Many thanks to all who attended the 2016 conference. We are now beginning to think about SRTS 2017, which will be held at St Anne’s College on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 September. Watch this space for more details…

Report on the 2016 Conference

The Sir Robert Taylor Society is a network of teachers, academics and others interested in Modern Languages. We aim to foster links between secondary schools and the University of Oxford, provide a forum for discussion about issues pertinent to the teaching of MFL, and offer guidance about university admissions.

Our 58th annual conference took place at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 September 2016. One hundred and twenty teachers were in attendance: sixty-two from the independent sector, fifty-six from the maintained sector, and two retired members. In addition to this, around twenty-five members of the Medieval and Modern Languages faculty at the University of Oxford attended, as well as affiliated guests, including representatives from the University of Cambridge and our guest speaker Prof. Michael Worton, former Vice-Provost of University College London.

The programme offered a mix of academic taster lectures and admissions sessions. We opened with a presentation by Prof. Catriona Seth, who introduced her new project ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 5×5’, which explores multimedia adaptations of Laclos’ novel. Following this, there was a panel on twentieth-century theatre: academics from five sub-faculties gave short introductions to Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Lorca, and Beckett.

Friday’s programme closed with a performance of ‘Never say Never’, a translation and adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s Il ne faut jurer de rien, performed by students of the university. After the play, delegates moved to a drinks reception and formal dinner, at which Prof. Worton gave a speech outlining some of the challenges facing MFL and emphasising the need to continue to promote the subject, particularly in the wake of ‘Brexit’. Prof. Worton’s wealth of experience in teaching modern languages, and his evident passion for the subject and the variety of cultures to which languages give us access empowered us all to become ‘agents of change’. This was followed by an equally enjoyable trip to the college bar!

Saturday morning opened with two academic presentations: a talk on Cervantes to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death; and an ‘explication de texte’ – a close reading of a passage from Racine’s Iphigénie. We then moved to the newly introduced ‘Building Bridges’ panel, a session designed to raise any issues MFL faces at the current time and discuss how we might present a united front in tackling these. We heard from faculty members from Oxford and Cambridge, representatives from the independent sector (Nick Mair, Dulwich College) and maintained sector (Irena Hubble-Brezowski, Bridgwater College, and Alex Hobson, Darrick Wood Senior School), as well as voices from the audience. Some of the major points raised included: A Level grading, the new A Level syllabus, the availability of teaching resources for this syllabus, and the varying levels of support MFL receives in schools.

After a break, we had an introduction to studying ab initio languages at Oxford, and modern languages alongside Oriental Studies. This was followed by a mock interview with a current Spanish student at Oxford, and finally by a Q&A about the Oxford admissions process. We finished with lunch and an optional visit to the nearby Pitt Rivers Museum.

Overall, it is clear that Modern Languages faces a challenging time ahead, with alterations to the syllabus and political events throwing the future of the discipline into some doubt. However, what emerged from the conference is that the community of modern linguists is united in its drive to champion MFL, and passion for the subject remains strong within both schools and universities. It was a pleasure to hear so many voices joined in celebration of languages learning.

The SRTS would like to thank the Ferreras-Willetts family for their unfailing support of the society, as well as the National Network for Collaborative Outreach for an additional grant in 2016. Many thanks to Aidan Huxford for providing the photographs.

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