Only doing what was asked

7th April 2006 at 01:00
Despite some plaudits for their work, modern languages teachers seem to be in the firing line again, to judge by your reports last week from the Edinburgh Royal Society conference on languages.

We teachers are enjoined by HMIE Jane Renton to "spice up" our lessons with "more motivating and challenging experiences" and to abandon discussing kids' bedrooms and booking into camp-sites.

Well, I have news for you, Mrs Renton. If we do tasks like these, it is because You asked us to. When will you and your HMIE colleagues, along with Messrs McKinstry and Johnstone - the founding fathers of so-called communicative competence - come clean and accept your responsibility for the current debacle?

Can we have an end to this sleight of hand whereby teachers get it in the neck for the state of modern languages, which are seen almost universally as difficult, dull or badly taught, when much of the blame is down to the aforementioned movers and shakers within the system?

If numbers studying languages at S5-S6 have improved since 1999, this must surely be connected to Jack McConnell's decision to introduce curricular flexibility around that time. This freed us from the strait-jacket of "languages for all" (promoted by guess who?), which contributed to the haemorrhaging of language student numbers in Scottish state schools in the 1990s.

We are not out of the asylum yet, however. Alison Phipps of Glasgow University is no doubt correct in observing that her language students are no longer of "mixed background" but an elite of "young women who are privately educated". Is this really what Scottish Executive advisers wanted to achieve?

Let us hope that A Curriculum for Excellence will involve the poor bloody foot-soldier in the planning of the campaign - but I wouldn't hold your breath.

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