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Linguists through choice, not force

Minister won't go down compulsory language route for two years

ALLOWING a pilot modern foreign language scheme for primary schools to remain optional had acted in its favour, claimed Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills.

Speaking at Coed Eva junior school in Torfaen last week she said the flexibility and innovation of cluster schools in the trial KS2 MFL programme had contributed to its success.

And she defended her decision not to rush into making MFLs mandatory, despite three times as many KS4 pupils opting to take an MFL this September at Fairwater high school, Coed Eva's partner secondary.

The pupils, who will go on to take a GCSE, all went through the pilots in their feeder primaries.

Pressure had been mounting on the minister following last month's announcement that the teaching of languages would become compulsory in all English primary schools from 2010. But she says a decision will be made only after considering evidence collected over the next two years.

The rate of decline in numbers taking a GCSE MFL has slowed, but the subject area is the only one in Wales to have fewer exam entries in 2005 than in 1992.

From September 2008, the MFL pilot run by CiLT Cymru, the national centre for languages, will be offered to all schools financed through the Better Schools Fund.

Ms Davidson said the programme opened up opportunities for primaries and their partner secondary schools. It had also led to after-school and breaktime French, Spanish and German clubs.

"The aim is to demonstrate how language learning contributes to improving transition from primary to secondary school," she said.

At Coed Eva, Marie Mumford, French teacher at Fairwater high, takes the classes.

Programme evaluators praised all schools for their work in a recent report.

But it also said making MFLs compulsory could prove unpopular. It hinted there was some resentment from teachers who had to stand in for absent MFL tutors. But 88 per cent of parents want MFLs to be compulsory in primaries.

Industrial leaders in Wales have already warned that a lack of good language speakers is making the country less competitive. There are 118 primary schools and 18 secondaries in the pilot.

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