Rather than rush into a national programme that would be handicapped by a shortage of linguists, the Government should target support in the short term at the one in three primary schools that already offers a second language.
The advice is contained in a confidential report produced in response to the Nuffield inquiry's call for children to be introduced to languages from the age of seven.
The report, from the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research, is also understood to say that schools are finding it increasingly difficult to fit in any foreign language teaching.
Most takes place in classes for 11-year-olds and lessons vary from 10 minutes to an hour a week. Many children are highly motivated and make rapid progress, but are hampered by the lack of time on the curriculum.
Research suggests about 35 per cent of primaries currently offer some form of language tuition and government advisers accept that a national scheme is not possible until there is in-service training.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is now carrying out a study into language teaching in schools and expects to receive the results of a feasibility study on a natonal scheme next spring.
However, its own analysis of existing research suggests problems facing schools include a shortage of specialist language teachers, pressures of literacy and numeracy teaching and lack of language skills.
Other problems include the content of lessons. "We would not want children to have to start again when they got to secondary school because other pupils have had no language teaching," said a QCA spokesman.
Patricia Driscoll, an academic at Canterbury Christ Church
University College, said the
Government must decide whether languages should be bolted on to the time-table or embedded in the curriculum.
CILT is co-ordinating good-practice initiatives in around 150 primaries, including schools in south Gloucestershire which use French as part of developing literacy and numeracy.
An evaluation of the CILT project by Professor Keith Sharpe of De Montford University, Leicester, suggests that primary pupils enjoy learning a language and are confident about using it, (see TES, October 27). The report has been sent to the Department for Education and Employment.
The Nuffield inquiry called for a national action programme for languages. It wanted to see the creation of 1,000 specialist primaries and the introduction of languages into schools from age seven.