Orally speaking

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
We write to contest the view of Jim Knight, the schools minister, that the proposed new language oral tests will give a "fairer and true reflection of student ability"
We write to contest the view of Jim Knight, the schools minister, that the proposed new language oral tests will give a "fairer and true reflection of student ability".

At Watford Grammar, we place a huge emphasis on the importance of oral communication in a foreign language. Our lessons create a relaxed atmosphere in which to practise speaking the language as soon as the pupils arrive in Year 7.

We teach them to manage in a wide range of situations, inspire confidence and enable them to make full use of their linguistic abilities - be they for leisure or business purposes in the future. Without such confidence, knowledge of any language has limited practical application.

We believe an external test to agreed standards is the only credible way to judge pupils' ability to communicate, using their knowledge of a language aligned to the kind of situation they will face on leaving the education system.

Continual assessment already ensures each pupil fulfils their potential and makes sensible choices regarding subjects at higher levels. Formal recording of this activity to enable any form of scrutiny would be bureaucratic and open to abuse as schools seek to show improved standards. It would also increase the administrative load on teachers and affect time for teaching itself.

Any change from the current system will have major implications for schools and students. We support the view that languages form a vital element in the education of the future workforce. But we are also mindful that language ability can vary enormously between individuals, and that the role of the system has to be to get the best from individual talents.

We fear that the proposed changes can only detract from the overall objective of making our students better able to operate and compete in the increasingly international labour and business markets.

Accordingly, we ask that this proposal be reviewed and made subject to much wider formal consultation with schools' language departments.

Helen Hyde, Headteacher, Rebecca Miller Head of languages, Watford Grammar School for Girls, Hertfordshire.

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