Catching them young;Briefing;Curriculum 2000;Languages;News and opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
THE launch of the new curriculum may herald the start of a quiet revolution in primary classrooms. For the first time, the new curriculum documents include guidance on how to teach modern foreign languages in primary schools.

Ministers would like more primaries to teach foreign languages and more support for those who already do.

Introducing foreign languages in primary schools was one of Tony Blair's first education proposals on becoming Labour leader, although it was not included in his election manifesto.

It is still relatively unusual for primary pupils to learn a foreign language in state schools. Although nine out of 10 independent schools teach languages to primary-age children, only a quarter do so in the state sector.

The new guidelines are non-statutory and are designed for use with nine, 10 and 11-year-olds but may be adapted for use with even younger children.

They acknowledge that much of the existing secondary programme could be taught in primaries, but also recognise that some areas are particular suitable for younger children. The guidance states: "The learning of a foreign language in primary schools provides a valuable educational, social and cultural experience for all pupils. Pupils develop communication and literacy skills that lay the foundation for future language learning."

A QCA spokesman said: "Many primary teachers know that an early introduction to languages is a great advantage in developing language skills. The guidance will help bring about greater coherence and continuity as these schools will now be able to link their teaching with national curriculum language requirements at KS3.

"QCA is developing further support materials to help these schools and to encourage primary schools who currently do not offer languages to do so.

"Language experts and classroom teachers have been invited to help with their development and these support materials will be available by next September."

The guidance stresses that language learning can be used to reinforce knowledge and skills learned in other subjects, such as English grammar or counting, use of money and telling the time.

The Association for Language Learning, which represents more than 5,000 language teachers, welcomed the inclusion of the new guidance.

Dr Brigitte Boyce, the association's director, said: "We hope that this is yet another step towards an integrated and coherent national policy for language provision for all.

"We welcome the emphasis on the cross-curricular usefulness of language learning and on the links that are made explicit between languages and literacy, numeracy and ICT - although the importance of languages for literacy could perhaps have been further stressed."

However, the association believes the guidelines need not have implicitly suggested focusing on a specific language. It argues that there is still an ongoing debate with many teachers favouring emphasis on language awarenes rather than on learning a single language.

Dr Boyce said: "This issue is not really addressed in the guidelines, and it would be difficult to do so, but we would have liked a reference to figure somewhere."

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