John Mulgrew, director of education in East Ayrshire, is finalising the findings of his 18-month inquiry into languages, although the report and the Scottish Executive's response are unlikely to surface until the summer.
Nicola Sturgeon, shadow education minister, stepped into the policy vacuum by demanding a national campaign to promote language learning, stressing the party's manifesto commitment to deploy 200 extra specialists in primary schools and warning that the Scottish economy was suffering.
She repeated previously challenged figurs which appear to show a decline between 1976 and 1999 of 53 per cent in the number of pupils sitting a modern language Higher. A second set of statistics showed that 14 per cent of pupils in 1996 took at least one modern language Higher but in 1999 it was 12 per cent, evidence of the "downward trend".
The Executive previously admitted the decline but said a more reliable comparison was that the proportion of those who sat Higher English in 1976 and also took a modern language was 42 per cent against 26 per cent by 1996.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority this week corrected the second figure. "The actual percentage of the S5 cohort taking at least one modern language fell from 12.1 per cent in 1996 to 10.9 per cent in 1999," a spokesman said.