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Making up the script

I recently attended a conference on modern languages organised by Scottish CILT (Centre for Information on Language Teaching).

The very high turn out of primary and secondary colleagues reflected a need for clarification and guidance in languages and, indeed, we did receive useful examples of pupils' work at 5-14. We were encouraged, rightly, to celebrate good work at these levels.

Unwittingly, however, the conference also testified to the confused state of affairs at national level regarding modern languages. The gloss put on her presentation by the attendant HMI could not conceal the chaos of modern language policy in the last 15 years.

The reality is that when it was realised that the Languages for All initiative of the 1990s had contributed to the decline of Higher languages, the new policy was to offer a 500-hour "entitlement" in one language, leading to certification.

When it was further realised that this made a farce of the previous policy of diversification of languages in S1, the new line, as promulgated by the HMI at the SCILT conference, is to "look at what the children can do in the foreign language" rather than obsessing over the number of hours, or the language studied etc.

This would be fine (although disingenuous) if said inspector had not also advised: "Let's not get bogged down in an argument about whether that piece of work is a D or an E". Oh really? And what about our school reports? Surely, we can expect more helpful support than that.

Much was made at the conference also of the fact that 84 per cent of S4 age pupils in Scotland achieve a Foundation level or above, compared to 50 per cent in England where languages for all is not a reality. No analysis of the quality of the English sample was made known, and there were gasps of horror from the audience on learning that one truly appalling writing performance (from a Scottish candidate) had been awarded a General award.

One has the distinct impression the script is being made up as we go along.

Pupils, parents and teachers surely deserve better from HMIE et al.

As experts in advising others on planning, quality assurance and consistency, could they perhaps be invited to look at their own?

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