In a vicious circle of primary languages

30th April 2010 at 01:00

I had a sense of deja vu when I read your article "Little or no training offered to primary language teachers" (TESS, April 16).

Modern linguists may remember the HMIE Standards and Quality report of the 1990s, which stated that uptake and progress in the subject left a lot to be desired.

Then, in 2000, Citizens of a Multilingual World (the Mulgrew report), which was endorsed by ministers and HMIE, seemed to offer hope. Yet there was evidence that some heads took advantage of early confusion about an "entitlement" to allow pupils to opt out of a modern language.

Ten years on, the secondary picture seems no less bleak. It is an indictment of the decision-makers, locally and nationally, that the primary programme is now being undermined, with teachers "cast adrift", to quote Dan Tierney in the TESS report.

The original programme to train teachers under Modern Languages in the Primary School (MLPS) was hailed as a success, with supporting evidence from several studies, albeit with concerns that local authorities were struggling to meet training demand.

But the greatest blow to the delivery of primary languages was the much- praised government concordat with local authorities, which removed ring- fencing from education budgets. With this new freedom, money allocated for MLPS was an easy target for some directors of finance.

Recent TESS reporting has also highlighted great variations in primary pre-service training for the delivery of modern languages. We seem to have forgotten that MLPS training was meant to be seen as a stop-gap measure until the primary BEd included a modern language for all students. I hope the Donaldson review of teacher education will take this into account, but reports in the TESS, and comments I have picked up, indicate that we should not hold our breath.

We are in a vicious circle, which will see the demise of modern languages in the primary school sooner rather than later, with the consequent impact on secondary education and beyond. Yet, as Curriculum for Excellence is rolled out, surely our aim ought to be that pupils should be encouraged to be responsible citizens - of "a multilingual world".

John Muir, former co-ordinator of modern languages, Highland Council.

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