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Is this the message we want to send?

Brigitte Boyce of ALLsays disapplication puts young people at a disadvantage in Europe

The vast majority of teachers of modern languages welcomed the outcome of the national curriculum review and many were overjoyed. If the subject had been removed as a statutory subject at key stage 4, once again many pupils would only have had three short years of exposure to a language - simply not enough to have a lasting effect.

Unfortunately, we rejoiced too soon. In the past few weeks, teachers have been informed that disapplication from the national curriculum at KS4 is going to be extended into two additional areas:

* in response to pupils' individual strengths and talents, to allow pupils to emphasise a particular curriculum area by exchanging national curriculum subjects for further courses in that curriculum area;

* to allow pupils making significantly less progress than their peers to study fewer national curriculum subjects in order to consolidate their learning across the curriculum.

Education Secretary David Blunkett used Section 363 in the 1988 Education Act to introduce this new regulation. The statutory consultation was limited to the criteria that underpin the extension of disapplication. The only two subjects that can at present be disapplied under this new regulation are modern foreign languages and design and technology. The regulation is due to come into effect in 20002001.

Are those of us who feel aggrieved about this development over-reacting? I would arge not. My immediate grief is not with the principle of disapplication. Although I have my doubts about that, too, I appreciate that limited flexibility needs to be introduced into the national curriculum to meet the needs of all pupils. It is the renewed discrimination against two particular statutory subjects that I deeply resent. Apparently, modern languages and design and technology are expendable at KS4; other statutory subjects are not. It is little comfort that disapplication will affect only a relatively small number of pupils, and may enable some pupils to study two modern languages at KS4.

The decision sends out negative signals about the subjects concerned. Those signals will have a negative impact on the image of language teaching and learning. Instead of doing everything to challenge the myth that monolingualism is somehow "cool", policy-makers are reinforcing the blinkered view that in an English-speaking country language skills are of secondary importance.

Yet there is abundant evidence of the personal, professional and social benefits of speaking more than one language. Policy-makers are again putting English children at a disadvantage compared with their peers in other countries in the European Union. They are also unnecessarily increasing the burden on teachers.

Dr Brigitte Boyce is director of the Association for Language Learning, 150 Railway Terrace, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 3HN.Tel: 01788 546443.Fax: 01788 544149.E-mail: b.boyce@languagelearn.co.uk

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