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Student Teachers' perceptions of a European Teacher Project

Homerton College



The Homerton College PGCE / Maîtrise; student-teachers’ accounts



Teacher training in Modern Languages in Britain has, in the last few years, seen an increasing number of student-teachers who train to teach their mother tongue in this country. Anyone who has had the experience of working with a mixed nationality group is quickly made aware of intercultural and professional understandings which grow during the normal 36 week training year. The student-teachers realise each others’ needs and help each other out. The experience, however, is one-sided; UK students do not complete any part of their training year in the country whose language they are training to teach. Until recently no such opportunity existed.

In 1992 a pilot course was conceived, on the initiative of the French Embassy, to offer a unique opportunity for British and French post-graduate students to work together in both countries to obtain a dual teaching qualification, officially recognised in France and in Britain, which would allow them to teach French as a foreign language. It sought to demonstrate that Modern Language teaching would be enhanced by groups of mixed nationality, graduate student-teachers training together for an extended year which ran from the end of August to late July.

In 1995 the pilot project was extended and now trains French students from seven participating French universities, and UK students from Homerton College, University of Cambridge, from the University of Nottingham and from St Martin’s University College, Lancaster. All offer this dual qualification. Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools (HMI) supported the extension of the original pilot project seeing a considerable value not only in the improved linguistic competence of all its participants, both French and British, but also in their enhanced cultural awareness. The Inspectors considered the students’ experience of living and studying in both countries and the additional professional expertise gained to be of particular benefit to them as teachers of French.



It was believed that working together in school and in university in France and in England during a 48 week intensive period was likely to enhance the cultural awareness, linguistic competence and professional expertise of students training to become teachers of French. The study was designed to explore this belief.

On the basis of students from different countries working together on the standard 36 week PGCE course it was further believed that students would have to negotiate issues that emerged as a result of living in different countries, issues that related to their movement between higher and secondary educational settings and their changing personal rôle from learner to teacher. Such shifts between their own and the ‘other’ language, as well as those occurring between cultural and institutional settings seemed likely to modify their experience and impact on their reflexivity. It was thought that this might have consequences for them during their courses in France and, when back in school in England, on their lesson planning and delivery, in the school context, as well as on their perceptions of the learners they would teach.


The student-teacher cohort

The project involved a cohort of 27 French and British students training to teach French in secondary schools in the UK and French as a Foreign Language.


The research model

The experiential model had a multi-dimensional focus. The project attempted to investigate related language and cultural enhancement in a systematic and, hitherto, undocumented way, to describe learning and emotional outcomes, and to document shared experiences.



The specific aims of the project were:

  • to identify and categorize examples of intercultural and socio-linguistic dysfunction experienced by French and English students studying and working together in the UK and in France
  • to formulate guidance and support activities to be provided by the HE institution (Homerton) around intercultural and sociolinguistic space
  • to identify and describe chronologically examples of the linguistic awareness of students

i) working as a bi-national group

ii) working in an HE institution in Cambridge and in another country

iii) working in a UK school

  • to identify and log student awareness of ‘otherness’ in social, Higher Educational and school settings
  • to describe how students’ culturo-linguistic reflections informed their French lesson content and delivery in a UK school from February - July



The data for the project was gathered from:

• questionnaire

• personal diaries kept by students from September to March / April following guidance distributed on the first day of term in September

  • four individual interviews: pre-post school experience and HE courses in France and Cambridge ( using an interview schedule and recorded on audio - cassette)
  • focus group discussions (recorded on audio-cassette)
  • transcriptions of selected extracts to inform the description and evaluation.



The project and evaluation were funded principally as a sub project of The Interculture Project based at Lancaster University, and by Homerton College, Cambridge and the European Commission.


Sincere thanks are due to all the twenty seven student-teachers who so willingly gave their time and also their permission for the data to be used for the project. Special thanks are due to my wife, Gwenneth Jones, the project’s research associate who set up and conducted the interviews, transcribed and analysed the data and who was the inspiration for the research method used.


Course Structure: Overview

Running from late August to the end of July students spend five weeks (August to October) in Cambridge at Homerton College (which includes ten days in school) , four months (October to end January) in France at a French university and 110 days (February to July) in two English schools. At Homerton and in school they complete the Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) course and in France they study for the Maîtrise: Français Langue Étrangère (FLE). During the February to July period one day a week is spent in a third school in Cambridge and at Homerton; time here is given to weekly French teaching methodology workshops and Educational Studies sessions, given by Homerton College tutors and school mentors. The other four days a week are in school. The first two or three weeks are a gradual introduction to teaching where students first observe teachers in action, then take parts of lessons by themselves, then, when they feel confident and competent, they are responsible for and teach whole classes. The initial period, from August to October in Homerton is devoted exclusively to French teaching methodology workshops and Educational Studies sessions. In France students complete four months in a French university.

The students’ two periods of time in school in Britain are supervised by school mentors trained by the Cambridge Faculty of Education, and by Faculty tutors. Students are, where possible, paired, one from France and one from Britain, and work together from August to July.

Course Outline

Part 1

August to October: students follow a course based at Homerton College, the main components of which are seminars and workshops on French teaching methodology and general educational topics, called in college terminology, Subject Studies and Educational Studies. During this period most days are spent in College but ten days are spent in secondary schools approximately 30 miles from Cambridge.

