement new forms of language teaching and
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 2
learning in French, German and Spanish based on peer-group tutoring, coupled with
the use of multimedia (CD-ROMs and television) resources, which were linked to
traditional teaching. An outcome of the project was the production of multilingual
CD-ROMs (English, French, Spanish and Germans) to stimulate written and oral
language skills in native and other languages.
A3. ICT in the school and beyond
According to the headteacher, within the school ICT was seen
… as an instrument for achieving educational goals, where the application is
able to improve student learning. The priorities for ICT facilities are extended
beyond the normal range for a secondary school…
He went on to state that within the past five years, reluctance on the part of some staff
to use ICT and make it a regular part of the structure of lessons has been overcome.
He commented ‘… there used to be more resource than uptake, now there’s more
uptake than resource’. Staff competence in the use of these resources had been an
area of development for the school and the majority of teachers felt confident with
using ICT in lessons. The school policy was that one in every five MFL lessons was
ICT based (see Appendix I, photos 1-3). One MFL teacher remarked:
ICT is a tool, but also an exciting and active way of learning. I want pupils to
use it as much as possible. In the department, my aim is to use the variety of
ICT… that we have to hand at the moment.
The head of ICT reported that most of the computers around the school were used by
students during lunch times and the study centre was open to all students between
8.00am and 5.00pm, allowing them to use the facilities before and after school. The
school computers were also available for Family e-Learning sessions (two evenings a
week), holiday revision courses, and coursework revision sessions during half term
holidays for Year 11 and Year 13 students.
A4. ICT support structure
The school had a study centre situated within a large, glass pyramid which housed
most of its computers. Sessions within the pyramid were timetabled for specific
departments, which then allocated times for different classes. There were 76
networked computers within the pyramid, which allowed up to four classes to use the
resources simultaneously. There were a further 25 machines in the adjacent annexe,
allocated to modern foreign languages, and 12 computers in the sixth form study room.
The mathematics department had its own suite of 30 computers. All computers were
linked to a network, had Internet access and supported a number of Microsoft
applications including Word, PowerPoint and Publisher. The school also had access
• Open Integrated Learning System (OILS) resources
• interactive whiteboard
• digital camera.
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 3
The majority of teachers were satisfied with the level of resources and the high level
of technical support they received. This was provided by the study centre staff, and
• network manager
• study centre assistants (3)
• student assistants (2)
• library assistant.
As well as providing technical support, each teacher was assigned a technician who
attended at least one lesson each week. This could be increased by prior arrangement
if the teacher felt s/he needed extra support.
The headteacher was keen that staff should also attend training sessions to improve
their own skills and knowledge. Training was provided by the study centre manager
on Monday evenings and was available to all teaching and non-teaching staff.
Additional training was also provided for all MFL teachers in the use of the video-
B Macro-level context of the innovation
B1. National and state/provincial policies
Staff were aware of Local Education Authority (LEA) and national ICT policy
documents, but had not found them valuable in planning and implementing their own
approach using ICT. The head of ICT reported that the school did not use the
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) Scheme of Work for ICT because its
approach assumed a separate curriculum focus, as opposed to the school’s approach of
using ICT as a tool to support all subjects:
I have taken the National Curriculum [for ICT] and divided it into strands.
Various strands are given to each department. Key Stage 3 ICT assessment
expects each department to provide the use of ICT in their subject.
The LEA adviser for ICT explained the philosophy of the national New Opportunities
Fund (NOF) training:
[It’s] about applying ICT, not looking at it for its own use, giving the training
to all teachers so they can use it in their subject areas rather than teach ICT.
The headteacher and the Head of ICT acknowledged the role of NOF training, but
suggested that the ongoing training within the school had had a greater impact on
teacher practices than the NOF initiative.
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 4
C. Thematic analysis of the innovation
C1. Curriculum content, goals and assessment
The video-conferencing sessions provided students with opportunities to practise their
conversational skills in a modern foreign language (French). Video-conferencing was
organised for some Year 11 students (aged 15-16 years) over a ten-week period from
January to April, leading up to the oral examinations for GCSE during May. Forty-
minute sessions took place for four days per week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and
Friday) during lunch times: 12.20pm - 1.00pm. During this time, two groups of two
or three students took part in a video-conferencing session with two or three students
in France, each group having a session of approximately 20 minutes. Within each
session students spent about half of the time talking in French, and about half of the
time in English: this allowed students in both countries to take part in a conversation
with a native speaker of another language.
