John Landon, senior lecturer in education at Edinburgh University, said that the absence of a national policy on bilingualism might be because of the Parliament's "rightful interest" in establishing the Scottish identity. But "before the Parliament started we were just beginning to find bilingualism mentioned, not just as an add-on, but integrated into policy documents and guidelines.".
Early years education was one example, Mr Landon said. He added: "Since May 1999 we have had a document on special needs and the education strategy document, and not a sausage about bilingualism - nothing. Apart from a photograph of ethnic minority children you would think that we lived in a monocultural, monolingual society.
"It seems that the notion of Scottish identity is being looked at in fairly parochial terms bearing in mind the totality of the Scots population. With time this may change."
Geri Smyth, lecturer in primary education at Strathclyde University, has conducted a survey in six west of Scotland authrities. She told the conference, organised by East Ayrshire Council: "Because there are no national or local policies on bilingualism, teachers who have not been educated in bilingualism see children who are having a difficulty as having a problem. The curriculum is delivered in English and the children are expected to produce through the medium of English.
"Therefore teachers' beliefs are that if the children are going to achieve they have to become monolingual in English. Their first language is at best ignored and at worst totally destroyed."
There was a lack of pre-service and in-service training to counter such beliefs. Much could be learnt from research on Gaelic-medium teaching, which shows, by the high achievement of pupils who are taught through both languages, that bilingualism can be an asset.
Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas, from George Mason University in Virginia, advocated the "additive approach", where schools build on the home language and add English. The two languages should be taught at separate times and the non-English language used for at least half of the time and as much as 90 per cent in the lower age-groups.