Say sayonara to languages that have not made the list

22nd February 2013 at 00:00
New KS2 curriculum options exclude community languages

Community languages such as Urdu, Polish and Hebrew have been excluded from the new primary national curriculum despite opposition from the majority of responses to a government consultation. Ministers have decided that key stage 2 pupils should study one or more of a list of languages restricted to French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or ancient Greek.

But 61 per cent of the 562 teachers, parents, schools, universities, unions and other organisations and individuals who expressed a view believe the primary national curriculum should cover a much wider range of languages.

The Department for Education argues that its list "broadly reflects" the languages that primaries said they intended to teach anyway, and that the schools will also be free to teach another language outside the national curriculum.

But many of the respondents said that, in practice, expecting a school to teach the language of its choice in addition to selecting one from the compulsory list would "put a strain on what was already regarded as a crowded curriculum".

The news comes a week after TES revealed that education secretary Michael Gove is pushing ahead with key GCSE reforms that received little support in a separate consultation.

A third of those responding to the KS2 languages proposals supported the requirement to teach one of the list of seven languages. They said it would allow better planning for pupils' transitions to secondary school and allow for better joint working between networks of schools.

But the majority disagreed, with many saying the list implied that some languages are more important than others. Japanese, Arabic, Portuguese and Polish, which was recently found to be the second most spoken language in England, were among the options people wanted added to the national curriculum. There was a particular campaign for Hebrew, with 44 per cent of respondents saying it is essential that Jewish primaries are able to choose it as their national curriculum language.

The government argues in its consultation report that a wider array of languages "could have the potential to undermine secondary schools' efforts to build on teaching in primary schools".

But Nick Byrne, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science's Language Centre, said ministers could have done more to promote language learning.

"The emphasis on traditionally taught languages misses the opportunity of maximising the existing linguistic potential of children who speak languages not on the official list," he said. "There is no mention of Arabic, let alone England's 'second language', Polish, and no idea of building on the languages of the emerging economies, such as Brazil, India or Russia, which could harness the capabilities of many of our own communities."

Concerns were also raised by teachers who support an initiative delivering primary taster courses in up to six languages. The Discovering Language project, which has been running since 2005, recommends that schools introduce children to Romance, Indian, Eastern European, Far Eastern and Arabic languages.

"I think the sense of people wanting to have a foundation of language learning skills rather than specific knowledge of one language is gaining ground," Peter Downes, a former head who developed the scheme, said.

An evaluation by Dr Amanda Barton at the University of Manchester found that introducing a range of languages made children more enthusiastic. "I maintain that a multilingual approach offers the best solution to the many problems surrounding pupil transition at the end of KS2," she said.

"It is far preferable to whet pupils' appetite for language learning in primary school than to teach just one language, not knowing whether pupils will have the opportunity to continue with that language in secondary school or not."


Recent research by the Language Rich Europe project on the place of languages in education systems across Europe found that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were the only four of 24 countries or regions surveyed that did not have compulsory language learning in primary schools.

Two countries, Greece and Denmark, insist that young children learn two foreign languages.

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