Teacher Anneli McLachlan comments

16th June 2000 at 01:00
I was very heartened by the Nuffield report. As I read it, I found myself saying, 'I agree with that. We have tried that. It works!' We do projects, for example, that go beyond the transactional nature of GCSE and teach other subjects through the medium of a foreign language.

The pupils respond well as it gives language learning a meaningful context. We have also extended our range of languages to include French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, which enriches the curriculum and gives pupils more possibilities.

If this is to happen nationwide, however, we need to look at teacher training and ensure that all teachers are dual linguists. The recruitment problem, especially of men, can only be solved by giving languages a high profile and making the job more attractive than it is now.

The post-16 dropout rate is horrifying, but it reflects the fragmented nature of current provision. We encourage as many pupils as possible to take a National Vocational Qualification Level 1 and our take up at AS-level is high. I approve of making the study of languages a post-16 requirement and a condition for university entrance. It may seem draconian, but it happens in Europe and it would certainly focus the mind.

The report recommeds that expert teachers' skills should be made available to support primary teachers. This encapsulates what we are trying to do with our partner primary schools, but inevitably it is piecemeal.

We have 72 feeder schools and work with six of them, and there is only so much we can do. The suggestion that this could be extended through on-line networks is a good one, although I think teachers need to see techniques in action in order to have the confidence to use them.

The proposal to include language awareness in the literacy strategy also struck a chord, as this is the focus of our work with Year 6. But we need to start sooner as a nation. This is where we begin to fall down compared with our European counterparts.

The report's recommendations are very ambitious, but that is no bad thing. We need a coherent policy at national level and the necessary funding to carry it through.

My own department is well-resourced and our head believes languages are important. I think that is the lesson - when you have money and a supportive environment, things start to happen.

Anneli McLachlan is head of languages at Elliott School, a language college in the London borough of Wandsworth. She was talking to Alison Thomas


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