The innovation teacher and the teacher in France liaised to produce the following
programme of ten topics, a different one for each week:
1. On se présente – introducing yourself (personal information)
2. Les passetemps – free time and entertainment
3. A la maison – house and home
4. A l’école – school (differences between French and English schools)
5. La ville et la région – town and region
6. L’argent – money
7. Manger et boire – food and drink
8. Les vacances – holidays
9. Projets d’avenir – future plans
10. La santé – healthy diet, smoking, drinking etc.
The ten topics reflected the content of the syllabus that students followed during their
normal class lessons. This year, for the first time, the innovation teacher had prepared
more detailed worksheets for each session, giving a list of ten sample questions that
students might use during the video-conferencing session. These worksheets were
intended to guide the conversation and ensure that the students didn’t remain silent
because they couldn’t think of anything to ask.
The innovation teacher reported,
The aims are to develop oral skills, fluency, listening skills, also accent and
intonation, and cultural insight and [to] extend the best students. It fits in with
the gifted and talented initiative. The current syllabus is very vocabulary
heavy, so it’s difficult to stretch talented pupils.
By improving students’ conversational skills, video-conferencing sessions were
intended to assist students’ preparation for their oral examination.
Teachers and students reported that the lunchtime video-conferencing sessions were
quite relaxed, partly because the students had volunteered for them and because there
was no teacher present; however, this also posed problems relating to assessment.
Our observations found that some students chose to record the French students’
responses to their questions on the worksheet, but others did not. The innovation
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 5
teacher described the ways that he collected information about what had taken place
during the sessions:
We’re now videoing what we do. I’m setting up the technology to know what
they’re doing during the video-conferencing. I can make use of this with
classes, parents, etc. The answers on the sheets give me some assessment of
how they’ve got on, but they might not have done that. I have stood outside
the door and listened. Some of my best moments in teaching have been
through listening to some of my students during the video-conferencing –
having a conversation, laughing, or having a serious debate.
He went on to explain how he wanted the video-conferencing sessions to contribute to
What I’m moving towards is having closer links between what happens in the
video-conferencing sessions and the classroom – prepared in advance, and
followed up. The rest of the class could ask questions of those involved in
video-conferencing, so the rest of the class gets the experience as well … . I’d
like a freer hand in Year 11, and base the entire programme around the video-
conferencing. The exam syllabus is a constraint.
C2. Teacher practices and outcomes
The MFL teachers were involved in setting up each of the video-conferencing
sessions, either during lessons or in lunchtime. This involved establishing the
computer link via the ISDN2 line, positioning the camera effectively for the visual
link using the remote control, and putting the microphone in place; one system (Swift
Site) involved connections via a television rather than a PC. Teachers had to use a
range of organisational skills to set up and run the sessions. For regular lessons,
teachers had to manage their class whilst allowing for students to leave the room to
participate in the video-conferencing sessions. For the voluntary lunchtime sessions,
the innovation teacher had to plan and organise an effective programme for the ten-
week course, independent of the main curriculum lessons for all students.
Teachers from both countries collaborated on the topics to be addressed during each
session, and prepared worksheets covering a number of questions on each topic.
Students then prepared sample responses to these questions before the video-
conferencing session. As one MFL teacher said,
Staff are on hand if they need them, but they can get on with it [video-
conferencing] without a teacher looking over their shoulder – [it] shows trust
on the part of the teacher.
The teacher’s role had changed in that the students were learning with other students.
The innovation teacher also found that his role now involved forging and maintaining
links with other schools and teachers, as well as higher education institutions, with the
aim of setting up further video-conferencing opportunities. The LEA adviser for ICT
commented on the teacher’s role, saying
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 6
What they’re aiming to do is develop student skills as well as other things. To
develop their [students’] horizons, so that they know there are different
students out there.
The video-conferencing had forced the innovation teacher to alter his classroom
management strategies. He commented that his ‘ approach has to have changed to
accommodate these activities and I do encourage independent learning more’. The
vision of teaching and learning, both of the school and the MFL teachers, was to
promote and encourage independent learning. He went on to say:
I’m not making sure they do certain things, which is different to having your
own agenda in the classroom. As far as the pupils in my class are concerned,
I have seen another side to them, which is very positive, using [their] initiative.
