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Can't get the staff? Ask the pupils

FOREIGN languages may not be timetabled at Drew primary school in Newham, London, but they still form part of the pupils' education.

The teachers, however, are the children, and are typically aged 11 or under. Around 40 per cent of pupils are bilingual and the school echoes to the sounds of Portuguese, Somali, Bengali, French and many other tongues.

Headteacher Caryn Metzger said: "The children are being taught one to 10 in other languages by their friends rather than the staff.

"We try and promote the use of other languages in assemblies - it's important to all the children here."

But with a tightly packed curriculum and no teachers with a foreign language degree, there is no way the school can institute more formal classes.

"If I said to my staff we were going to introduce French classes tomorrow, the majority would throw their hands up", she said. "The curriculum is totally filled - every minute of every day."

And for an inner-city school with high numbers of children with special needs and English as a second language, and many entitled to free school meals, there are other priorities. Ms Metzger added: "A lot of our children are not at the expected level for English and that's where we place our emphasis."

But she is convinced of the need for her pupils to learn languages. "It would be a tragedy if these children were disadvantaged further.

"They have the ability to learn foreign languages - we just don't have the ability to teach them."

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