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Fluent start for young linguists

Assembly hopes pilot project will boost take-up of European languages, report Karen Thornton and Nicola Porter

A pilot scheme bringing French, German, Spanish and Italian to primary pupils across Wales has overwhelming support from children and parents.

More than three-quarters of teachers are also supportive, and say it is raising standards at key stage 2, according to an initial evaluation. But most schools say they would be unable to deliver language lessons without the additional funding provided by the pound;700,000 KS2 modern foreign languages (MFL) scheme.

Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, will decide the future of MFLs in primary education after a final evaluation is completed in autumn 2006. Funding for the current pilot schools will continue until 2008. But keen heads say the scheme should be rolled out to all primaries, and possibly KS1 pupils as well.

The KS2 pilot has been running for two years, with weekly lessons provided by secondary language teachers, primary teachers or peripatetic experts for around 3,000 Year 5 and 6 pupils in 126 schools. An initial evaluation found 99 per cent of parents and 77 per cent of heads and teachers supported introducing modern foreign language lessons.

Primary teachers felt teaching standards were high, although 70 per cent said the involvement of language specialists was key to the quality. A quarter of teachers identified improvements in literacy, and two in five said studying an MFL was having a positive impact on pupils learning Welsh.

Two-thirds of staff believed the pilot would also have a positive impact on learning at KS3. But the report acknowledges there is less agreement about whether the scheme will improve take-up of languages at GCSE.

GCSE entries have dropped every year, except for Spanish. In French, there were 9,554 entries in 2004 - down from 10,213 in 2002. But 77 per cent of pupils achieved grades A*-C compared to 71 in 2002. The latest statistics are due out next month "Pupils still tend to perceive foreign language study as harder than many other GCSE subjects, a perception based on feedback from siblings and parents rather than their own experience to date," says the interim report.

"However, 90 per cent of parents said they would like their child to study a foreign language at KS3 and beyond."

Ms Davidson, on a visit to pilot schools in Cyfarthfa, Merthyr Tydfil, said: "We are keen to encourage young people to learn MFLs and we believe it should be fun. We are evaluating this project and want it to continue, but we need to see the results. If every project in Wales is as a good as the one in Merthyr, then great."

But Michelle Jones, head of Twynyrodyn primary, Merthyr, said the project should be extended to infant-age pupils. "They have more confidence when they are younger, and don't worry about how they sound."

Rhys Donovan, a pupil at Cyfarthfa juniors, said: "I enjoy speaking French because it helps me on my school trip to Paris."


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