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Language support is thin on the ground

How will the Government deliver its primary-school pledge with so few assistants? Warwick Mansell reports.

ENGLAND's 20,000 primary schools employ only 150 language assistants between them, new government figures have revealed.

The scale of the task facing ministers as they try to boost primary language learning was underlined by the statistics which also show that only seven of these support staff work full-time.

Ministers last year pledged to give every child aged seven to 11 the chance to learn a language by 2010. A key element will be the recruitment of thousands of native-speaking language assistants. Last week, the Government announced plans for teachers and support staff from France to travel to English schools.

The new figures were revealed in a written parliamentary answer to Conservative MP Graham Brady. He told The TES that they illustrated the dangers of the Government's decision, confirmed last week, to make languages optional for 14 to 16-year-olds from September.

Thousands of pupils, he said, would not get the chance to study languages in primary school, and then would have only three years' compulsory study at secondary.

Because 143 of the assistants work part-time, the Government says their combined hours represent the equivalent of only 30 full-time staff. Given that it is estimated that one in five primaries offers some language teaching, the statistic shows how thinly assistants are spread.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There will be schools that are employing teachers on a peripatetic basis to take languages. But this does demonstrate the enormous changes we have got to make if we are going to deliver a meaningful language entitlement to every child by 2010."

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "Delivering a primary entitlement will involve a real effort in terms of training and mobilising a workforce which has the skills, expertise and confidence to deliver language learning in our primary schools."

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