Can the 1+2 strategy add up without more funding?

5th July 2013 at 01:00
The Scottish government has set its languages target for 2020, but with a shortage of money and resources the initiative may struggle to succeed

The scale of the ambition has to be applauded. The size of what the Scottish government hopes to achieve by 2020 with its 1+2 language strategy is vast. All children are to learn a second language from Primary 1 and to start a third language no later than in Primary 5.

Young Scots will keep up with their European counterparts and compete in a globalised economy, in which huge numbers speak English and often a number of other languages.

But the problems that need to be overcome around funding, implementation and continuity of provision gained even sharper focus on 21 June with the publication of a report by the Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee.

Among the various barriers to achieving the 1+2 language target that the report identifies, funding is one of the most contentious. In addition to the pound;4 million allocated to the languages fund in the 2013-14 budget, the government also committed a further pound;4 million for this specific policy.

But how this money is to be used is unclear. Minister for languages Alasdair Allan told the committee that he believed local authorities were best placed to decide how to spend the funds.

Some stakeholders, including Scilt, Scotland's national centre for languages at the University of Strathclyde, would like to have seen this and any future funding ringfenced, but the committee stopped short of recommending this.

The report suggests a number of ways in which the money available could be made to go further, including the use of new technology and the sharing of resources. It also says that foreign language assistants are "excellent value for money" and "highly effective".

But many people believe that working to make the funding stretch further is not a substitute for an increase in cash. Parents, teachers, unions and others still raised strong concerns in front of the committee earlier this year that the funding is not enough to implement the language strategy.

"The main barrier is funding," said Iain Ellis, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland. "At the moment, you are relying on the goodwill of staff. The scheme is a tremendous thing, but this is just not enough money. It is a drop in the ocean."

What is clear is that the capacity to teach the extra lessons - in recruiting extra language teachers or training those already available through continuing professional development - will require significant funding.

While opinions vary on the level of language knowledge and training needed to deliver languages in primary, the report finds that in some local authorities only 20 hours' training for language teachers were offered per academic year, which was "highly inadequate".

The desired level of proficiency was a current Higher or equivalent, said Sarah Breslin, director of Scilt, but that might have to be adjusted in the coming years until teachers with the required skills began to filter through the system.

But these issues are about mechanics, when in fact the success or failure of 1+2 rides on a much wider cultural problem in Scotland: the country's history of failing when it comes to language learning in school.

"How do you get teachers through the system who have language skills when, as a country, we have not been good at getting people to take languages?" asked Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS).

Training teachers to deliver languages to young children was not just about ensuring their language proficiency, said Antonella Sorace, professor of developmental linguistics at the University of Edinburgh.

"Children learn through listening to the language in a way that makes them motivated to use it and through engaging with that language in fun situations," she told TESS. It was therefore essential that teachers received specific training in teaching young children, and in how the way children learn changes with age, she added.

One possible move that could have an impact on both these problems is to make training in languages a compulsory part of teacher training for primary.

Indeed, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is consulting on the issue. The flip side of this apparently progressive idea, however, is that it could dissuade potentially great primary teachers who have little affinity with foreign languages or interest in learning to master them.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Some probationers who are already coming through the system with the ability to teach languages are feeling the benefit. Angela Donaghy, who has just completed her probationer year in Dumfries and Galloway, told TESS that she felt that her language skills had set her apart from other candidates when she landed a permanent role for next year.

She set up a Spanish after-school club in her probationer year and is hoping to extend it next year. She is also planning to include modern languages in her daily classes when she starts teaching P1 and P2 next term.

Even if the necessary funding and training is secured somehow, some of the issues raised in the report will remain. No guidance has been given by government on what languages should be taught in primaries in Scotland, and the committee concludes that teaching "a broad variety of languages is important to allow for the changing needs of students, and to reflect any future changes in Scotland's cultural or economic needs".

However, parent groups are concerned about a lack of continuity between primaries and secondaries in the absence of a regional or even national language strategy, and the difficulties that could arise for children moving between schools, or even local authorities.

"There is not much point running a language in primary if they cannot continue in secondary," Mr Ellis said.

"Without a properly planned programme across the country, you could have some children starting Chinese in P1 but their teacher leaves and the new teacher has Spanish; a child moves home and finds herself in a school doing German," added Dr Dan Tierney, from the University of Strathclyde.

The committee recognised this, too, calling for local authorities to "ensure that students are able to continue studying at least one language continuously through primary school and secondary school".

So with all these obstacles in place, would the most sensible option be to scale back the level of ambition found in 1+2?

Some think so. There are those who suggest rolling out the scheme on a smaller scale or in a more limited way to start with. Dr Tierney said: "It would make more sense for us to address the issues in P6 to S3 first. We know from research that the continuity issue and lack of trained teachers has been a problem. Therefore, it makes little sense to attempt a higher mountain unless the government is going to resource and plan it properly with full consultation."

Mr Dempster acknowledged that with the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and the loss of support staff and management time in recent years, putting the language initiative into practice was another tough task for teachers.

But he also said that schools across the country were using outside organisations, as well as parents who were native speakers, to support them in providing modern languages for their students.

Professor Sorace added that organisations such as her own, Bilingualism Matters, could help to develop and spread resources. Scilt also already supports schools and local authorities with continuing professional development opportunities and expert advice.

Putting 1+2 into practice in Scotland can only ever be a long-term aim, the experts agree. A pilot of the initiative in 10 schools across Scotland is about to end and the government has set up a strategic implementation group, including representatives from the education directors body ADES, Scilt, the National Parent Forum for Scotland, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, the GTCS and the local authorities body Cosla. It met for the first time in May and will oversee the further implementation of the policy and inform budget decisions for the coming year and beyond.

"This is an opportunity that can't be missed - it would really get Scotland on the map," Professor Sorace said. Implementing the initiative was definitely "the right way", even if it meant "starting from somewhere and starting small".



St Elizabeth's Primary in Hamilton was one of the pilot schools for the 1+2 initiative. With a long history of teaching Spanish in the school already, staff this year worked with Le Francais en Ecosse to help move towards a more immersion-based approach.

According to headteacher Elizabeth Bradshaw, the project was embraced by all staff, including those with little or no existing knowledge of Spanish.

From Primary 1 onwards, children learned everyday vocabulary such as numbers, days of the week or the names of foods and used them in class. Prayers were also sometimes held in Spanish, as were school assemblies and registry.

This was combined with information on the country's culture - something students particularly enjoyed, Ms Bradshaw said.

She said although staff were enthusiastic about the opportunity, some were less confident than others about speaking Spanish. "We know it is about teacher confidence first and foremost," she explained, and the success of the project had in part been down to the help and support the school had received from outside organisations. In June, the school held a Spanish Day, when students took part in a range of activities. This included a quiz, partly devised by some students, as well as a visit from an art specialist to teach the children about Spanish artists.

Students also took part in a food workshop, Spanish dancing and a Spanish performance in front of their peers.

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