All the MFL teachers said that the video-conferencing had made an impact on their
teaching practice. The innovation teacher said:
I’ve gained technical expertise and confidence to explore other developments.
It’s widened my horizons...given me access and insight into other ways of
doing things. I’ve written a chapter for a book with the headteacher, which
has been in several journals, and I have been asked to speak at various places.
Despite these positive impacts on teachers, there were some barriers that had to be
overcome, such as timetabling issues with partner schools (see section C5).
C3. Student practices and outcomes
Students participated in weekly video-conferencing sessions with students in France;
each session involved two or three students in both countries, and lasted about 20
minutes (ten minutes in French, with the French students asking the questions and the
English students responding in French, and ten minutes in English, with the English
students asking the questions and the French students responding in English). The
sessions were organised so that students video-conferenced with the same partners
each week: this was intended to help students get to know each other and feel more at
ease. The conversations between the students were guided by a different topic for
each week’s session, with a worksheet listing ten typical questions for each topic (see
section C1; we saw students using questions on La santé – see Appendix IV). The
innovation teacher viewed the worksheets as an aid to preparation for each session.
Students received the worksheets in the lesson before the session so that they could
think about their own answers to these questions, and other related questions to ask
the French students. The worksheets could also be used as a means for students to
record the French students’ responses to the questions.
Students in the two classes representing the top set (of three ability sets) were invited
to volunteer for the lunchtime video-conferencing sessions. The innovation teacher
I’d like to be able to offer it to everyone but they have to have a certain level
of language skills to be able to carry it out… For the less able it would have
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 7
to be a one off whereas for this level you have to be able to maintain the
conversation from week to week.
Modern foreign language teachers reported using a variety of strategies to develop
students’ speaking and listening skills during their lessons, such as role-playing in
small groups, and conversations with the teacher and the French assistante. Teachers
and students commented on the differences between these activities and the video-
conferencing sessions: ‘ the class they’re playing a role in the dialogue, but in the
video-conferencing they’re themselves… It’s more natural … It’s more relaxed because
there is no teacher – [it] shows trust on the part of the teacher’; ‘… in a classroom,
it’s artificial and with video-conferencing you’re talking to them in their own
language – authenticity’; and ‘ because we don’t know them, there’s more to ask
Teachers, parents and students reported that students had benefited from
improvements in their listening and speaking skills, their French accent and
confidence as well as gaining cultural insights. The headteacher explained that video-
conferencing gave the students ‘… access to formal and slightly less formal French –
different types of discourse which are not immediately available with traditional
The school had also collaborated with two separate research institutions in studies to
collect and analyse data relating to students who had participated in the video-
conferencing. The results of both studies suggested that the video-conferencing might
have a positive impact on student achievement in the formal GCSE examination (see
C4. Kinds of technology and ways they are used
There were four sets of equipment for video-conferencing: three of these were PC
based, using Picture Tel Link 2000 software together with a remote control camera,
microphone and speakers. Two of these systems were located in small offices at the
back of two language classrooms (see Appendix I, photo 4), and the third was in the
annexe used for ICT-based language lessons. Having the equipment located in
separate rooms meant that the students were away from the rest of the class, so they
were less self-conscious; the headteacher also noted, ‘Acoustically it’s better … with a
small space than a larger one.’ The fourth system used Swift Site connected to a
TV, again with camera, microphone and speakers. A video recorder was connected to
the Swift Site system so that the teacher could make recordings of the video-
conferencing sessions (see Appendix 1, photo 5). All four systems used ISDN2 lines.
Teachers were aware that video-conferencing could be arranged via the Internet, but
commented that the sound quality was less good and there were greater time delays in
the visual images. Although the focus was on speaking and listening skills, teachers
and students reported that the visual link between the students was also important, as
non-verbal communication contributed to understanding on both sides. One of the
Year 11 students remarked, ‘ we get things wrong we can see them laughing, but if
you can’t see them you don’t know if you’ve got it wrong.’ It was perhaps because of
the value of non-verbal cues that earlier attempts to encourage conversational skills by
using phones had been less successful and had stopped.
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 8
The video-conferencing equipment available in the school was sufficient for the
sessions the school was involved in, although some teachers indicated that if more
equipment were available, it would allow students to participate more frequently in
video-conferencing sessions during lesson time.
