Learn from teachers' experience

18th December 1998 at 00:00
I suppose I should have been shocked, surprised or, at the very least, taken aback by the composition of the Scottish Office Action Group on Modern Languages. But no, I am quite simply angry.

Given that the huge bulk of language teaching takes place in secondary schools, it is only reasonable to expect that the huge bulk of the action group should be members from that sector. Yet what do we have? One representative out of 11 and that a principal teacher from a private school!

As usual, teachers are being lumbered with a committee of heid yins appointed from above, most of whom are as remote from day-to-day classroom teaching as the other side of the moon.

Classroom teachers are those who actually do the job and it is they who would immediately come up with sensible, workable proposals based on many years of practical professional experience. They would tell the minister, the local authorities and headteachers that, for instance, the current programme of modern languages in primary schools is an almost total failure.

Other countries teaching foreign languages to 11-12 year olds use properly trained, proficient teachers using structured, progressive courses. Imagine the outcry from music teachers if I were taught in 27 days to tinkle out three or four times on a piano and then declared qualified to teach music.

Those in positions of power would also be told that mixed ability teaching is a demonstrable nonsense. I neither know nor know of anyone who can make it work over a period of time. Countries in mainland Europe generally have a success rate in teaching foreign languages which can only be dreamt of here.

I have had the privilege of working in German schools for three separate years in the last 20 and, if the Scottish Office wants to save time and money on long inquiries, I could take the action group to any number of schools and show them how foreign languages are successfully taught and learned in that country. The models are there to copy, straight off the shelf.

Finally, a word to the minister. If, Mrs Liddell, you really do want improved standards in schools in Scotland, make sure that in future any "action-groups" or "advisory committees" have a majority of classroom teachers on them and a majority of these unpromoted. Then you will get some proposals that will improve the mass mediocrity which masquerades as an educational system here.

Bill Cooper Principal Teacher of German, Balwearie High School, Kirkcaldy

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