Assembly will decide linguist policy

the assembly government is to investigate whether the teaching of modern foreign languages should be made compulsory in all primary schools.

However, the probe could take years to complete as Welsh officials chart the progress of pupils currently taking part in a key stage 2 MFL pilot.

The announcement appears to be a U-turn in thinking on the future of MFLs in Wales, following the publication of a major report over the border.

Lord Dearing recommends that Westminster should move towards making MFLs mandatory at KS2 in England by September 2010 in his Languages Review report out this week.

And Alan Johnson, England's education secretary, laterJconfirmed that all primary schools thereJwill have to teach languages from 2010 - Jprompting a review of the curriculum next year.

But an almost glowing report on the progress of a KS2 MFL pilot, currently running in 126 Welsh primary and secondary schools across Wales, was met with a mixed response earlier this month.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, announced extra funding to extend the pilot in the Better Schools Fund from September 2008.

But she also claimed making the scheme compulsory could prove unpopular.

Evaluators also doubted the popularity of the move, claiming schools most likely to support the languages drive are already signed up.

They also found resentment among non-specific language teachers who had to fill in for colleagues who went off sick, on maternity leave or left.

The KS2 MFL trial was launched in 2003 by CiLT Cymru, the national centre for languages, on the premise that the younger children are introduced to languages, the better. While evaluators conducting a survey found that 64 per cent of primary pupils thought they would take a language option at GCSE, this fell to 46 per cent at secondary school.

But the same survey also found that 88 per cent of parents were in favour of their children having to learn a language at a young age.

An Assembly spokesperson said consideration would be given to making MFLs compulsory when the primary national curriculum was next reviewed.

"The current pilots are being extended so we can track progress of pupils at GCSE and linkage with the Welsh bac," she added.

Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the union welcomed a move to make languages compulsory at primary schools in England.

But concerns over the low numbers of MFL graduates going into teaching had already surfaced over the border.

Lib Dem shadow education secretary, Sarah Teather MP, said: "Only when the Government frees teachers from the burdens of the overly prescriptive curriculum will they be able to fit in exciting new language lessons."

Lord Dearing's review followed concerns in England that not enough pupils were taking languages after they became optional in September 2004 at KS4 because they were seen as too difficult.

Dearing report, pages 12-13

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