Letters: A response to Mike Tomlinson's comments on Diplomas

1st April 2010 at 01:00

We write to respond to Mike Tomlinson's comments regarding Phase 4 Diplomas ("Tomlinson turns on diplomas", February 26).

Schools, teachers, students, universities, businesses and even the French government are calling for the learning experience that the Diploma in Languages and International Communication offers. In the interest of all these groups and the future of this unique and important qualification, we would like to set the record straight.

There is simply no basis to suggest that there is a "huge commitment" to A-levels. At GCSE, A-level, and at university, language study has long been in decline. Teachers' hopes are now buoyed by the prospect of a Diploma which can renew interest in languages post-14, giving students motivation for their learning and an understanding of where languages can take them one day. As one practitioner put it: "Languages need to be taught in contexts that are relevant to the needs and interests of the learners - the Diploma in Languages and International Communication will be doing just that."

Far from concerned about the potential calibre of students as Tomlinson suggests, universities have recently asserted that, where A-level students are found wanting, this Diploma will fill fundamental gaps in skills and knowledge - including writing and presentation skills, cultural knowledge, linguistics, ability to study independently and critical awareness. This should be no surprise, given higher education's close involvement in the qualification's development.

Businesses who champion languages and this Diploma certainly don't see it as "academic". Surveys by British Chambers of Commerce and CBI (recently finding that over a third of companies recruit employees specifically for their language skills) have shown that businesses need knowledge of different languages and cultures, but rely on overseas candidates. Arsenal Football Club, British Airways, the European Commission and many more employers besides believe that this qualification can equip home-grown students for success in a global business environment.

The Diploma in Languages and International Communication itself has international potential. An agreement to work towards a bilateral recognition of the Diplomas was signed in March 2008 by the French and British governments. Since then, the Diploma Development Partnership has been working closely with the French Ministry of Education, who wish to adopt it as an option within the Baccalaureate programme - attracted by an applied learning experience which encompasses not only language and cultural learning, but also global society, politics and economics.

This innovative new qualification is fast becoming a reality. Almost two-thirds of languages teachers are aware of it 18 months before it will be taught; over 50 applications have been made to teach it from 2011. We ask Mike Tomlinson and others to consider the weight of evidence and give this new qualification the backing it deserves to bring language learning to life for a new generation.

Signatories include:

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