Languages edged out by results pressure

12th May 2000 at 01:00
PRESSURE to improve results in maths and literacy has led to a fall in the number of junior schools offering French in the London borough of Richmond.

"Around 60 per cent of juniors are still doing French, but the pressure on even the most effective schools has meant a fall-off in the numbers," says Norma Empringham, the borough's acting chief inspector.

"We support schools and have a modern languages adviser who spends part of her time promoting languages in primaries, but we no longer have central funding available for it."

Richard Smith, deputy headteacher at Trafalgar junior school, was one of the first teachers to take advantage of an offer from the local authority in 1994 of a course to brush up his French combined with training in teaching languages to young children.

Since then, his school has increased the numbers doing French. The top three classes now have French for 40 minutes a week, taught by their own teacher.

"What schools will find is that teachers lack confidence and will fear their own knowledge is rusty. Richmond tackled that by providing training and by helping teachers improve their own French," says Mr Smith.

The school opted for French because that was the language most of the staff had been taught themselves and because France is cose enough for visits and twinning.

"It tends to disappear when classes are doing national tests and you have to find ways of fitting it in. I take the afternoon register in French and you can do simple maths in French," says Mr Smith.

By the time the day trip to Boulogne comes round in their last year, most can buy an ice-cream, a postcard and a stamp.

It is a similar story elsewhere. Chris Davis, who is spokesman for the National Primary Heads Association, said at his own school, Queniborough primary, Leicestershire, where French is taught from the age of four, national curriculum tests make extra subjects difficult to introduce.

He said: "The Government is going to have to come up with some cash to make this work. We introduce French at four, in reception class, and they do about 15 to 20 minutes a week.

"But this will probably stop at the end of this academic year because of the cost of school expansion and the fact we need to increase our special needs support."

He also cites the tests as a major barrier to expanding the curriculum, including languages.

Jo Johnson, chair of the National Association for Primary Education, said timetable pressures rather than cost prevents the introduction of languages at his school, Sandhills in Oxford.

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