Languages in crisis, ministers warned

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Senior educationists are backing pupils who say Standard grade language courses are "crap". Ministers are being pressed for a complete overhaul and warned that compulsory languages up to fourth year are "disastrous" for pupil motivation.

The crisis extends to the much lauded experiment with French and German in the later primary years and several directors of education are demanding a more radical approach, a TES Scotland investigation has revealed.

Britain has taken over the EU presidency and is stressing its European credentials but language learning is likely to be a continuing embarrassment. Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, has repeatedly pledged to improve pupils' poor grasp of languages.

A Stirling University study of pupils in six secondaries, published by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, confirms the difficulties in persuading pupils to opt for languages and records their dissatisfaction.

Diana Kent, who interviewed 56 pupils in two authorities, says: "The expression 'Standard grade is crap' was echoed in various discussions. The content of many courses was considered intellectually humiliating and lacking in stimulation. Topics chosen to satisfy the output syllabus were considered to be of little vocational value and quite often infantile."

Mrs Kent's report echoes previous findings from Glasgow and East Renfrewshire. Other councils share similar concerns. Ian Boffey, Glasgow's modern languages' adviser, said: "The Standard grade arrangements have been disastrous for everybody and it pushes back into secondary 1 and secondary 2 and even into primary."

Mr Boffey believes the focus on vocabulary at the expense of grammar and writing has prevented many young people improving their language skills. "With the more able, there is still a fairly strong view that everybody speaks English anyway. There is demotivation for the relatively able and we have not overcome this in the past 10 to 12 years," Mr Boffey said.

Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, described compulsory languages as a "disastrous policy that has completely failed".

Mr Bloomer said: "It could be argued that making the subject compulsory has made it unpopular. This has not helped the subject and alienated young people from school, which has a depressing effect across the board."

Politicians and language supporters had to face up to the reality that pupils knew English was the international language. "This puts them in a different position from everyone else in the world," Mr Bloomer said.

He believes there should be more radical experiments in early primary and in immersion strategies at the end of secondary. "What is not the best way forward is what we are doing at the moment."

Primary languages, page 4, Comment, page 19

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