Both the headteacher and the innovation teacher stressed the role of technology in
allowing students to communicate with native French speakers, with the former
commenting, ‘ You do it in a technological way or don’t do it. There isn’t a non-
C5. Problems and solutions related to the innovation
The head of ICT described initial problems with the video-conferencing equipment:
We couldn’t contact abroad, it was a simple thing eventually – an extra 0 in
the dialling code. We had trouble with the kit … we couldn’t get it to work, it
was difficult to get technical support because didn’t have a contract [the
school had been given the equipment]. We found out that an ex-pupil worked
for an IT company and he came to look at it and found a fault on the card.
Lack of experience was the problem.
For the links with France, Spain and Germany, the school had provided the equipment
and sent the teachers involved to the schools to set up the equipment and train the
Teachers and students reported occasional technical problems with the equipment,
such as the loss of the visual link. The innovation teacher had prepared printed copies
of a fax message which students could send to the school in France if there was a
problem: the fax listed three typical problems that could occur (see below) – students
could tick the one that applied – and gave space for students to outline any other type
Problems listed on the pre-prepared fax:
• We have tried calling you, but there was no response
• We tried to get in touch, but no-one was in the room
• We started a conversation, but the connection was cut for no apparent reason.
The innovation teacher remarked, ‘Problems are usually in the partner schools
because they don’t have the support that we have.’
Teachers reported difficulties with the scheduling of video-conferencing sessions: the
timetables of schools in both countries had to be taken into consideration. An
additional complication was that Belgrove college operated a fortnightly timetable,
which was made more complex by having different times for sessions on Mondays.
Although teachers throughout the MFL department were keen to use the video-
conferencing, and school managers were supportive, the difficulties concerning
scheduling sessions with partner schools in other countries restricted the frequency of
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 9
video-conferencing in regular lessons; the voluntary video-conferencing sessions were
organised during lunchtimes to avoid these scheduling problems.
A pedagogical issue was finding the appropriate level of support to provide for
students taking part in the video-conferencing sessions, so that there was sufficient
stimulus to guide the conversation without making it a formal question and answer
session. The innovation teacher explained the difficulty:
One of the problems is how much support to give – it constrains pupils this
year because too much information is given, it’s a structured conversation,
lost some of the spontaneity of the relationship between the two pupils. I
haven’t used as much structure before this year – just an outline before. I’ve
also used a worksheet that is open ended and can be used by any age group – I
may go back to that.
Comments from students and observations of two voluntary French sessions and one
Spanish lesson video-conferencing session indicated that some students regarded the
worksheets as a script, whilst others referred to the worksheets and vocabulary
booklets less frequently during a more natural conversation, reacting to the responses
made by the other student. Students expressed different views during the focus group:
Student 2: If we didn’t have the sheet it would be really difficult…
Student 3: It would be better if we prepared the questions.
Student 5: Or if they were written in English and we had to translate them.
Student 1: Teachers are doing too much of the preparation for us.
Student 5: We could prepare at the end of a lesson – in a group would be
better so we’d get a mixture of questions.
Video-conferencing was introduced in 1996 within Key Stage 5 (students aged 16-18
years), and was extended to Year 11 in 1997. The links were originally set up as a
collaborative project involving schools in England, France, Germany and Spain,
funded by the European Commission from September 1996 to December 1999. The
project aimed to develop students’ communication skills in a foreign language and
extend their cultural awareness. Teachers throughout the MFL department agreed that
video-conferencing was a valuable activity, and all expected it to continue; the senior
teacher commented, ‘ It’s proven to be successful and it’s become an expectation for
students.’ At the same time, they were sensitive to the difficulties of maintaining
links with other schools: one teacher stated, ‘The teacher interest and enthusiasm [in
other schools] is crucial.’
Video-conferencing had continued beyond the timescale of the original project: within
Key Stage 5, students studying French and Spanish took part in weekly video-
conferencing sessions throughout their two-year course. In Year 11, some students
participated in the ten-week programme of lunchtime video-conferencing prior to
their GCSE examination. In addition, teachers of French and Spanish included video-
conferencing within their lessons for students in Years 10 and 11, so that individual
students would participate three or four times during a year. At the time of data
collection, there was no video-conferencing with Germany due to difficulties
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 10
maintaining the link: teachers reported that they were hoping to revitalise the activity
via the mutual link with the school in Spain.
