Language crisis looms

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Trainees lack specialist courses in French and German. Karen Thornton and Helen Ward report

Wales risks falling behind other UK countries in the teaching of modern foreign languages by failing to train a new generation of primary teachers who are fluent in French and German.

CILT Cymru, the organisation that is trying to boost the take-up of foreign languages in schools, says Wales is not capitalising on the advantages of its bilingual school system. It is running a three-year pilot in primary schools and is eager to see the Welsh Assembly government extend the programme's funding beyond 2006.

But it is frustrated that there are no primary teacher-training courses in Wales for foreign language specialists. England introduced such courses three years ago and 580 places will be available this September.

CILT Cymru's warnings came as a new report suggested teenagers are being turned off languages because GCSE courses are boring. Teachers complain that they will have to "sell" dreary French, German or Spanish courses about buying bus tickets and ice creams, says the report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, England's exams regulator.

The authority blames the exam boards for dull courses, but the boards say that it is the authority's fault. Bene't Steinberg, of OCR, said: "GCSEs are created to the QCA criteria and the QCA signs them all off."

Around a quarter of all GCSE entries from Welsh pupils are with English exam boards. In Wales, the MFL curriculum was last revised in 2000. The entire curriculum is currently under review, with Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, expected to outline her proposals later this summer.

Modern foreign languages are only compulsory for 11 to 14-year-olds in Wales, and GCSE entries for French, Spanish and German have gone down more than a fifth since 1994. The Welsh Assembly government's national strategy, Languages Count, reported that A-level entries fell 20 per cent between 1996 and 2000, and only 39 per cent of 15-year-olds took a foreign language GCSE in 2000.

Teachers in England fear languages will suffer the same fate there, when they become optional for 14-year-olds this September. The QCA reports that a third of schools have already made languages optional.

The three-year primary pilot, providing French and German lessons for around 3,000 key stage 2 pupils in 96 Welsh schools, is designed to help revive the fortunes of languages.

Ceri James, director of CILT Cymru, said it was proving a great success.

But he wants the Assembly to make a longer-term commitment to primary languages. In England, the aim is for all seven to 11-year-olds to have the opportunity to learn a foreign language by 2010.

Mr James said: "If the pilots are working well, and on the whole they are, what's going to happen next? Where is it going after the three years? We don't want to be left behind. We need both in-service training and initial training of teachers. We are in a special position in Wales where we could be doing better."

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly said: "Each pilot project has found appropriate teaching staff to deliver the teaching. At present we are not extending foreign languages to all primary schools - so the need for national training programmes does not arise. If in future we wish to generalise MFL teaching in primaries, we will take appropriate steps."



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