Languishing languages

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
THE seeds of the Government's misguided policy on modern languages are already bearing bitter fruit. Towards the end of last term I witnessed challenging behaviour from Year 9 pupils who have opted out of studying a language at key stage 4 next year. These pupils are demotivated by a curriculum which has no intrinsic interest for them.

Henceforth, teachers will struggle to contain such pupils for an entire term of wasted effort. At the end of this term, pupils will, in effect, drop out of a five-year course with nothing to show for three years' learning. This waste of human resources replicates the mid-Seventies. We had an effective solution then - graded tests, which were binned when GCSEs were introduced. Baroness Ashton now talks of a "language learning ladder" - is it me, or have the past 28 years been in vain?

Compare these lessons with those in which pupils are truly challenged to think and go beyond the mechanical exercises which the national curriculum and GCSEs have spawned. Here pupils are motivated because teachers have focused rightly on transferable skills and structure. Making languages optional at KS4 is the wrong solution to the right problem, and a knee-jerk reaction to the shortage of specialist staff. By the time the national strategy feeds through, there will be no one left to teach the subject anyway. Unless GCSE changes radically, we are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

John Connor

Independent consultant

Modern foreign languages

43 Tythe Barn Close

Stoke Heath, Bromsgrove Worcestershire

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