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Parlez-vous primary French?

Ministers scour junior schools for staff with language skills as they seek to give every child the chance to study a foreign tongue. Helen Ward reports.

PRIMARY teachers are to be asked about their hidden talents in foreign languages in the first step towards a huge teacher-training programme.

The Government wants all primary schools to offer children the opportunity to study a foreign language by 2010.

But it has stopped short of making languages compulsory in primary schools because of a lack of suitable teachers.

Ministers have now commissioned an 18-month, pound;120,000 study from Canterbury Christ Church University College, Manchester Metropolitan University and King's College London, to gauge the level of language skills and teaching in primary schools.

Project director Dr Patricia Driscoll, of Canterbury Christ Church, said:

"We will get a really strong picture of who is doing what across the country."

Ministers will be hoping to find untapped language talent. In 2000, a study of 243 state primary schools by Warwick University for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority found 238 teachers had some qualification in a foreign language and of those 43 per cent had a degree.

Dr Driscoll said: "We will ask teachers what their languages background is, whether they teach languages,what they would like to teach and what training they feel they need to do it."

Secondary schools will also be contacted to find out what support they give to local primaries.

The Government expects headteachers to give existing primary teachers who want to train in languages the support and opportunity to do so. It has promised funds to develop teachers' skills.

It is also inviting local authorities to bid for funding to try out different ways of managing and extending language teaching. Between three and six authorities are expected to be chosen as "pathfinders".

Baroness Catherine Ashton, who is responsible for the National Languages Strategy, said: "In some areas, such as Liverpool, a lot of schools are already doing fantastic language learning. We want to find out as much as we can about what works, why it works and how local education authorities can work with schools."

Liverpool City Council has funded a huge programme of primary languages. It has six centres of excellence, schools which offer languages to all children, and a further 82 of its 160 primary schools teaching either Spanish, French or German to some children.

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