Modern Foreign Languages - New initiative gets chorus of approval

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
1+2 boosts enthusiasm and employability, conference hears

Primary children taking part in a pilot of Scotland's ambitious national languages initiative have made rapid progress, and secondary students on the scheme have found a new enthusiasm for languages, a conference has heard.

The Scottish government is also likely to match, for another two years, the pound;4 million already given to local authorities to implement the scheme, it has emerged.

Under the approach known as 1+2, all primary schools should by 2020 offer a language other than English from P1 and another by P5. The scheme also demands that progress should not stall after children move up to secondary school.

Staff in primaries piloting the 1+2 initiative have shown greater confidence and commitment to languages, while parents have been very supportive, Education Scotland inspector and modern languages national specialist Fiona Pate told delegates at an event in Stirling last week.

Speaking at the Modern Languages 1+2 conference, organised by the Scottish government and education directors' body ADES, Ms Pate said that primary children had not been confused by having to switch between languages, and that they were "very savvy" in understanding their importance.

"The confidence of the young (primary) learners I saw was quite remarkable - the way they slipped into the language without any hesitation," she added.

Tim Simons, the Scottish government's head of curriculum unit, used the event to announce that the pound;4 million shared by local authorities to implement 1+2 this year would be offered once more in 2014-15, and possibly again the following year.

The 2012 report from the national languages working group, which kickstarted the 1+2 approach, recommended that language learning become an entitlement for all S1-3 students, and that employability form a greater part of schools' approach to languages.

Ms Pate highlighted Shetland's Anderson High, one of 10 pilot schools, where Norwegian was introduced in S3: "A pupil said it was just the best thing. It had opened his options up because he wanted to work in the oil industry. He said, `Even if I don't (go into the oil industry), learning another language opens up my future'," she said.

Delegates at a conference workshop also heard about the success of the new Scottish Qualifications Authority's Modern Languages for Life and Work Award, which allows students to learn a language without the need to sit an exam.

"It's a fantastic award: skills-based and very practical," said Pamela Tosh, principal languages teacher at Edinburgh's Broughton High, where Mandarin, French and Spanish are offered through the new award. Students had worked on writing a CV and phoning to book an interview slot, she said, and for many it was their first exposure to employability skills in any language, English included.

French teacher Laura McEwan, meanwhile, said that her school - Graeme High in Falkirk - had worked closely with local primaries on language projects, such as marketing the town's new Helix park in French. As a result, children were arriving at secondary school with a better idea of why languages mattered, she argued.

"We haven't had one pupil saying, `Why do I have to learn French?' And we used to get that a lot," she said.

Ms Pate sounded a note of caution, saying that pilot schools "have had to work really, really hard". She also predicted timetabling problems in secondary schools.

Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna, similarly, tempered an upbeat presentation with warnings that primary staffing was still a "major challenge" and that the number of upper secondary students taking languages in the city was still falling.

There had to be ongoing training, she added: "It can't just be a few days followed by `Off you go with a CD'."

It was too early to predict the success of 1+2, said Jim Scott, a former headteacher turned University of Dundee doctoral student, who is exploring how languages have fared in Scottish schools over several decades.

But it was Scotland's "most significant and coherent initiative in modern and foreign languages" for many years, he said, and had "the potential to change the face of languages".

We haven't had one pupil saying, `Why do I have to learn French?' We used to get that a lot.

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