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Don't wait on languages report;News amp; Opinion

MODERN language teachers should not sit around waiting for the report from the Education Minister's action group, its chairman declared at the weekend.

John Mulgrew, speaking to the Scottish Association for Language Teaching at Stirling University, said staff should press heads to ensure "fair and equitable" access to the latest technology, which is certain to underpin the action group's report. Teachers must also have access to staff development, particularly in information and communication technology, Mr Mulgrew said.

The group's report, likely to be on the Education Minister's desk early in the new year, will set out these and other requirements in "a national strategic framework" for modern languages.

Mr Mulgrew, director of education in East Ayrshire, said this was essential because there were so many "unresolved issues". Others include the inadequacies of teacher training, particularly in the primary sector, and "diversification" difficulties in deciding which languages should be taught.

Although he supported the need for a new national strategy, education authorities should still be free to develop their own best practice. "There is no one way of teaching modern languages," Mr Mulgrew said later.

He will meet heads of the teacher education institutions shortly to probe the potential for improving modern language training for primary teachers. "It is of major concern that primary teachers volunteered for training in a modern language five or six years ago and have had no further training since then beyond those 27 days," Mr Mulgrew said.

The group also plans to ask parents what action is required to encourage more pupils to take the modern languages option after the compulsory period of schooling. The research team on modern languages in the upper secondary reported in February that in 1976 Higher presentations in French represented 58 per cent of "eligible" O grade passes (the top three grades), a proportion that declined to 18 per cent of the equivalent Standard grade awards in 1996.

The gradualist approach to language reform was defended by Dan Sweeney, who chaired the national review group that developed new 5-14 guidelines.

"It's easy to be radical when you have no responsibility for anything," Mr Sweeney said. The guidelines therefore had to assume a modern language would be taught for around the average of one hour a week by primary teachers with minimum levels of teacher competence.

Mr Sweeney, head of quality development in North Lanarkshire, pledged that the final version of the guidelines, which are currently out for consultation, would be accompanied by a guide for schools and managers. "Schools will not be left on their own just to get on with it," he said.

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