Jeremy Sutcliffe and Dorothy Lepkowska on pioneer schools in the Government's scheme to boost modern languages. Five schools are on the brink of becoming the country's first publicly-funded specialist language colleges.
The first batch of successful applications are due to be announced by the Education Secretary Gillian Shephard next month and are likely to include Dartford Girls' Grammar School, Kent, and the Anglo-European School, Essex. Three un-named schools, two of them voluntary-aided church schools, are also in the vanguard.
The decision to fund up to 50 language colleges over the next three years was announced by Mrs Shephard in December. Up to 10 more bids are expected to be approved by the end of this year.
According to Stephen Hagan, director of language projects at the Open University and an adviser to the City Technology Colleges Trust, which is co-ordinating the scheme, one of the prime objectives is to harness language skills to boost UK trade.
One in three UK export companies which took part in a Department of Trade and Industry survey in 1993 reported that language barriers had affected their trade. More than 60 per cent of UK exports now go to non-English-speaking countries, a trend which is still rising, says Mr Hagan.
The DTI is currently trying to raise awareness of the need for language skills among British companies through its National Language for Export campaign, which Mr Hagan is also helping to run.
The language college initiative is part of the Government's long-term plan to increase the supply of school-leavers with language skills, particularly in what are seen as the main languages of future international trade such as Japanese, German and Mandarin Chinese. Diversification into other non-traditional languages, ranging from Russian to Asian and Middle Eastern languages such as Urdu and Arabic, is seen as essential.
Under the language college scheme pupils will be expected to study at least three foreign languages. While it is clear that some schools bidding to take part have a strong academic background, the DFE is encouraging applications from schools which can incorporate the teaching of languages with business studies and other vocational courses.
Schools are expected to develop an "international ethos", offering pupils maximum contact with native speakers, and to draw from the languages and cultures represented in the community.
The eventual aim is to establish a "centre of excellence" in languages in every region of England (the scheme does not apply to Wales). According to Mr Hagan, different schools are more likely to gain approval if they offer languages which support the needs of local companies, exploiting existing overseas trade links.
Other schools planning to submit proposals include: * Katharine Lady Berkeley's School in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, which hopes to introduce Spanish, Arabic and Japanese to its existing languages - French, German and Russian - offered at GCSE and A-level. Classics, in particular the teaching of Latin, is due to be introduced to the timetable from September.
* At Stourport-on-Severn School, in Hereford and Worcester, extending the language curriculum will be linked closely with an emphasis on business studies. French and German are taught - sixth-formers do work experience in France and Germany - and the school is considering the introduction of Spanish and Italian under the scheme.
* Gosforth School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is considering submitting a bid in June, already offers French, German, Spanish and some Italian and Urdu. It hopes to make the last two languages available to all pupils and to introduce Japanese within two years.
* Hendon GM School, in North London, is considering adding Spanish and Japanese to the French and German already being taught. Head Robert Lloyd said the plans for a submission were still in their early stages.