Don't blame teachers for decline of languages

11th November 2005 at 00:00
It is a misrepresentation to lay the problems of declining numbers studying languages post-14 at the door of "uninspiring" teachers.

It would be disingenuous of any head to claim that their pupils are the only force in making choices of what to study. The school's offers of choices of subject, option blocking, the time allocated for languages, types of course and resources all play a part.

It is clear that a pragmatic (rather than educational) decision was made by some schools to respond to the long-term shortage of language teachers by simply closing courses down, or restricting access to them, in the wake of the Government's move to allow languages to be dropped at the age of 14.

Recent Office for Standards in Education reports on successful "ordinary"

schools, some in difficult circumstances, who have retained a "languages for all" policy highlight the importance of the head having a positive attitude to languages.

By allowing decline, heads are also creating disincentives for their language teachers, and often driving them away to more supportive environments.

The diet of what is taught in language classrooms is not the invention of the teachers; the current generation is the most heavily directed by external policy and politics for decades.

Debates within the profession indicate teachers are torn between the relatively unchallenging themes of the external exams for brighter students and the quantity of topic coverage for the less able.

It seems particularly ironic that your story on page 21 of the same edition ("Pay call to arrest science decline") proposes a very different solution to problems in that curriculum area. In languages the answer was to remove the requirement for study; for science and maths the proposal is to pay the teachers more! How's that for a government with an international strategy?

Steven Fawkes

Association for Language Learning 150 Railway Terrace, Rugby

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