The headteacher stated the video-conferencing ‘… has an entertainment value, but it
costs money and we have to see measurable increased outcomes. We have to
distinguish between the impacts and the ‘wow’ factor,’ and went on to say, ‘ have
stopped doing things that haven’t worked in the past. We’re getting somewhere – it
[video-conferencing] has an impact.’
Various factors contributed to the sustainability of the video-conferencing:
• the support of the headteacher
• the positive attitude of teachers within the modern foreign languages department
• the school’s specialist language college status
• the school ethos, which emphasised the use of ICT.
The video-conferencing equipment was independent of the school’s main ICT
facilities, so sessions did not restrict other users’ access to ICT. Ongoing costs for the
ISDN2 links for video-conferencing amounted to approximately £6000 each year; the
innovation teacher explained, ‘ The cost is twice as much as an international phone
call.’ The LEA ICT adviser commented, ‘ see it [video-conferencing] as being
embedded now… They [the school] would see that it’s given more than the money it’s
cost to keep going.’
As previously stated, teachers, parents and students reported that video-conferencing
improved their accents in foreign languages; they also stated that students became
more confident, both in speaking a foreign language and more generally. The LEA
ICT adviser stressed the positive impact of video-conferencing on students’ personal
and social development: ‘ lot of children don’t have presentation skills and I think
that if we’re in an employment era where first contacts mean a lot, presentation is
very important and it is a spin-off from video-conferencing.’ He also remarked,
‘There are children who will be thinking about careers now which will include
Within the modern foreign languages department, one of the teachers had a
responsibility for developing links with other schools in the area: she had set up short-
term video-conferencing links between Belgrove college and local middle schools
(pupils aged nine to 13 years) and first schools (five to nine years). In these sessions,
students at the high school talked to pupils in the middle or first schools in French.
Other departments had used video-conferencing for specific projects, which was in
line with the school policy of using ICT to support teaching and learning across the
• the history department had had students video-conferencing with the school in
Germany, talking about the bombing of Hamburg during World War II;
• the art department was collaborating with the school in Spain to teach art using
the Spanish language;
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 11
• the mathematics department had set up a link with the University of Cambridge
in which the students interacted with a professor of mathematics.
The head of ICT suggested their different departments had to ‘have a reason to do
it… both people [participating in the video-conference] have to benefit from it’ and the
headteacher commented, ‘ The rationale for use by others isn’t as strong as it is for
modern foreign languages.’
Other schools would need a minimum of one set of equipment and at least one school
to link with. They would also need to consider how to prepare the students for the
sessions. The innovation teacher stated, ‘It’s important to have the supportive set up
so that the pupils are well prepared and can perform at the appropriate level, and a
number of pupils where they can all communicate.’ One of the students also
mentioned the importance of appropriate support: ‘ [video-conferencing] could
knock your confidence a bit because they’re so much better … at English than we are
at French. Without the sheets we wouldn’t know what to say.’
The head teacher suggested that a difficulty which prevented more schools becoming
involved in international collaboration was a lack of international policies and funding
to support innovations which have a beneficial impact on student learning. He noted,
‘The UK sponsors European Union partners to become involved and so it would be
good if there were an international agreement through education ministries to
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 12
Appendix II – Quantitative evidence relating to the impact of
the innovation on student achievement
The school was keen to determine whether or not the innovation had a measurable
impact on student achievement, and had therefore invited the University of Durham to
carry out analyses of the differences between predicted and actual achievement in
formal examinations at 16+ (General Certificate of Secondary Education – GCSE).
A second study had been set up using an experimental group design (an experimental
group and a matched control group). The SITES research team would like to
acknowledge the information collected and analysed by other teams (see below), and
made available to them by the school.
Data collected and analysed by the University of Durham showed that students who
had participated in foreign language courses which involved considerable use of ICT
(including video-conferencing sessions) achieved grades higher than were predicted in
the formal French examination (GCSE). The results achieved by the 1997 cohort of
GCSE students at Belgrove College (116 entrants for GSCE French) were compared
with 48,000 students in other schools throughout England. The data had been
collected and were analysed within the Year 11 Indicator System (the YELLIS project)
which predicts students’ grades in GCSE examinations (see
http://cem.dur.ac.uk/yellis ). The report noted ‘… that achievement was more than a
grade higher, on average, than statistically predicted.’ The school’s own records of
students’ predicted and achieved grades showed that this positive impact on student
achievement had been maintained for four years.
