Schools told not to drop modern languages in S1-3

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Scotland must put content to the fore in language teaching - unlike England

Original paper headline: Languages - Schools warned not to drop modern languages in S1-3

Any headteacher considering dropping modern languages from the early secondary curriculum should think again - because HMIE will be checking they are part of every school's broad general curriculum.

That was the warning last week from HMIE inspector Fiona Pate at a conference on modern languages in primary schools. It also heard of an "absolute crisis" in modern language teaching in England because it was no longer compulsory.

Ms Pate pointed out that Building the Curriculum 3 made clear that all students had an entitlement to reach the third level (S1-3 for some pupils, earlier for others) in a broad general curriculum which included modern languages.

"We need to make sure that headteachers hear the message that modern languages are part of the curriculum," she told the conference, hosted by the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research at Strathclyde University.

Her message was underlined by Sarah Breslin, the new director of SCILT. "I have heard anecdotally that there are schools and authorities who are considering the place of modern languages in the curriculum," she said. "As everyone grapples with ACfE, there will be, particularly in secondary, a bit of a fight for space in the curriculum."

But the Scottish Government was aware that there was talk of languages being sidelined, and HMIE would be going into schools and checking on the implementation of ACfE, Ms Breslin told The TESS.

The conference heard warnings that the UK was lagging behind other countries in the teaching of languages.

The way ahead was to integrate content and language across the curriculum - but the UK was "far behind" in adopting this approach to teaching languages, said Do Coyle, who recently moved from Newcastle University to Aberdeen University, where she is professor of learning innovation.

Information and communications technology was the medium for teaching languages in future, said Professor Coyle, an advocate of CLIC (Content and Language Integrated Learning).

She went on: "We are communicating far more than ever before with mobile phones, but finding it harder, particularly at secondary, to get pupils to talk when it comes to other languages. But I am not surprised because of the tasks we set them."

The content of language learning had been "dumbed down for too long", she claimed.

Professor Coyle said she was "incredibly concerned" about the state of language teaching in England where it was in "absolute crisis". She attributed its slump in large part to the fact that languages were no longer compulsory.

"It's all very well saying `let's not make it compulsory any more and focus on primary', but it means that a lot of resources and funding have to follow that through," she said.

ACfE offered teachers the opportunity to combine the four Cs at the heart of the CLIL approach - content, communication, cognition and cultures.

Grammar should be integrated from the beginning rather than leading the way. If content led the way, grammar would become integrated, she argued.

But Professor Coyle also warned that teachers had to put considerable time and effort into the planning of language projects to ensure that pupils got the linguistic depth and progression they needed, rather than just learning the vocabulary for one project before moving on to the next.

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