Concern is growing among inspectors and advisers that the commitment to diversification into languages other than French is slipping in many areas in the face of a host of competing pressures.
A poll of the 10 English local authorities which participated in the government-backed project to encourage the teaching of German, Spanish and other languages in place of French shows a slight reversal overall so far, but there are no figures available for the country as a whole.
One of the worst affected of the areas which received Department for Education funding from 1988-91 is Staffordshire, where the percentage of its schools teaching a language other than French as a first foreign language has fallen from 60 per cent in 1992 to 50 per cent, with other schools looking seriously at following suit.
In Lancashire three or four out of the 19 diversified schools have reverted. In Hampshire between three and five schools have gone back, in Birmingham three or four out of an estimated 25. In Essex two have decided to revert to French and one is considering it, because that is the subject taught in feeder primaries, though others have switched the other way. In Havering one or two schools are thought to have changed back. In Buckinghamshire one school is reverting this September. Elsewhere the numbers are holding.
Inspectors and advisers from the 10 authorities pointed to the following key trends which may put pressure on diversification in the long term: o lack of qualified teachers. o parental pressure on secondary schools to teach French in areas where primaries teach it. o devolved budgets and league tables tempting schools to capitalise on French learned at primary school. o lack of adequate materials. o less co-ordination and support available from LEAs because of devolved budgets. o the cost of trying to run two first foreign languages. o school-based inititial teacher training making it harder to maintain expertise in a second language.
Peter Hall, inspector for modern languages in Staffordshire, said: "From a position, at the development's zenith, where one in four pupils were doing a language other than French at school as a national curriculum foundation subject, we are already seeing less than one in five in that position with a prospect that it will reduce further."
Havering, by contrast, is upbeat about future prospects, not least because it has invested in a Europa Centre which employs a team of native French and German speakers and has access to native speakers of other languages, to simulate visits to a foreign country for schools from all over Britain. Modern Languages adviser Charles Whitham says: "The centre has helped to attract staff to the authority. They starts as assistants with us, then train and go on to teach. We have built on our success."
In response to fears raised by bodies representing teachers of the various lesser taught languages, the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research is holding a national conference on diversification in February 1996. It hopes to provide fresh impetus for the drive towards diversification and promote awareness of the support offered by the various embassies and institutes.
Further information on the prospects for diversification may be obtained when CILT collates a survey it is sending to teacher training institutions in September.
* CILT Diversification National Conference, February 2-4 1996, Chester. Details from Teresa Tinsley, tel: 0171 379 5101