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"Working with FLAs: Creating autonomy in a busy workplace"

This blog post was written by Marie Massé FCCT.


About the author of the post:

Marie Massé - With 15 years of experience as a teacher, Marie has previously been Head of Faculty in Wiltshire, then Subject Leader for French and Trust Leader for MFL for the Danes Educational Trust in

Hertfordshire. She’s an SLE for Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire and a

Fellow member of the Chartered College of Teaching. Passionate about mentoring and coaching, she is now a consultant for MFL in secondary schools and studying to become a Chartered Teacher Mentor.



17 years ago, at this time of the year, I was waiting impatiently to receive the details of my school in Manchester where I was going to be an FLA the following academic year. 17 years ago, that was yesterday, right?

Right now, there are numerous prospective FLAs around the world, beyond excited to hear back from their school and planning their new life abroad. They are full of inspiration, hope, ideas and are probably spending a lot of time daydreaming about what it will be like. It is a big deal. A life-changing experience that will help them not only discover a new place and culture, but they will teach them so much about themselves, their own country and culture.

Little do they know that they are about to land in a busy workplace where lunch is eaten on the go or at the desk, spent planning, setting up for lessons, responding to emails, marking, being on duty somewhere… and there is little time to interact with each other. Suddenly, we are throwing lots of new words, concepts, and acronyms at them, referring to exam spec, materials, and criteria etc … while coming up with last minute ideas for them to do because we forgot they are in our lesson today. 

By the time they arrive at the end of September, departments are overwhelmed with how busy it gets at the start of the year between exam debrief meetings and planning for European day of Languages. If only FLAs could get on board autonomously, magically! Then, by the time they have become experts in all things GCSE, A-Level, AQA, KS4, SEN and all other acronyms, it is time to say goodbye and get ready for the next batch.

Well then, how can we support them while preparing them to be autonomous in such a busy workplace? Are we even making effective use of our FLAs?


1.      Before they arrive: Plan, share and set expectations.

When I arrived in Manchester, I was able to stay with my Head of Languages, Claire, as they had a spare room. She had told me I could stay for a month and helped me settle, get to know the city, open a bank account, register for a National Insurance Number at the Job Centre, and visit places to rent. That made a massive difference for me as I only focused on getting there for the end of September and I did not worry about anything else. I felt safe being a part of her family for a couple of weeks and then rented my own place. It also meant that we got to know each other at home a few days before I started, and while work was a very busy place. She introduced me to Strictly Come Dancing and curries, she showed me the city and we drove to work together. She was my “mum” in England, and I felt safe knowing she had my back.

If you don’t have a spare room to offer, you may ask the staff in school if anyone has a spare room or knows of anyone… even temporarily.

I really think that the FLA does not have to be a HOF or SL responsibility. Someone else in the department may be thrilled at the idea of looking after a newbie. This could be a steppingstone to mentoring trainees or an annual responsibility.

If there is no possibility for them to stay with you or a colleague, you may offer them some ideas when you first contact them. Send them a list of websites and recommendations to start their research. If you are hosting multiple FLAs or know of other local or partner schools hosting FLAs, it’s a good idea to put them in contact and suggest they share accommodation. Make it easy for them, it’s hard to look for a place blindfolded.

After a few years of working with FLAs, I created a faculty handbook for them so I wouldn’t have to think from scratch every year about what to share with them. I sent it at the start of the summer so they could familiarise themselves with our school, routines, expectations, a summary of the education systems, list of colleagues, SOWs and topics, the classes and relevant exams, some example material, especially for speaking so they’d have an understanding of what sort of activities they would undertake. This is mostly because before I started my role as an FLA, I spent the summer planning, gathering authentic material, designing some activities, I had made myself a folder of potential FLE (Français Langue Etrangère) activities when in the end, I didn’t use anything at all. To be “A-Level ready”, I also let them know about the film and the book that students study. I also included a presentation of the region, things to do, photos, maps, transports etc.

This is my content page:

1.     Welcome to our school - Key information

2.     Life in the UK / region - Points of interests

3.     Organisation for the year - Timetable and resources

4.     Assisting in lessons - Guideline

5.     One to one session with A-Level students

6.     GCSE exams

7.     A-Level exams

8.     Extra-curricular activities


Every FLA I have worked with has been unique and some have been very autonomous straight from the start while some have needed a lot of guidance all year long. In any case, planning in advance for them during the summer term has helped me a lot at the start of October and has encouraged them to be more independent. It’s a great investment for everyone involved; you, them, your colleagues and more importantly, the students and it ensures you maximise the use of the FLA. Think and make a plan. How do you want your students to benefit from the experience? What would happen ideally when the FLA interacts with the students? How do you want the FLA to lead their sessions? Can you write a guidebook for them to share your model?

In addition to the handbook, I also use an overview of the year for A-Level with separate columns for Teacher 1, Teacher 2, and FLA. This assists the FLA with keeping up to date with what the teachers are doing at what time, so they can plan accordingly or use prior topics for retrieval. In the FLA column, I offer guidance on how to structure their sessions, a sort of mini lesson plan. It’s a good starting point for them while they get to know the students they work with and find the confidence to plan more independently. Of course they are free to do their own things, this serves as a suggestion / back up plan. The grammar notes in the teachers’ columns can be of great use for the FLA and ensure consistency. In the first term for example, Teacher 2 revisits adjectives agreements and the subjunctive and so the FLA knows they need to include opportunities for the students to use grammar structures in the subjunctive. They may prepare a starter activity on adjectives to quiz the students. Again, this is shared with the FLA before they start in October.

