Pupils at a north east school had the chance to practise their language skills with a very special visitor when the French Ambassador to the UK, Hélène Duchêne, visited this week. Cardinal Hume Catholic School, the lead north east school in the National Consortium for Languages Education (NCLE), hosted an event with Institut Français du Royame-Uni on Monday, March 18, to help promote modern language education in England.

The ambassador attended Monday’s event, entitled, ‘Francophonie On The Road‘, taking part in workshops, meeting the students and speaking to them in French about their lives and ambitions.

Year 7 to 9 students from Cardinal Hume, which is part of Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, joined several other partner schools across the region in workshops which included a short film screening and Olympic-themed activities.

A virtual reality (VR) experience was set up in the main school hall, allowing pupils to use VR to experience what life was like in Paris during the French Revolution. These workshops were organised by the Institut Français in a bid to help promote the French language and Francophone cultures.

The Francophonie On The Road event is supported by the NCLE, a national network created to re-energise language learning. In 2023, Cardinal Hume was selected to serve as a north east hub for the network to play a pivotal role in promoting language learning from primary school through to GCSE in the region.

The NCLE, funded by the Department for Education (DfE) with an £14.9 million investment, aims to increase GCSE languages uptake and outcomes, encourage students to embrace language learning, promote effective methods of teaching from primary to secondary education and add value to all languages used across the country.

Commenting on the visit, French Ambassador, Hélène Duchêne, said, “Initiatives like Francophonie On The Road that facilitate access to French and Francophone culture are crucial to promote the learning of French across England and beyond. It was great to contribute to this initiative that spearheads foreign modern language learning by visiting Cardinal Hume Catholic School.

Headteacher of Cardinal Hume, Brendan Robson added, “It was an honour and privilege to welcome the French Ambassador, Hélène Duchêne, to Cardinal Hume. The Ambassador is a fantastic advocate for the learning of foreign languages and our students and staff were delighted to speak to her. I hope the visit was a valuable experience for Ambassador Duchêne, and an opportunity to see the trailblazing work our students and teachers are doing in the development of languages learning.

Just five years ago, four of the five lowest local authority entries for GCSEs were in the north east. Northumberland, Gateshead and Durham were among the 50 local authorities with the lowest percentage of languages GCSE entered in 2019 and this has historically been the trend for the region.

However, as the lead school for NCLE in the region, Cardinal Hume is continually striving to close the gap; building knowledge, behaviours and skills that students can draw upon, while making language learning more accessible. Additionally, business groups and language experts have called on ministers to make language skills a core part of vocational training.

Director of the Modern Foreign Languages Hub at Cardinal Hume, Mrs Jane Wood, said, “Whilst we are able to celebrate good results and uptake for Languages at Cardinal Hume with a fantastic Progress 8 Score*, we strive for more. There is a wealth of talent among our young people and those around the region, whether as budding linguists, or as ambassadors for their home, heritage and community languages; and events like Francophonie On The Road help ignite student interest in foreign languages.

Over 30 different languages are spoken at Cardinal Hume, 15 of which are accredited by the exam boards. Pupils at Cardinal Hume take examinations in their home language, alongside French or Spanish so they leave us with an extra GCSE.

These results show that we have a high percentage of language exam entries at Cardinal Hume and those students are achieving excellent results.

About Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust

Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust is a leading Trust covering the West of the Newcastle and Hexham Diocesan region. The Trust supports and partners with five secondary schools, one middle school, one first school and forty-one primary schools in the west of our Diocese.

www.bwcet.com