Q: The hardest job in Welsh education? A: Si, oes, oui

A hundred education organisations and suppliers will be promoting their wares at next week's exhibition. David Budge reports

Ceri James undoubtedly has one of the most difficult jobs in Welsh education. As co-ordinator of the Languages in Action project, he is leading the campaign to persuade more Welsh teenagers to study a modern foreign language to GCSE and beyond.

The latest statistics, reported in the News section of today's TES, underline the scale of his task. The proportion of 16-year-olds taking a languages GCSE has plummeted from 55 per cent in 1995 to 44 per cent this year. Equally worryingly, in some Welsh secondaries only one in 10 15-year-olds is studying a foreign language.

"Fewer GCSE candidates will eventually mean fewer modern foreign languages teachers," says Mr James, a former teacher of French and German at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Bargoed. "Outside purely educational circles, it will become harder for firms to find "home-grown" employees who have the all-round skills necessary to compete in the European and world jobs markets."

He will be taking this message to next week's ales Education 2000 Exhibition. But visitors to his stand will find that Languages in Action has made some headway since it was established with a pound;100,000 grant from the National Assembly last November.

"Thirteen schools and two LEAs - Carmarthen and Ceredigion - are involved in our project," he says. "Some have made use of information technology and are e-mailing in foreign languages. Others are trying boys-only or girls-only classes, while some are focusing on project work that offers pupils more choice."

He admits some project schools have not met their course enrolment targets but he believes there are still grounds for optimism. "The fact is that linguists do well in the jobs market," he says. "It will help if we can get that across to young people. But perhaps it's time for everyone to realise that modern languages, including Welsh, can be fun, challenging, practical and an essential life-skill in the modern world."

Ceri James will be at the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research stand (154). Contact: tel 02920 306230 e-mail ceri.james1@ntlworld.com www.cilt.org.uk

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