It's stupid to kiss French goodbye

19th November 2004 at 00:00
The CILT, National Centre for Languages, survey on key stage 4 options (TES, November 5) backs up a similar survey carried out in the North-east by the regional languages network.

This revealed that the number of pupils continuing with one language has dropped to 46.9 per cent this year. Those continuing with two languages has dropped to 4.1 per cent while the number of schools not offering a second language has risen to 57 per cent.

Another survey finding was that there seems to be little correlation between a school's GCSE performance and its policy on KS4 modern languages.

A number of schools with less than 40 per cent five-plus A* to C still had more than 80 per cent continuing with a language whereas some of the top North-east schools had a continuation rate of less than 20 per cent.

What does this tell us? The approach to languages at KS4 is now very much a school decision, but these decisions are made in a context of relentless pressures to improve the five-top-grade statistic. As the CILT survey highlighted, schools are sacrificing languages at the altar of "easier" courses in order to improve their statistics.

Do we as a society believe that an online GNVQ ICT course is worth four times a GCSE in French, or that an applied GCSE in art and design is of equal value to GCSEs in two languages?

It's not good enough to wait for the situation to change in 10 years when the primary languages initiative works its way through. The second language is on the verge of extinction and we need to find new ways to preserve it.

In most schools it will no longer be part of the mainstream curriculum and we need to look at developing intensive, more imaginative modular courses using computers and e-learning.

Tomlinson has opened a debate on the 14 to 19 curriculum structure but we also need to reappraise our qualifications. The importance of vocational training is not to be denied but it needs to reflect our economic needs and the global context. Can we seriously offer high-quality courses in travel and tourism without including a modern foreign language?

And according to the CBI 20 per cent of UK companies have lost export business because of language deficiencies. A 2 per cent increase in exports would add pound;1 billion a year to our national wealth. Who said languages are not important?

Paul Harrison

Headteacher, Teesdale school

Barnard Castle, County Durham

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