It is encouraging to see that the Nuffield report endorses some of the initiatives already under way - such as the Department for Education and Employment primary languages initiative, changes to the post-16 curriculum and the shift of emphasis at key stage 3 towards structure and grammar. And next year is the European Year of Languages, which offers opportunities for collaboration between various bodies at local level.
Nevertheless, the situation is serious and the report contains radical suggestions. But you have to be radical if modern languages are to gain the status they deserve.
Two measures could be taken quite quickly and at relatively little cost: raising the profile of modern languages by recognising it as a key skill and tightening up the regulations regarding disapplication at key stage 4.
In the longer term, nothing will be achieved without resources. We are involved in the primary good practice project and we are very aware of the importance of good quality, ongoing training for primary teachers. In our project, secondary teachers give their primary colleagues a lot of support and we bear the cost. A specific standards fund grant would give primary languages more recognition and ensure they are adequately resourced.
Continuity and progresion is the other major issue in this context. Where a predetermined cluster of schools feeds the same secondary, it is possible to develop a coherent policy. But this is not always the case and there is a danger that French could dominate.
The report talks of bringing ICT to the heart of planning. It is a powerful tool, yet language teachers have difficulty accessing appropriate equipment. This needs to be addressed. However, New Opportunities Funding does enable teachers to develop their skills in a language-specific context. So it is a logistics issue and not an insurmountable problem.
Next year several schools will pilot distance learning in Japanese. This illustrates how new technologies can contribute to widening the range of languages offered by schools in a cost-effective way.
Overall, I find the report exciting. It offers opportunities and emphasises the need to provide a positive context where modern linguists can thrive. I am also heartened by the recommendation that LEAs play an active role in providing support and ensuring cohesion. It is vital that someone has an overview,manages the process and takes it forward.
David Stork is adviser for modern foreign languages in the East Riding of Yorkshire. He was talking to Alison Thomas