'Little or no' help for primary language teachers

16th April 2010 at 01:00
A trend of shorter and less available courses could threaten the Scottish economy

Modern languages courses for primary teachers are a fraction of the length they once were - and in at least nine local authorities have disappeared altogether.

It is the latest evidence that primary schools are facing an increasing battle to meet national expectations for languages teaching. Many predict the trend will marginalise Scotland's economy.

Research by Hugh O'Donnell, Liberal Democrat spokesman for education and young people, shows that nine authorities do not offer any training in modern languages to primary teachers: Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Inverclyde, Orkney, Perth and Kinross, Shetland and Western Isles.

Mr O'Donnell also found - having received replies from 28 of Scotland's 32 authorities - that several councils have low numbers of places on such courses. Of those which gave specific numbers, Falkirk had 10 places and Angus 12.

The availability of training had to improve if Scotland's young people were to be "globally aware and competitive", Mr O'Donnell said.

His criticisms reflect warnings from the group of 13 east of Scotland authorities, presented to the European Commission, that inadequate languages training for primary teachers could push Scotland towards "the periphery of the European megalopolis in 10 to 15 years" (TESS, February 19).

A TESS survey last month found huge disparities in the initial training of student teachers in modern languages (March 12) and the state of continuing professional development (CPD) is also causing concern.

Local authority sources this week told The TESS that the training landscape for working teachers had changed markedly.

Between 1993 and 2001, all authorities provided modern languages courses for primary teachers lasting 27 days. Following the publication in 2000 of the Mulgrew report, Citizens of a Multilingual World, 20 days became standard.

In recent years, however, a number of authorities which still provide training have restricted courses to 12 days. That represents a drop in training time from 160 hours to 40.

There has also been a sharp fall in the number of primary teachers trained in modern languages. For several years, the average number was 750. The current figure is believed to be considerably lower, although national figures are no longer published.

Dan Tierney, reader in language education at Strathclyde University, said: "We appear to have gone from a positively-evaluated and well-co-ordinated national programme of training to a situation which is patchy. There is a clear need to ensure adequate provision of primary teachers of modern languages."

The problem was best tackled before teachers qualified, he said, but there also had to be CPD for teachers, some of whom last received languages training many years ago.

Dr Tierney found in research interviews that some of these teachers complained of being "cast adrift". There was a feeling of "isolation" among those who were the only teacher in their school with a second language.

He said some primary schools did not teach modern languages at all, even though Curriculum for Excellence makes clear that pupils are entitled to lessons in P6-7.

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said the "seedcorn was not being planted to the extent it should be" in primary schools, which led to dwindling numbers of secondary pupils taking languages.

There was a "patchwork" picture in primary schools and CPD for teachers might not provide the sole answer, the union said. One solution could be to draft in secondary languages teachers.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it would "consider carefully" any findings from the Donaldson review of teacher education regarding the balance between CPD and initial teacher education, including the position of modern languages.

He emphasised that the Government funded the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching to provide CPD.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

Original paper headline: `Little or no' training offered to primary language teachers

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