Foreign forays set to boost languages

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Teachers could be asked to travel to help broaden their pupils' minds

Primary teachers could be sent on trips to Europe to practise their language skills, it has emerged.

And trainee teachers may have to refresh their GCSE French and German under plans to boost language teaching in Welsh primaries.

The proposals are part of Making Languages Count, an Assembly government consultation document published last week.

Officials want to boost take-up of modern foreign languages (MFL) at key stage 4, where they have been in decline for 10 years. They are seeking feedback on the proposals, which they believe will help to raise results at GCSE and A-level.

Only 28 per cent of 15-year-olds in Wales take a language at GCSE, but the government remains adamant that it will not make them compulsory at KS2 - a decision that has been widely criticised by promoters of languages.

Ceri James, director of CiLT Cymru, the national centre for languages, said: "Let's be honest, the situation for MFL is not the best in Wales. In England, there will be an entitlement to learn languages by 2011, but here it is totally voluntary, and you will not get blanket coverage this way. For something to have momentum, there has to be leadership from the government."

But despite not insisting on compulsory take-up at KS2, the government's recommendations have a lot going for them, he said.

Under the proposals, trainee primary teachers would be able to "develop or refresh" their language skills, while established teachers would get the chance to travel abroad. There would also be more opportunities for schools to fund foreign trips for pupils.

The document also looks at CiLT Cymru's KS2 pilot scheme, which will end this summer. The final report on the trials is due in October, but primaries are concerned that they will be unable to continue teaching languages to the same standard once funding is transferred to local authorities.

But one of the government's proposals offers hope that the scheme could continue. "The idea . is to set up `innovator' schools, where there would be a grant available to keep at least some pilot schools going by establishing them as centres of excellence," Mr James said.

The government also proposes to extend CiLT Cymru's Compact scheme, which funds and supports secondaries in teaching languages.

About 90 schools have already benefited from the scheme and more than half have increased the number of pupils studying languages at KS4.

Mr James said it was important to move away from the idea that learning English and Welsh is enough.

"Lots of young people are not equipped to deal with the European jobs market in Wales," he said. "I don't think we have woken up to the fact that we are competing with these countries. Leisure and tourism, for example, shouldn't be taught without a foreign language."

A specialist 14-19 adviser was recently appointed by CiLT Cymru to develop languages in vocational qualifications.

"There are very few language advisers in local authorities," Mr James said. "Lack of support is a serious issue and we are trying to fill the gap."

The government will also examine how to give students accreditation for studying languages as part of the Welsh baccalaureate.

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