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French wins its way into le timetable

Emma Burstall reports on how primary heads are building on the success of paid-for after-school language clubs.

Increasing numbers of primary schools are responding to the demand for modern foreign languages by introducing after-school clubs which parents have to pay for.

Although many schools were initially wary about asking parents to fork out more for "extras", in some cases the schemes have proved so successful that a foreign language - almost always French - has been introduced as part of the curriculum.

Parkmead infants school in Cranleigh, Surrey, recently made French compulsory for all pupils in Years 1 and 2 after the success of two voluntary clubs.

One, which is still run after school by Le Club Francais, an international franchise company, costs parents Pounds 3.50 an hour. The other, now defunct, was set up by teaching staff in lunch breaks.

Linda McWalter, the headteacher, said: "We sent a questionnaire out to parents last spring and there was strong support for the idea of compulsory French. The staff also felt we should be teaching a language as early as possible." The parent-teacher association paid for four teachers to go on training courses and during the summer term, half an hour's French was introduced for all but the reception class in the 20 per cent of spare time made available through the Dearing Review.

"There have been excellent spin-offs for the rest of the curriculum. Pupils are now more aware of the structure of their own language and their listening skills have improved," said Ms McWalter.

Scott-Broadwood CE infants school, in Capel and Ockley, Surrey, has also expanded on what was originally an after-school club by introducing French into the curriculum for all pupils aged four to seven.

Instead of having staff do the preparation, however, Jan Slater, the headteacher, decided to hire equipment and teaching materials from Le Club Francais. Parents pay Pounds 6 per term towards the costs.

"We started last January and it's proving very popular. Young children are very uninhibited and love all the singing and role-play," she says.

In the London borough of Richmond, all primary pupils have learned French from the age of nine as part of the curriculum for the past four years.

The programme, which is funded by the local authority, is the envy of many heads in other parts of the country who are struggling to meet parental demand by introducing ad hoc schemes with little or no LEA support.

A similar project for all 10 and 11-year-olds in East Sussex since the mid-1980s is under threat due to funding pressures.

Despite the many hurdles facing LEAs and schools, however, Sue Bush, head of Kicrella St Andrew's county primary, Hull, is convinced any language provision at primary level is better than none, even if parents have to pay for it.

"A lot of our parents were very keen to put French into the mainstream curriculum but we didn't have time so we organised an extremely popular after-school club.

"Most people would agree that if you're going to teach languages you should start early."

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