Primary languages hit by training gap

John Clark & Neil Munro

Modern languages should be part of primary teachers' training at college, it was suggested this week.

Jean Nisbet, quality development officer in East Ayrshire, believes this is the only way to avoid a crisis in the Government's modern languages primary school programme. The council has published the results of a study into the effects of the project in 17 of its primaries and four linked secondaries.

Despite growing concern at the effectiveness of a programme that does not appear to have improved language take-up in secondary schools, the East Ayrshire research revealed pupil enjoyment and a high standard of teaching. Children with learning difficulties particularly benefited.

But there was less "embedding" of the foreign language in the curriculum and less reinforcement because the "drop-in" teacher was the commonest pattern of delivery. Headteachers were also concerned about replacing trained teachers if they left for another job.

While primary 6 and 7 pupils relished games, story-telling, songs and craft activities in French and German, the two languages taught, some teachers reported that their confidence in using the languages in class had diminished.

Ms Nisbet commented: "Very often they are the only French and German teacher in their school. They work on their own and there is a feeling of isolation. My own view is that the Scottish Office should take some money out of initial training, over four years in the case of most primary teachers, and transfer it into follow-up training.

"We need every single primary teacher coming through college trained in teaching a modern language. What the colleges have to do is make it compulsory, although they want the Scottish Office to pay for it."

The present approach would lead to "huge gaps" within five years in the number of primary teachers trained in modern languages, Ms Nisbet warned. Training in modern languages costs Pounds 2,450-Pounds 3,000 a teacher, with teachers out of school for 27 days. Ms Nisbet believes the money would be better spent if it was transferred to colleges.

The East Ayrshire study, conducted by Joe Adrain of Paisley University's Craigie campus and Ian Wilson, principal teacher of modern languages at Grange Academy, Kilmarnock, highlighted future staffing needs.

Other concerns included liaison between primaries and links with secondaries and preparation time for developing what is a distinctive new element in the primary curriculum. Teachers said they needed more time to work together with trained language teachers. They generally met only twice a year.

The study also found considerable evidence of the fresh start in reverse. Few primaries passed on written reports of pupil performance in languages to secondaries.

There were some examples of effective liaison, however, with a helpline for primary teachers set up by the modern languages departments in Auchinleck and Grange Academies.

Despite the problems, Ms Nisbet says that the modern languages programme is one of the most successful aspects of the 5-14 programme.

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John Clark & Neil Munro

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