Aptitude only

20th October 2000 at 01:00
French is crap," according to Robert, a Year 8 student. Certainly, if his level of attainment is anything to go by, it is. He does not want to learn it, and nothing can make him . And what of those who are jollied along with stories about how a language will improve their job prospects? After five years of study the standard is, quite frankly, pitiful. Most students with a "good" GCSE in French or German would struggle to hold the most basic conversation.

My response to the Nuffield Inquiry was a hollow laugh. Begin teaching modern languages earlier? Great idea - but where are the teachers going to come from? We do not have enough to staff secondary schools. And the sugestion that an AS in a language should be a requirement for university entry? Again, who is going to teach the Year 12 and Year 13 reluctant learners? Forget it.

My suggestion? A language should be compulsory in Year 7 only, with students who show aptitude being encouraged to carry on. Students who continued past Year 7 could take GCSE at the end of Year 9. Then we should demand much more of those who opt to continue up to the end of key stage 4. Many French or German teenagers' English is impressive. That is what we must aim for - real linguistic competence, not just the ability to choose from a menu.

Malcolm Beet is a former head of modern languages

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