The first of what are planned as annual primary languages conferences at the Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University heard last week from Colin Laird, of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, that responses to the draft guidelines had been largely positive. He said the aim was to ensure that modern languages continue to have "a secure base" in primary schools.
Isobel McGregor, who was giving her last address as HMI for modern languages, said: "I still get a tingle down my spine when I observe primary teachers teaching languages."
She described the national scheme to train primary teachers as "an incredible investment to individual people". By September more than 5,200 will have completed training.
Mrs McGregor recalled that the Standards and Quality report on modern languages two years ago had found that 85 per cent of teaching was good or very good, plus a high level of enthusiasm and motivation in classes, high attainment among able pupils and very good organisation, resources and display.
There is continuing evidence of all of thee, she added in encouraging teachers to stretch and challenge pupils. "I am particularly excited about the endless possibilities for number work in languages. Teachers are often amazed at what can be achieved by pupils in this."
In reading and writing, areas of modern language teaching that have caused concern to primary teachers, Mrs McGregor urged them not to cling on to the "outdated Seventies approach which artificially deprived pupils of contact with the written word."
To help in staff development, new CD-Roms would "be winging their way to schools in the near future". But on the key issue of pre-service training for new teachers, Mrs McGregor said: "This is the big one and is still in the future." Mr Laird later described the prospects for development of pre-service training as "very encouraging".
Concerns raised by delegates included the continuity of language teaching between primary and secondary and the dominance of French as the first language, a point on which teachers of Spanish were particularly vocal, emphasising its world importance. Mr Laird said that German, Italian and Spanish should not be allowed to "go the same way as Russian and the classics".
The suggestion that children should start languages earlier in primary was welcomed by Mrs McGregor with the reservation that "the Government is not committed to this yet. However, if teachers can do it, that's wonderful."