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Give languages the time of day

Granting every primary pupil the right to learn a foreign tongue by 2012 will not be without its share of hurdles, reports Helen Ward.

THE enthusiasm for languages is there - but how will the Government's goal of giving every primary-aged child the opportunity to learn another language by 2012 be achieved? Schools will have to wait until the autumn for the Government to reveal its national strategy, but in Liverpool, languages are already being taught in more than 50 primary schools.

As the authority rolls out its programmes to 160 schools, it knows the two major stumbling blocks a national scheme will face - finding time in the day and trained staff.

Liverpool heads now spend less time on assembly and are shaving minutes off every other subject to make way for languages. But the worry remains about the already overcrowded primary curriculum.

And John Coe, from the National Association of Primary Education, said: "We have to be careful this isn't imposed from the top - it will need enthusiastic teachers and that means good professional development."

In Liverpool the authority is spending pound;500,000 over three years on getting languages in primary schools and children are learning French, German or Spanish.

Four specialist advisory teachers work on the programme together with six foreign language assistants, but the council recognises that in order to sustain its work, primary teachers must learn a language.

One in five primary schools nationally already teaches a foreign language, most using visitors, but this means schools have little flexibility on timetabling.

A Warwick University survey commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority last year also pointed out that visiting teachers were not enough. Staffing is crucial and could be the main reason why the Government has not suggested foreign languages are made compulsory in primaries.

Canterbury Christ Church University College is one of five institutions piloting a primary French PGCE.

Dr Patricia Driscoll, senior lecturer at Canterbury, said: "There is a lack of confidence and experience. But we can develop expertise.

"We are not talking about teaching children as they do in secondary school. This is something most schools in the country could offer with some encouragement and some professional development."

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry found just 5.3 per cent of language graduates went into education in 1998.

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