PRIMARY SCHOOLS will have to teach languages from 2010, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, announced this week, prompting a review of the key stage 2 curriculum next year.
His decision followed publication on Monday of a separate review by Lord Dearing aimed at improving the take-up of languages generally. His lordship has estimated that pound;50 million a year is needed for a "language renaissance". The Government is now considering his report, but there is to be no reversal of the decision to make languages optional at 14.
Kathryn James, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We support an early introduction to language teaching. But the primary curriculum is very, very full."
Already 70 per cent of primaries teach languages in key stage 2. Seven years ago, only one in five primaries were estimated to be offering languages. But when the Government announced in December 2003 that all seven to 11-year-olds should be learning languages by 2010, many primaries found this was the ideal solution to two key changes: a call for more creativity and the need to offer something for pupils while their teachers had time off for marking and lesson preparation.
Lord Dearing was asked to carry out his review after the number of 14-year-olds taking languages dropped from 80 per cent to 51 per cent following the decision to make them optional in 2004.
The Dearing review recommends training and incentives for secondary teachers, a rethink of the way languages are taught in secondary schools and a change to the one-size-fits-all assessment. For secondary teachers, there should be bursaries for them to train to work with primary colleagues, scholarships to work with universities to develop pedagogy, and an annual ministerial reception for heads of department involving awards and cash prizes. The Government should spend pound;2m a year on marketing languages in schools, he said.
Rather than providing only a set number of lessons in KS3 leading to GCSE at 16, Lord Dearing has called for schools to be radical. Many are already fast-tracking GCSE to the end of KS3, meaning pupils can learn a second language in their GCSE years. Tile Hill Wood school in Coventry teaches Year 7s geography, RE and PSHE in French. Pupils at Notre Dame specialist language college in Norwich organised and performed a play, Aschenputtel (Cinderella), in German for AS-level.
Other options include the chance to attend immersion courses or do work experience abroad or access an online Open School for Languages, enabling them to learn at home, free from peer pressure.
Assessment systems let down pupils who are struggling and those who are talented, Lord Dearing said. He said the GCSE curriculum should not be made easier, but more qualifications should be offered. He also wants the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to consider a "languages in use"
GCSE to credit limited skills in three languages. But he has backtracked on a proposal, published in December, to force secondaries to set targets for the proportion of pupils studying languages after 14.
His review, carried out with Lid King, national director of languages, has said league tables should include the number of pupils taking a language GCSE and how many study languages to a lower level. In 2006 more than 40 schools had no pupils taking languages at GCSE.
Linda Parker, director of the Association for Language Learning (ALL), said: "There is a huge enthusiasm for this in primaries. ConcernJamong heads isJabout how it is done, not that they don't wish to do it. Primaries will need continued support."
Lord Dearing will address ALL's Language World conference in Oxford on March 30-31
Letters, page 28
Leading article, page 30
WHAT DEARING WANTS YOU TO DO
Languages to be compulsory from seven after a curriculum review, if possible by September 2010.
Teachers to be supported with training, access to support networks and materials for at least two years after languages become compulsory.
Pupils will be assessed at 11 using the Language Ladder, an assessment scheme administered by teachers that grades skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Results not to be published but passed to Year 7 teachers.
They are urged to move away from the "X hours per week" model of teaching.
Lord Dearing suggests they might combine languages with other parts of the curriculum, provide immersion courses for children at transition points or make more use of ICT. They should consider different teaching styles and dispense with what he calls the conventional "unreal journey to 'Modern Foreign Languages land'". Instead, they should introduce games in which competition, in particular with the teacher, gives pupils the motivation to speak in another language. There should be cash incentives to train and bursaries to work with colleagues in primaries.
Languages to be assessed at 14 through the Languages Ladder. Alternatives to GCSE should be offered - for example, NVQ language units, the Certificate in Business Language Competence, and a pilot GCSE called Applied French.
The league tables could include the proportion of pupils studying languages to a) any level and b) to GCSE.
A wider offering of languages, especially community languages in extended schools.
Review the primary curriculum. Reform GCSEs. Consider how Language Ladder assessments can lead to an award of GCSE.
Consider a "languages in use" GCSE in which several languages are learnt at a lower skill level.
Make content at both KS3 and KS4 more relevant and interesting for teenagers. New speaking and listening assessments for GCSE.
Pledge pound;50 million a year and speak out in support of languages.
Be prepared to return to compulsory languages in KS4 if this plan fails.