Rethink on languages

5th March 2010 at 00:00

Jonathan Ward is right to support the East of Scotland European Consortium's call for modern languages education to be offered to future primary teachers while at university (Letters last week).

Modern languages were reintroduced to primary schools through an extensive and costly national programme of in-service for teachers. This was intended to achieve a critical mass of teachers with enough linguistic knowledge to teach P6 and P7 pupils in all schools. It was a successful programme which achieved its objectives and was highly evaluated by teachers.

However, some of these teachers are promoted, retire, go on maternity leave or leave teaching, and my own research suggests the situation is now variable across the country. It found that, in some schools, a language was not being taught at all; in others, only to P7s. And the time allocated varied considerably.

The research literature clearly identifies transition to secondary as one of the problems for primary languages. This is not helped by such variation in provision.

There is a clear and long-identified need to train new teachers through the pre-service route, and successive ministers have recognised the need. However, it has never been addressed, due to the overcrowded nature of the BEd curriculum. Provision varies in each university, and is probably inadequate in all.

Primary teaching of modern languages cannot be sustained on the present basis.

Daniel Tierney, reader in language education, University of Strathclyde.

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