Add more money to make 1+2 policy work, MSPs told

18th January 2013 at 00:00
Experts say foreign language provision in primaries is underfunded

The Scottish government's ambition for children to start studying two foreign languages in primary is being hampered by lack of funding, MSPs heard last week.

The government has set aside #163;4 million for language teaching in schools, pending agreement of the 2013-14 budget.

The money is to be targeted at implementation of recommendations by the government's languages working group that all pupils start learning a second language in P1 and pick up a third one no later than P5.

But two or three times that amount would be needed if the initiative was to be "well planned" and "thought through", according to the working group's funding estimates, said Tim Simons, head of the Scottish government's curriculum unit.

Mr Simons was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's European and external relations committee, which has launched an inquiry into the government's proposal to increase foreign language learning in primary.

The working group's report, published in May, said that prior to 2008, before ring-fencing was scrapped under the local government concordat, councils received #163;4 million to support language provision in schools.

It continued: "While this funding was rolled up into the general local government expenditure settlement and, therefore, is still available to local authorities, the group is of the view that, if delivery of the 1+2 language policy is to be successful, further dedicated resources will be required. This is likely to be of the order of two to three times the previous languages fund."

Nevertheless, #163;4 million could still be put to good use, Mr Simons pointed out. Scotland had currently just 71 foreign language assistants working in its schools; a #163;4 million cash injection could boost that number to 500.

Local authorities could also make better use of existing resources, he continued. By this time next year, every council should have completed an audit of its teachers to ascertain how many were trained to deliver foreign languages, he said - one of the working group's main recommendations.

"They (local authorities) have a lot of trained staff, trained under the modern languages in the primary school programme, not being used effectively at the moment. They need to ascertain where they are, what they are doing and how they resurrect these skills."

An implementation group is being set up to take forward the working group's recommendations and 10 pilot projects are getting under way, thanks to #163;120,000 government funding, the committee heard from John Bisset, a senior policy officer on the government's languages team.

Six of the projects will run in primaries and four in secondaries. Their findings will inform policy on the implications of introducing a foreign language from P1; introducing a second language in late primary; and the senior phase.

The working group made 35 recommendations to be put in place by 2020. The government responded in the autumn endorsing or partially endorsing them.

Simon Macaulay, who chaired the working group, told the committee that he was now "anxious" to see the process of implementation get under way.


Setting up hubs similar to Confucius Classrooms, which support the teaching of Chinese, might be the best way to teach languages such as Punjabi and Arabic, MSPs were told.

National statistics showed that, in 15 local authorities, Punjabi was one of the top three languages spoken in the home by pupils whose first language was not English. But no qualifications were available in the language in Scottish schools, said Labour MSP Hanzala Malik, deputy convener of the European and external relations committee.

Some schools had hundreds of pupils studying Arabic in their free time but were failing to tap into this in their classrooms, he added.

Having enough registered teachers able to deliver the languages was the problem, said Gillian Campbell-Thow, who sat on the Scottish government languages working group as the cultural organisations and local authority advisers' representative.

Creating hubs based on the Confucius classroom model might be the way ahead, she suggested.

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