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Fellow travellers on the road to Rome

Harvey McGavin reports on a new support network for Italian teachers.

A new support structure for Italian teaching is hoping to spark a renaissance in the fortunes of the language.

Italian, which has slipped below Urdu to the fifth-placed language in numbers taking it at GCSE, is in danger of becoming a minority language, according to Ernesto Macaro. Mr Macaro, a lecturer in the faculty of education at the University of Reading, has set up the nationwide support group, with regional contacts in Strathclyde, Lancaster and Leicester.

Although it remains a popular choice among adult learners, only 5,478 schoolchildren sat the GCSE exam last year and there were a mere 802 A-level candidates.

The Italian Language Support Network aims to provide information on the availability of teachers of Italian, organise courses for teachers and pupils and to monitor standards in the subject.

Macaro says the arrival of LMS and grant maintained schools is partly to blame for shoving Italian off the syllabus. He estimates the language is still taught in around 250 schools. "Previously, LEAs had some say in the provision of languages - now they keep to the safe options of German and French. A further complication is the training partnership system. With fewer Italian teachers in schools, there are fewer places for trainees to learn."

The accessibility of Italian culture (fine art, food and nowadays football) should make it attractive to youngsters, says Macaro. "Given that, and the fact that it is a EU language as well as an ethnic minority language in this country, I think it should have a higher status."

The project also has the backing of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research. "The number of pupils taking Italian in secondary schools has slipped to dangerous levels," says Peter Boaks, deputy director of CILT. "The emphasis is on letting schools know there are more teachers of Italian out there than they might think. If the exam boards were to drop it, then it would effectively end in schools."

* Ernesto Macaro can be contacted on 01734 875123 * A symposium on teaching Italian will be held on November 22, 2.30-6 pm, no fee, at CILT, 20 Bedfordbury, London WC2. Tel: 0171 379 5101

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