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Sponsorship could aid shortage of language assistants

Businesses could be asked to step in and sponsor foreign language assistants in schools if local authorities cannot afford to take them on, it has emerged.

The option was one of a range of measures discussed at a summit on languages last week attended by representatives of five European consulates and Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, science and Scotland's languages.

The consuls general of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, along with the honorary consul of Austria, have been campaigning alongside the British Council to reverse the decline since 2006 in the number of foreign language assistants.

While there were 284 FLAs working in Scottish schools in 2005-06, there were only 59 this year - a decline of 80 per cent - according to the British Council.

The consuls and Dr Allan appear to be singing from the same hymnsheet on the issue: all agreed that FLAs were an effective and cost-efficient way for local authorities to boost language learning.

Wolfgang Mossinger, the German consul general, said: "Language assistants help motivate pupils and are not simply there to inform young people of the latest developments in pop music in their country. They also give advice and support to teachers."

It was up to local authorities whether they took on FLAs, he told TESS. However, the meeting had discussed other solutions, including the possibility of having assistants sponsored by the private sector. Such an arrangement might create legal issues, he ackowledged.

The consuls general emerged from the meeting in no doubt over the minister's commitment to tackling the demise of foreign languages in schools, added Mr Mossinger.

Dr Allan said: "We will seek to involve consulates closely in development of our commitment on the 1+2 model for language learning in our schools. This is a discussion which I hope can now be extended to include Cosla."

A spokesman for the councils' umbrella body, Cosla, explained their absence from the meeting, saying: "They picked a date we could not make."

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