Heads say there is little time left in the primary curriculum for Government's proposals, reports Helen Ward
All primary pupils should be spending an hour a week learning a foreign language, the Government is expected to recommend this autumn.
The draft languages framework, which is due to be published in September, will give 11-year-olds the chance to reach the same standard as they do in other subjects.
Languages are not compulsory in primaries but Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, has said he will consider making them mandatory if schools are seen to be dragging their feet.
He is adamant that language learning is not just seen as a bolt-on; the national languages strategy has already criticised schools for relegating it to after-hours and lunch clubs.
As well as recommending 60 minutes a week for language teaching, the draft key stage 2 framework outlines goals for each year group in four main areas: oracy, literacy, knowledge about language and intercultural understanding.
Eight-year-olds, for example, should have enough practice in speaking and listening to enable them "to listen attentively and understand instructions, everyday classroom language and praise words". The framework is designed to be used with any language.
But heads say that finding an extra hour a week will be tough. Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said: "Finding an extra hour a week will be exceedingly difficult because of the enormous pressure on the primary curriculum. But as the emphasis on the core subjects is relaxed slightly there may be more opportunity."
Serena Williams, head of Roach Vale primary, Colchester, has set up a French after-school club this year.
She said: "I am reluctant to take time off other subjects, but a lot of schools are now offering enrichment afternoons and it might be possible for children to do a modern foreign language as part of that."
A TES survey in 2002 found that in order to introduce languages, half of heads would cut time from existing subjects with the most popular option to take some time from each of the three humanities subjects.
Lid King, director of the national languages strategy, told a conference in London that more than two in five primary schools are now believed to offer languages - twice as many as in 2000.
The Government has given pound;4.6 million to 19 authorities to trial different ways of introducing languages. Interim results from the Office for Standards in Education said the six authorities visited so far are on course to meet the Government's goal. But it warned that the crucial test will come with transition to secondary schools.