Stumbling blocks for primary languages

19th March 2010 at 00:00

In response to the ongoing debate on modern languages in your columns, can I say that I think there is broad political support for these subjects becoming a core part of initial teacher education.

The sticking point, however, remains the teacher education institutions (TEIs). I recently had a meeting with one dean of education who told me in no uncertain terms that modern languages becoming a core part of the curriculum in her institution "was not going to happen".

The justification was that choice had to be offered to the students and that, if they accepted this for modern languages, there would be pressure to include science in the core as well.

I get the impression that TEIs have been able to offer training as they see fit for many years. This has led some to focus not so much on delivering the curriculum as offering more rounded degree programmes for life in general.

TEIs are meant to ensure our teachers are fully prepared to deliver the curriculum, as outlined in the guidelines for initial teacher education. At Aberdeen University, however, we have a situation whereby it does not offer modern languages as a core subject in primary courses, yet all trainees are expected to choose programmes such as: Fearsome Engines, Risk in Society, The Health and Wealth of Nations, and The Mind Machine. Should the institutions not focus first on ensuring teachers are able to deliver the actual primary curriculum, instead of subjects with limited relevance?

While the Education Secretary has indicated that he wants the Donaldson review of teacher education to be radical in its thinking, the extent of the power TEIs wield puts a bit of a spanner in the works for any type of radical reform. TEIs and the education deans have a huge say in our education system, yet seem to get away with sitting in the background.

If they are against modern languages and science being given a core role within primary teaching, how does that sit with public opinion and what does that say about our consensual approach to education policymaking?

Jonathan Robertson, East of Scotland European Consortium and Aberdeen City Council.

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