Give training a lingua franca, say experts

12th December 2014 at 00:00
TESS survey finds wide variation in provision for 1+2 policy

Scotland's ambitious new primary school languages policy must be backed up by better training and resources if it is to stand a chance of success, according to teacher organisations and other experts.

They spoke out as TESS research revealed considerable variations in the amount and type of training that teachers received, depending on their local authority.

Our survey shows that, on average, only about one in five primary teachers has received training to deliver foreign languages in primary since the 1+2 policy was announced in 2012. But in some council areas, more than half of teachers have undertaken CPD to help them implement the policy, which will require every child to learn one foreign language from P1 and a second from no later than P5.

The survey, which received 23 responses from 32 councils, also highlights huge disparities in the types of training offered. Some councils rely on a "cascading" model - where a small number of teachers receive training and then coach their colleagues - whereas others put their staff through in-depth courses in languages and teaching methodology.

North Ayrshire Council, for example, told TESS that two members of staff had attended a Train the Trainer course and would now teach other members of staff. In East Lothian, all primary staff in one cluster of schools had completed half a day of training in teaching methods, and all others will complete the same training in August next year. Some staff had also independently joined language courses, the council said.

In Glasgow, on the other hand, more than 70 staff had received between 60 and 80 hours of language and methodology training. A further 40 teachers had participated in a masterclass for the delivery of French, Spanish, Polish or Arabic as the second foreign language.

The Scottish Association for Language Teaching (SALT) has called for minimum criteria for participation in the training. Its chair Gillian Campbell-Thow said members' concerns included "the lack of a joined-up approach, the disparity in training models and the depth of language covered".

She said: "There has to be a minimum criteria for participants and they need to show linguistic knowledge and understand linguistic methodology."

Dr Dan Tierney, a former SALT chair who is now responsible for training language teachers in French, German, Italian and Spanish at the University of Strathclyde, said he was worried that the preparation offered in some local authorities did not compare with what was provided in other European countries. He called for a coherent programme that included guidance on which languages should be learned.

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the organisation supported the principle of 1+2 but expressed concerns about how it would be delivered to young people. She said it was "clearly going to take some time for the programme to get up and running, and to achieve consistent quality across the country".

The TESS survey has also revealed funding issues. Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, argued that the resource implications for the project were "huge".

He said: "They are not being met, so the project has to be reviewed in terms of that." He added that there would be significant progress only if the scheme was either scaled down to meet the resources available or was properly resourced.

Our survey indicates that most councils are choosing to introduce French, German and Spanish, but Mandarin, Gaelic and Italian are also being taught. Some Glasgow primary schools are offering Arabic, Polish and Greek.

Although some schools are solely focusing on rolling out the first foreign language, others are already working on opportunities for children to learn a second.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said that in addition to funding Train the Trainer courses with Education Scotland and Scotland's National Centre for Languages, it had invested pound;4 million last year and a further pound;5 million in 2014-15 to enable local authorities to deliver more opportunities for language learning. Education Scotland also supported a pilot programme to allow schools to share their experiences and learn from each other, she added.

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