The Government's drive to increase the number of languages taught in schools is under serious threat because of a shortage of qualified teachers and lack of curriculum time, two national surveys reveal today.
The surveys, carried out by The TES and the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) also highlight growing fears that the increase in the number of primary schools offering a foreign language is tightening the stranglehold of French teaching in secondary schools.
The research, based on responses from 1,140 schools, and an additional survey of teacher- training institutions, found that nearly half of all schools looking for languages staff have had difficulty finding qualified teachers. Nearly 80 per cent found it hard to recruit teachers with sole German while 22.3 per cent had difficulty recruiting staff with sole Spanish. More than half had difficulty recruiting staff with two or more languages, particularly with combinations of French, German and Spanish.
The majority of training institutions questioned blamed the Government's policy of switching responsibility for initial teacher training to schools for making it harder to find suitable placements for student language teachers. The greatest difficulty was in placing students teaching Spanish, Italian and Russian. The situation is particularly bad in London.
Ironically, the TESCILT survey found that there is a large untapped pool of teachers qualified to teach a language other than French. Projected nationally, the figures imply that the skills of 1,200 qualified Spanish, 1,140 Italian, 600 Russian and 600 German teachers are being wasted because they teach at schools where the language is not offered.
Anthea Millett, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency conceded there may be problems recruiting teachers with certain combinations of languages but said it was invariably possible to provide enough language teachers offering one or two languages.
Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, said that the development of languages in primary schools raised complex issues currently under examination in preparation for an international conference later this year.
"The top priority is to improve the quality of pupils' language learning, whatever language is being studied," he said.