MODERN languages in primary schools and the policy of compulsory "languages for all" up to S4 will remain the cornerstones of foreign language study, if the Education Minister accepts the emerging thinking of his action group on languages.
John Mulgrew, who chairs the group set up last October following a critical HMI report, also confirmed it would recommend that modern languages should return to its former role at the "cutting edge" of information technology. The group expects to report to ministers early in the new year.
Speaking at a weekend conference at Stirling University, Mr Mulgrew said the teaching of modern languages in primary schools was a national strategy his group supported. "It is here to stay," he declared. Mr Mulgrew, admitted the group had received conflicting views on the seconfary policy but will recommend at least six years of teaching from primary 6 to S4.
The group will also stress the importance of foreign languages for society and schools as well as the individual. A national conference on September 13 will be addressed by Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, who is expected to give strong backing to the importance for the economy of learning other languages.
Despite Mr Mulgrew's endorsement of the status quo, however, he expressed reservations about course content in foreign languages, primary teaching qualifications and the lack of continuity that can require pupils to switch languages when they enter S1.
He is to hold talks with the teacher education institutions to find solutions to the "remarkably fragmented" provision in modern languages training for primary students. There is pressure to make it a compulsory element at the pre-service stage, rather than cramming it into the 27-day in-service programme offered to serving teachers, but HMI is worried about course overload.
The action group has also lived up to its title by generating new 5-14 guidelines for modern languages, supported by exemplar materials and in service training, together with a shake-up in the much-criticised Standard grade course (see right). A three-month consultative period on both changes will begin in October following approval, respectively, by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
The group has also commissioned a survey on parental attitudes to foreign languages to find out what it needs to do to reinforce or counter influences in the classroom. Poor motivation by pupils, which leads them to desert modern languages in droves after the age of 16, has been identified by the group as a major issue.
Leader, page 14