A world beyond English

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Lack of qualified teachers and a crowded curriculum are hampering an ambitious and popular scheme to teach foreign languages

Keen teachers who give up their lunch breaks for no extra pay have made a pilot modern foreign language curriculum a success, according to Assembly government evaluators. But enthusiasm for lunch and evening French, German or Spanish clubs is not always shared by colleagues who are obliged to stand in when they go off sick, have a baby, or leave.

The Assembly government's people and work unit looked at progress of the pilot between 2003-06. But despite a glowing report, Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, will not be backing the compulsory teaching of MFLs.

Ms Davidson claimed it could prove unpopular with many schools, despite widespread support of parents. In a survey by evaluators, 88 per cent of parents supported their children learning a language from early years through to GCSE.

And at a meeting of the education, lifelong learning and skills committee last week, Ms Davidson also said how popular the trial had been with children.

"This report has found huge enthusiasm for language learning among primary pupils who have really enjoyed the experience," she said.

But a lack of time and space in the curriculum and a shortage of specialist teachers have hampered progress. By the end of the third year, complaints have mostly been made about additional pressures on staff, according to the report. One teacher commented: "I spend my own free time visiting primaries. I enjoy it but I am not paid for it."

Ms Davidson announced extra funding for the extension of the pilot within the Better Schools Fund from September 2008. Links to the 14-19 learning pathways initiative and the language element of the Welsh baccalaureate are also being explored as the pilot is extended one extra year. But evaluators conclude that schools most likely to support the languages drive are already signed up.

Currently, 126 primary and secondary schools are part of the key stage 2 MFL trial launched in 2003 by the national centre for languages Cilt Cymru.

Schools throughout Wales have been working in 21 clusters, with reports of increased interest and enthusiasm for languages by pupils on entry to secondary schools and KS3. But only 64 per cent of primary pupils and 46 per cent of secondary school pupils can see themselves taking a language as an option at GCSE.

The Confederation of Business and Industry recently hit out at the lack of language skills in Wales among job candidates, with some big companies reporting not being able to fill posts. But despite efforts to "sex up"

languages, many pupils still see them as a hard option at GCSE.

Over 70 per cent of parents asked said that despite the widespread use of English abroad, their children needed to be speaking a foreign language in their adult life.

One parent said: "The world is rapidly changing and our children need to be equipped."

Leader, page 26

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