Letters Extra: Plummeting into oblivion

6th December 2002 at 00:00

A curious headline in the TES recently (22.11.02), I thought. Languages teaching is not 'on the brink'. It is well past that stage, and your report simply reflects the way that it is plummeting into oblivion.

Peter Smith, the outgoing General Secretary of ATL, has been fond of telling members for many years that there are not enough graduates in modern languages leaving universities to fill the real vacancies in schools - even supposing they all wanted to teach. This has been the case for several years.

It was not until I found page 6 that I saw a suggested reason for this demise: pupil attitudes, government initiatives, shortage of teachers. In that order? Only if you look at the reasons that pertain now. At the start of the crisis it was teacher supply that was the issue. Had that been addressed sensibly earlier pupils would not have to be subjected to a diet of second best supply teaching, or foreign substitute teachers. Not that these are per se poor teachers, but children perceive them to be because they often have very different cultural values which contrast with those in our schools.

On top of this problem the government heaps initiative upon initiative, driving away good teachers who are overburdened with the attempt to maintain high standards against all odds in a poor environment.

Well, clearly the subject is not thriving in secondary schools. The government response is to bring modern languages into primary schools - to add it to the list of subjects which (of course) all teachers have to be proficient in. Will the real lack of expertise in the primary schools engage pupils? If there is already a teacher shortage in the subject where will expertise be found at this level? Which subjects in the already overcrowded primary curriculum will be sidelined to make way for modern languages?

With limited funding available to education surely it's more advisable to mend what's broken rather than to chuck it away in favour of some untried and untested replacement.

Andy Garner, ATL Executive Member for Suffolk, Hatfield Road, Ipswich

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