THE recent report of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry has refocused the debate about the teaching of foreign languages. One of its key recommendations is that children should have a flying start to language learning.
The concern that language learning in Britain does not begin early enough is not a new one and the issue was addressed directly during QCA's review of the national curriculum completed last year. During the consultation on the pro-posals for change, 61 per cent of respondents agreed that the teaching of modern languages at key stage 2 was a priority for future work. This priority is recognised by the inclusion of non-statutory guidelines for teaching foreign languages at KS2 in the national curriculum handbooks.
The main aim of the QCA guidelines is to support primary schools that already teach languages and those considering introducing them. They mirror the format of the national curriculum Order for KS3 and 4, drawing on particularly relevant aspects of the statutory requirements and adapting them for primary pupils.
Learning a foreign language can make an important contribution to the primary curriculum. As well as laying the foundations for future language learning, it provides opportunities to extend pupils' knowledge of how language works and introduces a multicultural and international dimension to learning. The QCA guidance points to: aims and objectives; choice of language; what age to begin teaching; availability of suitably trained teachers; teaching time; and continuity and progression from class to class and from primary to secondary school.
QCA will provide further support in the autumn with the pblication of an optional scheme of work, initially for French, with outline programmes of work for German and Spanish. These support materials will expand and exemplify the non-statutory guidelines.
QCA has also embarked on a project to examine the feasibility of establishing some form of statutory entitlement at KS2. The considerations for individual schools set out in the guidelines give an idea of the issues to be confronted on a national scale.
It is currently estimated that around 25 per cent of primary schools teach a foreign language, but their approaches vary widely. French is by far the most popular language, but the subject knowledge of teachers and time allocated varies enormously, as does the support available in different areas. QCA will survey in detail the extent of current provision, examine current research, particularly recent work done in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and consider how to build on Government initiatives already under way.
The QCA project will explore the implications of introducing statutory provision in England, including:
* the effect on curriculum coherence and manageability at KS2;
* the effect on the curriculum framework at KS3 and 4;
* the type and scope of teacher training needed;
* the emphasis and content of initial teacher training courses;
* the range of resources and inset materials needed.
By March 2001, QCA will report to the secretary of state with recommendations on possible ways forward.
Pat McLagan is principal subject officer, modern foreign languages, for the QCA, 29 Bolton Street, London W1Y 7PD. Tel: 020 7509 5555www.qca.org.uk