Editor's comment

12th March 2010 at 00:00

Just as turkeys cannot be expected to vote for Christmas, modern languages teachers will not make a case for the eclipse of their subject - whether it be in school or teacher education institution. But, as our survey this week shows (p4), they face the worst of all possible worlds where a postcode lottery determines which primary schools will get the teachers best-equipped to teach modern languages. The position is totally untenable: confusion about the place of modern languages in primaries has a knock-on effect of uncertainty in secondaries and in TEIs.

There are two issues. The first centres on the well-worn debate about the self-evident advantages of learning other languages (p5) versus the doubtful merits of doing so in a world (increasingly an online world) dominated by English. Both propositions are true, which means all schools and TEIs need to be given a sense of direction. The question is whether any national policy will challenge the Eurocentric approach to languages in this country; there is an argument for giving Chinese and Arabic as central a place in the curriculum as French or German - especially if supporting the national economic interest is supposed to be one of the drivers behind acquiring a foreign language.

At the same time - and this is the second issue - the need for more direction in modern languages policy coincides with the "fluidity" of the new curriculum, which is both an attraction and a flaw. A postcode lottery is one thing, but how tenable is it to have no clarity about modern languages in primary - or, indeed, in S1-3? Against this landscape comes the Donaldson review of teacher education. The best that can be said is that the universities will at least be able to provide it with a rich tapestry to help decide the way forward for the training of modern language teachers in both primary and secondary schools.

Neil Munro, Editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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