Bleak outlook for languages

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Research uncovers secondary teachers' concerns over lack of provision

Opportunities to learn foreign languages in primary schools are improving, but the situation is deteriorating in secondary schools, with teachers laying the blame on Curriculum for Excellence.

Research by SCILT, Scotland's national centre for languages, shows that in 2011, all 32 Scottish local authorities provided language tuition in most or all schools by P6.

But there was a drop in the number of secondaries where a modern language was compulsory until S4 - from 61 per cent in 2007 to 49 per cent in 2011. Language uptake at S4 remained static in 56 per cent of secondaries and decreased in 31 per cent.

There is evidence, too, that transition work involving languages leaves much to be desired - if it exists at all.

Only 46 per cent of primaries had an agreed modern language transition programme with their secondary, and nearly 30 per cent had no contact. The need for better links with secondaries was one of the main issues highlighted by primary teachers.

SCILT, which is based at the University of Strathclyde, uncovered claims that CfE had removed the "quasi-compulsory status" previously enjoyed by languages until S4.

The researchers noted that, "alarmingly for policy makers", 39 per cent of respondents indicated that pupils could drop languages at the end of S2 - even though CfE guidelines indicate that pupils should stick with a language until the end of S3 at least.

SCILT director Sarah Breslin said that the survey painted a "very mixed picture" but underlined that there were increases in uptake where languages were actively promoted in schools.

While acknowledging teachers' fears about CfE, she said it also had the potential to boost uptake of languages in the senior phase, through flexible timetabling. CfE's emphasis on relevant learning and strong external partnerships also fitted well with languages.

There was a "very, very worrying" decline in German in primary schools, but the government's "1+2" policy - mother tongue plus two others - should bolster languages experiencing falling numbers, she said.

Margaret-Anne Hutton, chair of the University Council for Modern Languages in Scotland, highlighted several issues:

- the need for continuing professional support in primary and secondary sectors;

- the "crucial role which should be played by foreign language assistants";

- the creation of sufficient space in timetables - "one hour a week is not enough";

- and better communication with pupils about why languages are important.

A Scottish government spokesman said there had been a "significant increase" in Higher entries for the "main languages" of French, German, Spanish and Italian - up 6.2 per cent - while the combined pass rate was "impressively high" at 83.6 per cent.

He said the government was committed to creating conditions in which every child would learn two additional languages, and that it aimed to introduce language learning from P1 rather than P6.

Some 185 out of 377 secondary schools (49 per cent) responded to the SCILT survey; 628 out of 2,186 primaries (29 per cent) did so.

Photo credit: Roy PetersReport Digital

Original headline: Foreign language take-up problems blamed on CfE


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