Editorial: Action on languages

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
The inspectorate does not mince words about the state of modern languages.The uncompromising message of its report to be published next week is that teachers have failed to adapt to the changing demands of the subject. That applies to primaries where teachers are not specialists but where the bold and widely welcomed programme of introducing pupils to a language at an age when on the Continent many would be starting English has not yet uncovered a key to success.

The most serious problems belong to the secondary sector. Many teachers have not accepted that pupils need continuity with primary, as in other areas of the curriculum. (The muddle by which some S1 children have to abandon one language for another should be laid at the door of senior managers, not classroom teachers.) Teachers have also not adapted to the requirements of a compulsory curriculum up to S4. There is lack of progression and too little attention to reading and writing. It is little wonder that study at Higher is confined to a minority of pupils, and even they often have to spend time catching up on aspects of the language neglected for Standard grade. Perhaps it is little wonder that S5 and S6 are the only years for which teachers receive general praise. Study with a more academic slant is what teachers themselves enjoyed and were good at. But as with other secondary subjects that is not a sufficient prompt to good teaching for a wide spectrum of ability.

That said, the report apparently found a positive ethos in classrooms, with good relations between teachers and taught. The potential for raising achievement is there. So are examples of excellent practice. The Government must not abandon its aim of improving the next generation's language skills. In light of HMI's findings, however, there will keen interest in how the Education Minister intends to go about that.

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