Lack of modern languages in primary schools will hit economy

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Consortium of local authorities calls for compulsory tuition of trainee primary teachers

Modern languages training must be mandatory in initial teacher education for primary schools - because it is inadequate, exorbitant and disappearing fast in local authorities.

The move, proposed by a grouping of 13 local authorities, is believed crucial to ensuring that Scotland does not flounder on the margins of the global economy.

The East of Scotland European Consortium makes the stark prediction that failure to reform languages policies could leave Scotland "on the periphery of the European megalopolis in 10-15 years", and struggling to make inroads in the "booming markets" of Brazil, Russia, China and India.

The consortium, in response to a European Commission consultation on "learner mobility", warns that the prominence of modern languages in Curriculum for Excellence is at odds with the reality in primary schools.

"The lack of any compulsory modern-language teacher training or entry requirement means the vast majority of new teacher trainees have a Standard grade level of modern language skills that ill prepares them for offering a new approach to modern-language teaching in the primary, on graduation from ITE," said Jonathan Robertson, a policy adviser at the consortium's Aberdeen headquarters.

Most teachers have skills "not much greater than the children they are supposed to be teaching", and they lack confidence to work with foreign schools through popular initiatives such as eTwinning (see p15).

It was "astounding", Mr Robertson said, that despite an expectation since 2000 that all schools would offer modern languages from P6, there was no requirement for universities to provide students with training: "We are in essence perpetuating a cycle of linguistic stultification in an age group where there is greatest scope for improvement."

The absence of compulsory training in universities obliged authorities to provide costly inservice training, which had "huge limitations".

Councils were cutting back on such training - a responsibility they have had since the end of a national programme in 2001 - as budgets tightened. This year, for the first time, some are not organising any for primary teachers.

"Feedback from local authority modern language co-ordinators is that they are at breaking point in efforts to offer modern languages in the primary school to the same extent as seen prior to Curriculum for Excellence, never mind making improvements," Mr Robertson said.

He explained that, between 2005 and 2008, there was an average of 1,775 primary-teaching graduates, but at most 750 working primary teachers were being trained annually, at a cost of pound;4 million.

The "practical and fiscal benefit" of compulsory university training was "beyond question", and it had been recommended in a 2005 HMIE report and a Scottish Executive report of 2000.

The consortium suggests initial teacher education courses are being "inappropriately approved" by Education Secretary Michael Russell.

Guidelines issued by the General Teaching Council for Scotland state that graduates must be able to "deliver the full curriculum", while CfE defines modern languages as a key part of primary education. The consortium, therefore, reasons that failure to make modern-languages training compulsory by August will represent a breach of guidelines.

That was a "red herring" said a Scottish Government spokesman, who stressed that GTCS accreditation had already been granted for courses starting in August.

Mr Russell gave no indication at the Scottish Parliament's education committee last week that he would demand such compulsory components in initial teacher education.

Labour schools spokesman Ken Macintosh asked whether ministers were considering such a move, but Mr Russell would only refer him to the review of teacher education being conducted by former HMIE chief Graham Donaldson.

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