The school had also collaborated with a researcher from the University of Durham’s
Curriculum Evaluation and Management Centre in an attempt to determine
specifically the effects of video-conferencing (as opposed to an ICT-rich learning
environment which included video-conferencing) on Year 11 students’ GCSE grades
in French; this focussed on the 1999-2000 cohort of students. The project collected
and analysed data relating to 20 students in a treatment group (ten weekly sessions of
video-conferencing) and 21 students in a control group (no video-conferencing).
After excluding the results for one student who did not speak during the oral
examination, the analysis showed that the students who had taken part in the video-
conferencing sessions achieved higher scores for the speaking component of the
GCSE examination; this difference was statistically significant (p=0.01). However, as
the report noted, it would be unwise to draw conclusions from these data, as the
analysis was based on a very small sample and other factors (such as student
motivation) might have affected the results.
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 13
Appendix III – Glossary
A-level Advanced level (and Advanced Subsidiary – AS) courses
leading to formal examinations at 17/18+. See also
Community College Some schools are designated ‘Community’ schools/colleges.
These provide access to the facilities at the school for use by
the local community, sometimes during but more usually
outside school hours (e.g. badminton courts; hall). Additional
staff usually organise/run the community activities within the
school. At Belgrove, two teachers within the MFL department
each had a 0.5 teaching commitment and a 0.5 commitment to
promoting effective community links. See also
GCSE General Certificate of Secondary Education: an assessment at
age 16+ consisting of both examination and assessed
coursework. See also
KS Key Stage: different years of primary and secondary education
Key Stage School Year Ages
1 1-2 5-7 years
2 3-6 8-11 years
3 7-9 12-14 years
4 10-11 15-16 years
5 12-13 17-18 years
LEA Local Education Authority: a regional body involved in the
management of local state schools. There are 150 LEAs
covering England; they are largely linked to
MFL Modern Foreign Languages: at Belgrove school French,
Spanish and German were offered as part of the curriculum.
National Curriculum The subjects that pupils in state schools have to study. For
each subject there are statutory Orders, which specify the
content that teachers have to cover, although they are free to
use whatever approach they wish in their lessons. See also
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 14
NOF Training New Opportunities Fund: funds raised by the national lottery to
support projects in education, health and the environment. One
of the education projects funds ICT training for teachers and
librarians. See http://www.nof.org.uk/edu/edu.htm .
OFSTED Office for Standards in Education: the government agency
which carries out inspections of schools and local education
authorities. See www.ofsted.gov.uk .
Open University The Open University is the UK's largest university for part-time
higher education, and offers distance education materials for
undergraduate and postgraduate students. See
Picture Tel One of the video-conferencing systems used at the college;
requires connection via a PC.
QCA Qualifications and Curriculum Agency: the government body
responsible for overseeing the content of the curriculum and its
assessment in schools. See www.qca.org.uk/index.asp .
Research Machines A major UK ICT company which offers hardware, software
and managed services.
Set A method of grouping students into teaching groups according
to their ability. At Belgrove, students taking GCSE French
were organised into three sets; students in the two classes
which formed the top set were offered the opportunity to
participate in the voluntary lunchtime video-conferencing
Specialist status Schools which offer enhanced facilities and tuition in a
particular area (such as ICT or languages) can apply for
specialist status; these schools qualify for additional funding
from the government, but charge no fees to students. Belgrove
had specialist status as a language college.
Strands The programme of study for ICT sets out guidelines for
knowledge, skills and understanding. Particular aspects of
work (or strands) such as using databases/graphics software/etc.
may relate to certain areas of the curriculum; for example,
databases – history; graphics and images – art; and control
applications, including the use of sensors, in science
Swift Site One of the video-conferencing systems used at the college;
requires connection via a television.
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 15
Appendix IV – Sample questions for a video-conference
between Year 11 students in England studying French and
French students studying English
Nom d’élève francais ________________
Nom d’élève anglais ________________
1. Qu’est-ce que tu aimes manger?
2. Que’est-ce que tu n’aimes pas manger?
3. Est-ce que tu manges assez de légumes?
4. Est-ce que tu manges de la viande?
5. Tu bois de l’alcool?
6. A quelle heure te couche-tu le weekend?
7. Et pendant la semaine?
8. Qu’est-ce que tu fais comme sport?
9. Es-tu en bonne forme?
10. Est-ce que la drogue est un problème pour les jeunes dans la ville?
England/Belgrove narrative 24-7-01 16