Part 2

Early October, to beginning February: students follow the French Maîtrise course offered in one of the seven French partner universities, Aix-Marseille I, Lyon II, Pau, Nancy II, Strasbourg II, Paris V or Paris VIII. The course content, as prescribed by the French Ministry, consists of:

  • 100 hours: l’Ethnologie culturelle de la France

(littérature, histoire, politique et société...)

  • 100 hours: Linguistique Française

(description du français, analyse morphologique, syntaxe du français, théories linguistiques, socio- linguistique, phonétique, et linguistique appliquée...)

  • 60 hours: Didactique du Français Langue Étrangère (FLE)

(analyse de méthodes, didactique de l’oral, didactique de la grammaire, didactique des discours écrits, didactique des média)

In addition to the 200 hours of theoretical basis for teaching French as a Foreign Language (FLE) and the 60 hours spent on the methodology of teaching French as Foreign Language, both outlined above, students produce teaching materials which exemplify theories and principles studied. The qualification of Maîtrise, focusing as it does on the teaching of French as a Foreign Language, supplements the methodology courses provided in Part 1 of the course.


Part 3

Early February to late July: students return to the UK. For four days a week they are in a school situated within a 30 - 35 mile radius of Cambridge where they teach French to a range of English classes aged 11 - 18. On a Friday they are in Homerton College and a Cambridge city school to continue Subject Studies (French teaching methodology workshops) and Educational Studies (general educational topic discussion and exemplification, examples of which include Assessment and the National Curriculum, the school’s pastoral care system, helping children with Special Educational Needs etc). The one day also explores issues which have occurred in class and tries to find practical but principled ideas to enhance the teaching in school.

The student cohort

The course recruits approximately 10-14 French and 10-14 British students. French students eligible to take the course will have gained their first degree (Licence de Lettres Modernes, or Licence de Sciences du Langage or Licence de Langues Vivantes, ) from a French University. In order to proceed to the Maîtrise: français langue étrangère (FLE) French graduates also need to have completed, as a supplement to their first degree, additional modules of work known as the Mention FLE. British students need to have obtained a degree in French or Modern Languages including French. They also need to submit a specially designed module, devised by the French universities, as a Mention FLE equivalent. This piece of work involves British students in learning a new language and writing a dossier of their learning experience according to criteria set by the French Universities. This is submitted before the course starts in August.

Course assessment

Assessment of the Maîtrise element of the course in France is by the submission of mémoires / dossiers and by examination.

Assessment of the PGCE element of the course is by submitted work. This requires:

  1. Submission of essays on a choice of general educational issues.
  2. Submission of an extended essay relating to Modern Language teaching and learning; theory and practice.

Formal reporting to students about their teaching progress is in three stages during the year and is written by schools. All reports are read and signed by students who are invited to add their own comments and evaluation of their practice.

Final examination of practical teaching takes place in the penultimate week of the school year in July.



Student teachers' experiences vary greatly during their training year. All find problems, surprises, moments of unhappiness and moments of real pleasure. When the nationality of the student group is almost equally French and English and the course is spent partly in France and partly in the United Kingdom a cultural dimension is added. This is particularly so when French and English student teachers live and work together for significant parts of the year.

The study is an exploration of experiences, sometimes shared, sometimes individual, of one cohort of students. Each student was interviewed separately when they returned from their French university course in February and, for a second time, at the end of the course in July. In addition all students kept a daily diary. The on-line resource offers insights into their experiences; comprehensive extracts taken from verbatim transcripts represent their 27 stories - snapshots taken mid year and as the course came to its close - and three complete unedited diaries, written over seven months by two English and one French student, provide a detailed longitudinal account .

To meet the demands of the French university course and to be successful was obviously the students’ main concern in France. Different working methods as well as different university practices were sometimes challenges as were the language and sometimes daily living arrangements. All students passed the course requirements so all were successful; it is however the path to their success which the resource explores.

On their return to England and when they were on their teaching practice in school confidence in their professional ability - the ability to cope in the classroom - was naturally an important concern. Responses from students showed that such confidence depended on a variety of factors:


• support from teachers and mentors in school

• subject knowledge (linguistic competence, grammatical knowledge,

the UK National Curriculum, examinations at 16+, post 16 courses...)

• a personal ability to cope: with the unexpected, with situations in and out of school, with people - teachers and pupils, fellow students, others

• classroom management skills (keeping order, organising activities...)

• classroom teaching skills (effective lesson planning, presenting language clearly, simplifying instructions, giving unambiguous explanations, having a variety of learning activities, maintaining a good pace, assessing and evaluating learning efficiently...).

The course had the broader aim of enabling student teachers from two countries to live and work regularly together in France and in the United Kingdom. This part of their story relates to what they found unexpected in terms of social experiences and cultural differences, and how they coped with these.

Finally the most encouraging parts of their stories are what they saw as positive outcomes experienced at the end of this intensive course. However, such outcomes should be seen as provisional, not fixed. It is significant that at other times the student teachers may have interpreted these experiences in different ways.

Barry Jones
Homerton College, Cambridge


The two searchable databases and associated learning activities developed during this project can be downloaded - see STEFE databases