Let's be frank about language

24th January 2003 at 00:00
The British must cast aside their historical and cultural hang-ups now that they are "fully-integrated" Europeans. This philosophy underpins the Department for Education and Skills' paper on modern foreign languages, writes Arthur De Caux.

But by making languages optional at key stage 4 the Government can be accused of issuing mixed messages. The paper's main aspiration is laudable.

Start languages young when children are excellent mimics and without adolescent inhibitions.

The proposal for graded tests similar to those for musical-instrument playing will be generally welcomed. But there will be disappointment that the proposed "recognition scheme" will stand alongside existing qualifications. It is hard to see how a Year 11 teacher will cope with moving some pupils from level 7 "recognition" to level 8, others from level 8 to 9, and more from 9 to 10 while preparing them all for the same GCSE.

The introduction of a foreign language to the primary curriculum will also be problematical. Where will the teachers come from?Will there be more joint teaching of primary and secondary pupils?

The primary initiative will have little point if we continue post-16 with our "voluntarist" policy. Which other European country would drop languages wholesale?

Arthur De Caux is the senior assistant secretary (education) of the National Association of Head Teachers. Languages for life: languages for all is available from DfES Publications, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley, Nottingham NG15 0D

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