Humanities set to suffer

20th December 2002 at 00:00
Heads' fears over government language reforms loom large in TES survey. Helen Ward and Robert Boyland report

GEOGRAPHY, history and RE will be the casualties of the Government's policy to introduce language teaching in primary schools, a TES survey reveals.

The poll of 100 heads follows a Government announcement that it wants all children aged seven to 11 to have the chance to learn a modern language in class time by 2010 and every primary school to have a language co-ordinator.

The National Languages Strategy aims to boost Britain's poor record on languages by involving young children.

Children's progress will be assessed against a new scale, similar to music grades.

But Education Secretary Charles Clarke confirmed that languages would be made optional at age 14.

He said: "Compelling 14 to 16-year-olds to learn a language will not keep language learning alive. We need to involve children at a much younger age."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"By making modern languages voluntary from the age of 14, the Government is sending a message to young people that languages are less important. Many pupils who give up languages at that age will later regret it."

The Government wants to expand the number of foreign language assistants, language undergraduates and volunteers from the community going into primaries to teach under supervision.

At the moment undergraduates helping in schools get pound;40 a day. Mr Clarke said that future levels of pay had not been agreed, but expected it to reflect their status as assistants rather than teachers.

These assistants will be expected to take a short teaching course, similar to teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) courses.

There will also be funds for training primary teachers and an expansion of primary language places in initial teacher training.

The TES poll found that teachers supported the Government's idea of bringing in trained language assistants. Nine out of 10 headteachers said class teachers should not be expected to take languages, and 71 per cent said they were too busy to train.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Good linguists, whether or not they have qualified teacher status, will be able to help plug the enormous gaps in language teaching. The Government's strategy deserves strong support. This is the last chance of ending our language isolation in Europe."

The Government has sidestepped the issue of how to fit languages into a crowded timetable, identified by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority as the biggest stumbling block.

The strategy document admits it will be "a challenge in terms of curriculum planning" and said it will be up to headteachers to judge how to offer pupils languages. It has not made languages compulsory.

The TES survey found that one in two heads would cut time from existing subjects - with geography targeted by 31 per cent of schools, history by 28 per cent and religious education by 26 per cent.

David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said: "I am very worried about this (response), the humanities are in a very marginal position already."

Steven Fawkes, president of the Association of Language Learning, said: "I think the curriculum belongs to primaries and they have to see how different areas are contributing to children's education and then make their judgment."

Leader, 12

MAIN POINTS OF STRATEGY

* Languages optional at 14.

* Every primary to have a languages co-ordinator by 2010.

* Languages should be introduced to seven-year-olds in class time by 2010.

* A new grading system for language learners to sit alongside existing qualifications.

* A new qualification of teaching a foreign language to help language speakers to work in classrooms.

* Employers to be encouraged to support language learning.

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