2.      During the year: Communicate and review.

The first session between students at KS3/4 and FLA is always a bit of a shock. They are surprised at the difference in level. It’s also fair to say that when we practice with our students, we ask our questions in a certain way, we craft our language in a familiar way for our students because we know what they are supposed to know, and we can anticipate how they will respond. I once had an FLA who was shocked that the students were not even able to say their name. We were all amused in the office hearing the FLA disturbed that students could not answer a simple “Quel est ton prénom?” while of course, students had learnt “Comment tu t’appelles?” and any variation of this question, especially formulated by a native speaker they had just met, would result in total panic! I just love that first conversation. The realisation that learning is not transactional. It works the same way as learning languages. Just because it works in one language doesn’t mean it’s copy and paste in another language. Just because you learn a certain way or certain phrases in one country doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere. To be a good teacher, you must put yourself in your learners’ shoes, think like them and not just teach the language that you know. A lot of the FLAs want to be teachers themselves so it’s a great experience for them to broaden their thinking as an educator.

It is a good investment to plan the first few sessions for your FLAs including the kind of language they can expect. FLAs could have exam style cards / questions with model answers to help them gauge the level and prompt students with suggested vocabulary / sentence starters.

Be specific about what you want out of these sessions, act like a coach, write notes with your thoughts. Just like you would model your thoughts with your students when teaching exam skills, share your reasoning, your thinking with your FLA. In the spur of the moment or just before the lesson, there isn’t necessarily enough time for a conversation so again, planning before is useful. If you are finding it difficult to stay on top and often forget they are scheduled to be in your lesson, you could plan a sequence of 5 session in advance and give the plan to the FLA and make them their responsibility. Or ask them to plan their own sessions following the model you gave at the start of the year.

They will be overwhelmed at the beginning and may ask you the same questions every week or mix up Year 12 and Year 13, forget what GCSE is, use GCSE material with year 12 … so good planning in advance with a handbook, folder with material / lesson plan for the first sessions for each class will be very handy. Once you have created your handbook and folder, you will just need to update it a little bit every year in the summer term.


Important checklist:

-          Check on them regularly. Have they found accommodation? Have they met new people? What have they explored recently?

-          Invite them over for dinner, to meet your family, they could even stay over for a night. Be their family abroad. They may start feeling lonely towards the end of October and spending the day with you may make a big difference. It could be a nice opportunity to catch up and have good quality conversation away from the buzzing of school.

-          Schedule a meeting every half term to check on them, get feedback on their lessons, on students etc. This is also an opportunity to get them involved with students’ progress. What are the students’ next steps? Have they noticed some issues with pronunciation during the session? How will they support the students? Any attendance issues? Positive phone calls home?

-          Ask your students for feedback on the FLA. How are they finding the sessions? What is particularly helpful? What more would they like to do?

Over the years, here is a list of how I’ve used FLAs in my lessons with KS4:

-          Grammar games / quiz with mini whiteboards - students in pairs.

-          General conversation - 3 questions to practice.

-          Using photos - FLA shows personal pictures and they both talk about the photo.

-          Using plastic food as props. Conversation about likes and dislikes, healthy lifestyle.

-          News headlines for France Info (Screenshot from my phone printed off) + discussion: What’s in the news in France? What global issue is the most concerning for you…?

-          Role play cards.

-          Talk for 1 minute about the current topic. 2 seconds' rule: If student hesitates more than 2 seconds, start the clock again.

-          1 to 1 with higher student to boost their performance.

-          1 to 1 to practise pronunciation.

-          I also organise whole class role plays “At the restaurant” and “At the market” setting up the classroom with props / pretend market and restaurant. We split the class, 1 group with me, the other with the FLA and swap half way through. This is more manageable.


My year as an FLA was amazing and I have made many friends from my time in Manchester in 2007. School wasn’t everything and with my light timetable, I was able to explore, party, spend so much time with friends and created myself a life there but I really think that it made a massive difference for me to have Claire (HOF) and her family as my family in the UK. Her kindness made me want to invest myself even more. Claire knew I wanted to stay in the UK, she often invited me for dinner, she took me under her wing and included me in school beyond the requirements for an FLA. I joined in with training days and CPDs and she helped me get started for my PGCE, wrote me a reference for my application at university, an amazing foundation environment for a successful future career in education and I am still very grateful for her kindness and support.


Whether they want to stay or go back, be teachers or not, their year as an FLA with you will be one of the most memorable years of their life. Your nurturing and mentoring will stay with them for a very long time and may inspire them to nurture someone themselves in return. Although FLAs are only part of the team for a short period of time, they belong to the history of the school, language team and play an important role in the success of our students. Invest in your FLA, plan well in advance for them, nurture them like trainees, share your thinking, your method and reasoning and inspire them to inspire your students.





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