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Critics fear impact of back-tracking on compulsory language commitment

Concerns have been raised that the Government's decision to scrap Labour's planned curriculum changes could scupper ten years' work on primary language teaching.

The legislation, which would have made teaching a foreign language statutory in key stage 2 from 2011, was lost as a result of the general election. Earlier this month, the Government announced that the current curriculum would remain in place for 201112, while changes are considered.

In 2002, the Labour government said that by 2010 all junior pupils would be entitled to learn a language - but stopped short of making it compulsory at the time because of the lack of qualified staff and pressure on teaching time.

Money and training was then pumped into the sector and by 2007, Lord Dearing recommended in his languages review that it was made statutory.

The then government agreed to find room for this new compulsory element in the new Rose primary curriculum - a process that has now been abandoned.

Baroness Coussins, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on languages, said she was worried.

"I'm concerned that the fact that primary languages are no longer going to be statutory will mean a falling away in provision.

"There is lots of evidence that learning a foreign language helps with development of English skills and this will be lost."

Other experts warn that the subject is still shaky and the current Government's stance could have a negative effect on it.

Catherine Cheater, a languages education consultant, said: "I really hope it will be statutory. So much money has been spent helping us to get to this point, I don't want it to go into reverse gear. Being statutory makes a difference, it is the one thing that will ensure language teaching happens."

CILT, the national training organisation for languages, has warned that primary language teaching is still "at an early and fragile stage of its development" and that it is vital that the new "minimum national entitlement curriculum, organised around subject disciplines" includes genuine opportunities for all primary pupils to begin learning a foreign language.

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