Languages success story

NORTH AYRSHIRE is bucking the national trends in modern languages, with the number of pupils taking Higher languages in fifth year up by a quarter.

The council's education committee heard on Tuesday that the position in secondary schools "continues to be encouraging" and does not reflect the criticisms in HMI's recent report.

In the primary sector, three schools were sampled by HMI which described practice in two of them as exemplary.

Key criticisms of secondary schools by the Inspectorate, on "time-wasting" taster courses in S2 and on the study of two languages from S1, do not apply in North Ayrshire, the council says. In addition, all secondary schools continue the study of the language children started in primary.

Exam results for this year show that the 10 per cent decline in Higher presentations in modern languages reported nationally is not reflected locally and the number of pupils sitting Higher French, German and Spanish has risen from 113 in 1997 to 142 this year, up by 25 per cent.

The authority found that students taking Higher French and Spanish performed better in these than in other subjects. There is also an encouraging improvement in Standard grade French, including the writing option.

Colin Laird, the council's education adviser, attributed the relatively positive picture to "good practice and honest spadework".

Schools pay particular attention to writing and to grammar, Mr Laird said. "It is perhaps a traditional approach but you cannot expect pupils to survive on fragments of vocabulary and communicative skills alone. We may be turning the clock back, but it is for a good reason and our approach seems to be yielding dividends."

The perception of modern languages as "difficult" is being overcome in some secondary schools where departments are seen as effective both by pupils and their parents, Mr Laird said. "That encourages them to believe that a successful attempt at Higher is possible, although I certainly would not claim this is the case in all our schools."

The council's report also outlines a number of initiatives which it believes have strengthened the position of modern languages in primaries. HMI criticised the failure of authorities to provide follow-up support for teachers after language training and slated inadequate links with secondaries.

North Ayrshire has given primary staff who teach French "refresher" days and post-training modules. It also expects secondaries and associated primaries to ensure that pupils are not suddenly confronted with a different language when they start secondary school.

Primary schools have introduced language study before primary 6, and the education committee has recently approved a scheme for making foreign languages available to children as young as four.

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