Shaping your passion into a career: MFL Consultant David Shanks

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MFL Consultant David Shanks speaks to us about starting at Harris as an NQT all the way through to leading positive development within our Modern Foreign Languages Consultant Team.

As a Subject Consultant for Harris my role allows me to be creative, develop professionally and, above all, communicate my passion for language learning every day.'

After teaching abroad in France and Norway as an unqualified teacher, I moved to London to undertake a PGCE in French with the Institute of Education. My second placement happened to be in Harris Academy Peckham, where I made an enormous amount of progress in my teaching practice thanks to my knowledgeable and experienced mentor. This was a much more challenging environment than the more privileged schools I had worked in abroad, but I derived a real sense of satisfaction from teaching there and knew that this was the type of context where I could make a real difference.

I started as a NQT in Harris City Academy Crystal Palace, where I worked in a vibrant and extremely supportive Modern Foreign Languages department. It was there, in an environment rich in best practice sharing, that I had a chance to experiment, hone my teaching craft and develop my A-Level teaching skills. Later, as Key Stage 5 French Lead, Subject Mentor and NQT Manager, I had the opportunity to establish student trips to Paris, as well as pursue my emerging interest in teacher development. The ample support and experiences I gained working for Harris allowed me to successfully seek promotion in another London school as Director of Initial Teacher Training.

I didn’t stay away from Harris for long, however. In 2015, the allure of the newly created MFL Consultant role for the central team quickly drew me back. The chance to work at a senior level and have a wider impact, whilst remaining firmly rooted in my subject and the classroom, seemed a unique opportunity. I was particularly drawn to the role by the clear commitment of Harris to Languages education and the possibility of working with passionate subject experts, school leaders and teachers.

Day-to-day the Subject Consultant role is hugely varied. There is rarely a typical week (which is what make the role so exciting!), but one might involve teaching in different schools, developing curricula with colleagues, advising principals, coaching teachers, delivering training to our subject network and working with subject associations such as the Association for Language Learning. There can be challenges and much to juggle, so flexibility, a strong work ethic and high levels of commitment to delivering the best for all students are essential to the role.

It is a privilege to work with so many different MFL departments and the remote and face-to-face network of some 150+ MFL teachers that has flourished is a real strength of the Harris model. It is equally a joy to coordinate this network and to have welcomed inspiring colleagues into the MFL Consultant team – especially at a time when flying the flag for Languages has never been more important.

Our network believes strongly that the learning of another language provides students with an essential window onto the world and a vehicle for overcoming disadvantage. Nationally, socio-economic disadvantage is associated with reduced access to the subject and so we are proud to have seen the proportion of our students taking a Language GCSE more than double since 2011

Summer 2019 saw over 2,200 of our year 11 students sit a Language GCSE and, thanks to the generous funding of the Swire Chinese Language Foundation, we now have nearly 5000 students studying Mandarin from Reception to Year 13. Personal highlights in the role this year have been seeing 70+ students from 16 schools eagerly participate in our MFL Spelling Bee Grand Final and seeing an A-Level student of the last two years on the cover of Times 2 for securing a place in Oxford to read French “against the odds”.

Working for Harris has provided me with unparalleled professional development opportunities and allowed me to explore many avenues within my own subject. For example, this year I completed my MA with King’s College London and since December 2018 I have also worked for the DfE-funded National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy. Being surrounded by so many colleagues who are excellent at what they do makes for an incredibly rich professional learning environment. The MFL Subject Consultant team also contributes to the development of the next generation of teachers through the Harris Initial Teacher Education School Direct course and we love running language upskilling courses for current teachers through our DfE-funded Teacher Subject Specialist Training programme.

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