Quarter of primary schools have no foreign language expertise, study reveals

Irena Barker


Nearly a quarter of primary schools do not have a teacher with more than a GCSE modern language qualification, and almost half have no support from specialist language teachers in local secondary schools, a new study has revealed.

The research, published as England’s primary schools prepare for the legal requirement to teach a foreign language from September, shows that some schools are ill-prepared, blaming a lack of training opportunities and coordinated help from local senior schools.

It also highlights the “lack of cohesion” between the end of primary school and the start of secondary school, with less than one-third of state secondaries able to ensure that pupils continue with the same language they learnt at primary level.

“Many primary schools do not have access to teaching staff with specialist training in the teaching of languages to young children and many primary classroom teachers have neither sufficient knowledge of another language nor sufficient confidence in their language skills to be able to teach a language to the level expected in the new national curriculum,” the study, released by the British Council and the CfBT Education Trust found.

Teresa Tinsley, co-author of the report, said: “There seems to be a contradiction between having a national initiative to introduce a new subject in the curriculum, which is a huge thing to do, alongside a policy of schools going it alone.

“It’s clear from the report that many of the support structures from local authorities and specialist language colleges that existed in the past no longer exist. If you don't have the expertise in the school, then how do you know what you need [to introduce languages]?

“If we can get some coherence and consistency at primary school, then secondary schools can build on it.”

The research, entitled the Languages Trends Survey 2013/14, also showed that there was “growing exclusion” of certain groups from language learning.

More than a quarter of secondary schools said that they excluded pupils from languages at Key Stage 3 in order to give them support in other areas, such as literacy or numeracy.

“Many lower-ability pupils do not learn a foreign language at all,” the report said.

The study says that all the issues need attacking "with vigour" if the language education received by children in England was to equal that of the best performing school systems.

“There is also still a great deal to be done to convince school leaders, parents and pupils themselves of the value of languages and that speaking only English in today’s world is as big a disadvantage as speaking no English," it said.

Despite the issues, the survey found that the vast majority – 85 per cent of primary schools – back the government's move to make languages compulsory for all seven- to 11-year-olds under the new national curriculum.

Around 95 per cent of primaries said that they are already teaching a language, with 42 per cent saying that they already meet the requirements of the new curriculum.

Key findings for primary schools:

- In 23 per cent of the primary schools surveyed, the highest languages qualification held was a GCSE, while 31 per cent said they had teachers with an A-level in a foreign language.

- Three in 10 said that they had a teacher with a languages degree.

- Around 15 per cent said that they had a bilingual or native speaker on their staff to provide language teaching to seven to 11-year-olds although this includes teaching assistants and foreign language assistants.

- 29 per cent of teachers say that they are not confident about giving foreign language lessons.




Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

Latest stories

Director Leslee Udwin launched the charity Think Equal

Q&A with director and Think Equal founder Leslee Udwin

After making the award-winning film India's Daughter, director Leslee Udwin wanted to do more to help teach social and emotional learning - she explains how her charity Think Equal is aiming to do just that
Elizabeth Kitto 19 Sep 2020

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 18/9

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the ongoing pandemic will have on their working lives
Tes Reporter 18 Sep 2020