Modern languages at risk

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Ministers urged to get a grip as TESS survey reveals huge disparities in teacher training

The Scottish Government has been told it is "make-your-mind-up time" for modern languages, to stop them dying out in primary schools.

Growing demands to make the subject compulsory in teacher education institutions (TEIs) are reinforced this week as a TESS survey reveals huge inconsistencies in the training of primary teachers - from students being able to study modern languages to degree level alongside their professional qualification, to modern languages not even featuring as part of the core curriculum.

Some primaries teach no modern languages at all, even though pupils are entitled to lessons in P6-7, according to Dan Tierney, reader in language education at Strathclyde University.

"We need to decide what we want to achieve with languages in primary, and give enough training to teachers to deliver that," he said.

At Stirling University, students can combine academic study in modern languages with their professional qualification. And at Dundee University, 200 hours are invested in modern languages in the first year of the BEd, with an elective offered in the second year.

But at Strathclyde University, modern languages are not a compulsory part of the BEd, and at Aberdeen University, they are not "a specific curriculum aspect". Both, however, do allow students to opt into a modern languages elective in the latter years of the BEd.

John De Cecco, a modern languages specialist at Strathclyde University, who delivers the BEd languages elective, said: "We won't be able to maintain the number of teachers able to offer language teaching unless we integrate it into some form of pre-service course. I don't think it can survive exclusively through training courses."

Alison Hurrell, who delivers modern languages to trainee teachers at Aberdeen University, said: "While we endeavour to educate our students in all curricular areas, we are failing to do so in modern languages."

The "practical and fiscal benefit" of compulsory university training in languages was "beyond question", and had been recommended by the Scottish Executive in 2000 and by HMIE in 2005, said Jonathan Robertson of the East of Scotland European Consortium, a group of 13 councils.

However, other subjects were also jostling for more prominence on teacher training courses, said Kate Adams, Strathclyde University's BEd course director. She added: "What then about the complaints that primary teachers do not do enough science?"

Beth Dickson, associate dean of education at Glasgow University, where modern languages are unlikely to form a specific subject within the new BEd course, said: "These are initial teacher education courses; they are enough to get you started."

But Peter Wakefield, BEd programme director at Dundee University, said: "Preparing students to teach modern languages is just as important as history, geography, science . and therefore needs to be compulsory."


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