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Key members of the languages national steering group talk about the tasks set by the new national strategy

The Government's new strategy for languages was published late last term amid reports of a crisis in language teaching. Despite outstanding examples of good practice throughout the country, a TESCILT survey had revealed that thousands of schools were already dropping languages or making them optional (TES, November 22, 2002).

Even before Education Secretary Charles Clarke launched Languages For All: Languages For Life in mid-December, many schools had begun on the course they expected the strategy to embody. While some primaries were ahead of the game in introducing early language learning, a quarter of the 393 secondaries polled were no longer describing languages as compulsory.

Now secondary schools are adjusting to a strategy which sees languages optional from age 14, and primary schools are gearing up to the projection that all seven-year-olds will be receiving lessons in languages by 2010.

Long-term objectives of the strategy include: linvestment in primary language trainees, graduate modern foreign language (MFL) places, advanced skills teachers and professional development, as well as "non-teacher capacity", including new roles for undergraduates and teacher assistants in schools

* research into provision at key stage 2

* developing the KS3 strategy MFL framework

* international and business link projects lmerger of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) with the Languages National Training Organisation.

The full publication can be obtained from the Department for Education and Skills

Tel: 0845 6022260

Sylvia Elmes, headteacher of Barnes Infant School, Sunderland

"The primary sector must gear up to deliver a language entitlement. It's a daunting challenge.

There are many examples of excellent primary language teaching, but they've rarely received national recognition. We need a long-term commitment to early language teaching for young pupils nationally.

At Barnes Infant School we have for the past 12 years delivered a European language programme to every key stage 1 pupil. My commitment and enthusiasm have won over the staff, parents, governors, the local education authority, Members of the European Parliament and the local business community.

The freeing-up of an already overloaded curriculum, to allow flexibility and regular timetabling, is essential. We manage to provide 40-minute weekly lessons for each of our three Year 2 classes. Pupils are not afraid or embarrassed to have a go at pronouncing words and phrases in French or German.

An early years teaching approach is crucial - lessons must be fun, practical and achievable. We must not deliver a watered-down secondary language programme. Relevant teaching materials will be essential.

Barnes's annual programme culminates in a five-day tour in France. Imagine our pride when our hosts at the European Parliament are greeted by our six-year-olds in several European languages. We will all be watching with interest to see recent Government theory transformed into national practice. It is achievable."

Paul Harrison, headteacher of Teesdale School, County Durham

"I welcome the introduction of languages into the primary sector. I would have preferred a statutory requirement, but entitlement at least forces primary schools to start working with their partner secondaries. This will be essential in the key stage 23 transition.

I am pleased that non-specialist schools will play a major role in delivering the strategy - important as the language colleges are, they are a minority.

The drive to improve quality at KS3 through a KS3 modern foreign language framework is also welcome. Given the current recruitment problems, I just hope we will be able to find enough high-quality teachers and assistants in both KS2 and KS3 to ensure that the strategy is effectively delivered.

The introduction of a complementary accreditation system should prove to be a good motivator for pupils, particularly at KS2 and KS3, provided it is not too demanding on teachers' time. We already have too much formal assessment.

I am particularly pleased that the Government is appointing a national director for languages.

On the downside, I believe the removal of MFL from the KS4 curriculum is at odds with the aims of the National Languages Strategy and I hope that will be reviewed in a few years' time. My biggest disappointment, however, is the pound;10m allocated to the strategy. It will be woefully inadequate to make a real difference."

Alwena Lamping, co-ordinator of the Nuffield Languages Programme

"Nuffield welcomes the strategy's unequivocal statement that language competence and inter-cultural understanding are not optional extras in the 21st century. However, we are not convinced that the strategy will achieve this goal; indeed, we fear that some of its proposals will have the opposite effect.

Placing primary languages at the centre of the strategy makes sense, but to succeed a firmer and more precise commitment will be needed. There has to be a commitment that children from all backgrounds should have real and sustained opportunities to learn a language. Anything less could lead to serious inequalities. We recognise that not all teaching can be provided by fully qualified teachers. Teachers and language assistants will have to be recruited from a variety of backgrounds, by a variety of means. The key will be high-quality training.

The introduction of a new system for recognising achievement in language learning has great promise. But we deplore the decision to make languages optional at age 14. It undermines the coherence of the strategy. Pupils now at primary and secondary schools will have severely reduced rather than increased experience of language learning. It will weaken the Government's own strategy: it sends out the contradictory message that government does see languages as an optional extra."

Terry Lamb (left) past-president of the Association for Language Learning and Steven Fawkes, president "Challenges now include:

* continuing to raise the profile of languages as a life skill

* responding to the key stage 3 strategy while maintaining motivation

* stimulating new vocational routes and accreditation

* sustaining a range of languages

* finding time to collaborate with other institutions in other sectors.

Once again teachers will have to constantly argue the case for learning a language, which should not be in question. The plans go no further than requesting support from national partners to effect a national "step change in attitudes".

Clearly teachers will continue to build on the large number of initiatives, such as those which took place in the European Year of Languages, but the message is undermined by the removal of compulsory languages after age 14.

The achievements of a 'languages-for-all' policy are irrefutable, but the strategy fails to build on this. Instead, we are faced with a lack of clear progression routes; arguments over curriculum space; threats to the range of languages; fewer students continuing past the age of 16; problems of teacher supply, recruitment and retention; and elitism. The Department for Education and Skills hopes most learners will still learn a language in KS4, ignoring the fact that a picture of social inequality is already emerging."

Lid King, director of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT)

"A strategy is better than no strategy. It's very existence shows how far we have come in the three years since the publication of the Nuffield Inquiry's findings. The most far-reaching initiative in the strategy is the commitment to primary entitlement. It is fundamentally egalitarian since it will raise the learning opportunities of all our children to that of their Continental counterparts and pupils in the independent sector.

It will require creative thinking about teacher training, the curriculum and the use of resources, including ICT. In the long term it will also have a major effect on post-11 language learning. Fortunately, the experience of recent years - not least CILT's Early Language Learning Initiative - provides us with a good foundation on which to build.

It would be unrealistic to expect that the threats to language capability in this country could be deflected with a single stroke (or strategy). The issues about post-16 take-up remain major challenges and schools'

interpretation of post-14 "entitlement" is a continuing concern. The publication of this strategy may, at best, be seen as one important step on the road.

The imminent merger of CILT and the Languages National Training Organisation - creating a new National Centre for Languages - will support this endorsement of languages and help develop the tools to make it work.

Teachers have every reason to be optimistic. The public agenda is definitely moving our way."

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