Language expectations are unrealistic

1st March 2013 at 00:00

The government appears to assume that all primary pupils will learn one language, perhaps two, right through key stage 2, drawn from a restricted list that includes Latin and ancient Greek. The assumption is that they will then make a smooth transition to secondary and continue with the same language.

This is wholly unrealistic. Although some primary schools have specialist teachers capable of teaching the language through all four years, most do not. Linear teaching of a single language is particularly problematic in mixed-age classes.

The single-language transition to secondaries may be possible in some places but most secondaries draw on 20 or more primaries, and the possibility of being able to get them all grouped so as to continue seamlessly from where they were when they left primary is virtually impossible.

A far more practical solution is to use the primary phase as a foundation in learning about language, languages and communication by giving pupils a short experience of a range of languages from different linguistic families. The present proposals are not what we need in the 21st century.

Peter Downes, Discovering Language project director, Association of Schools and College Leaders.

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