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Language aid unveiled

Ministers pour in millions in an effort to counter decline at GCSE. Michael Shaw reports

More than pound;110 million is to be rushed into schools to help primary children learn foreign languages and halt the subject's worrying decline in secondaries.

Stephen Twigg, school standards minister, will announce the plans today.

Nearly half of the money will go towards recruiting a further 6,000 primary language teachers and training 18,000 existing primary teachers and 9,000 teaching assistants.

Ministers hope the increase in trained teachers will help them meet their target of ensuring that every primary pupil can learn a language by 2010 - a goal schools have warned could prove tricky.

The Government also hopes it can reverse a fall in the popularity of the subject in secondary schools which has worsened since 2002 when ministers abolished the requirement that pupils study a foreign language until 16.

Mr Twigg aims to persuade more schools to specialise in languages or pick them as their second specialism by offering them more money.

Officials had expected that many secondary schools would choose to focus on languages. But only 211 schools, or 7 per cent, have picked them as their first specialism.

Mr Twigg will announce today that the Government will spend pound;30m on increasing the number of specialist language schools to 400 over the next five years.

They will receive an extra pound;30,000 each year to help them work with other schools. Schools with languages as their first or second specialism will get an additional pound;30 per pupil.

Ministers will also spend pound;14m on developing new approaches to language teaching, pound;5m on their "language ladder" scheme, and pound;6m on encouraging school twinning and teacher exchanges.

Every school in England is expected to be twinned with another overseas in five years - a drive backed by The TES Make the Link campaign, which encourages schools to establish international connections.

The Specialist Schools Trust will ensure that 50 of its high-performing secondaries will be able to acquire a second specialism in languages almost immediately without fundraising. Schools which apply successfully will be sponsored by HSBC bank and the computer giant Microsoft and will each be provided with a Mandarin language teacher through a deal with the Chinese government Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust, who has learnt French, Italian, Swahili, Latin and Greek, said the measures were crucial to prevent England becoming "a nation of monoglots".

Hockerill Anglo-European college, a specialist language school in Bishops Stortford, already works closely with its local primary and secondary school, where its staff help with French and German.

Mike Ullman, assistant principal, said: "Colleagues throughout the country are disheartened at no longer having full GCSE classes. Language colleges have to address this through their partner schools and primaries."

Primary schools at the forefront of language teaching include Hazelwood junior in Enfield, London, where seven and eight-year-old pupils learn modern Greek. Their teacher, Elissa Elinna - whose surname is Greek for "Greek" - visits each week from a nearby secondary, Edmonton county.

Sue Bigio, Hazelwood's headteacher, said the project had boosted the confidence of the many Greek-Cypriot pupils, and Turkish students also welcomed it.


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