An ambitious report by the Scottish government's Languages Working Group is calling for all pupils to start learning a second language in P1 and to pick up a third one no later than P5.
These and other far- reaching recommendations, on continuing professional development and initial teacher education, are needed to deliver the government's aspiration of "1+2" languages - the mother tongue plus two others - by 2020, the lifetime of two parliaments, says the group.
Simon Macaulay, its chair, says there has been "a significant and worrying decline over the past decade in the number of languages taken forward to SQA certification".
The report's recommendations will mean "shifting the prevailing culture where many people believe that knowing one language - English - is sufficient".
As a first step, it calls for Primary 1 trials from 2012-13, leading to the policy being rolled out from 2013-14 on a phased basis.
"Achieving the goal will require a commitment to the provision of additional resources for local authorities, schools and universities - a substantial challenge in itself at a time of unprecedented financial constraint," adds Mr Macaulay.
The report argues that Scotland cannot afford not to invest in language learning and suggests that "an inability to engage with foreign business in its own language. can be measured as a cost equivalent to over pound;500 million to the Scottish economy".
It also points out that prior to 2008, local authorities received pound;4 million to support their language provision in schools. Since the removal of ring-fencing, that funding has been rolled up into the general local government budget. The group therefore recommends an increase of around "two to three times the previous languages fund".
Alasdair Allan, the minister for learning, yesterday announced an increase from its current funding of pound;350,000 to pound;500,000 next year for Scotland's national centre for languages (SCILT). A further pound;120,000 is being provided by the government to support pilot projects exploring how language learning could start from P1 rather than P6, when most schools introduce the subject.
In his initial response to the report, Dr Allan said: "We already set aside pound;4 million annually for local authorities to support modern language teaching. I invite local authorities to work with SCILT to lead the way in what I see as a radical change of approach.
"Introducing two additional languages is an ambitious goal, but these recommendations give us an excellent platform to deliver it."
The key points
- All children to start learning a second language in P1 and a third in P5;
- Languages recommended include French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Gaelic and community languages, such as Urdu and Punjabi;
- The government should fund a number of P1 pilot projects in 2012-13 to pave the way for introducing them on a phased basis from 2013;
- Languages should be an entitlement for all pupils up to the end of their broad general education in S3;
- Students training as primary teachers should have a languages qualification at Higher, either on entering teacher training or on completion;
- Local authorities should provide regular opportunities for primary and secondary languages staff to work together and share CPD;
- The appointment of foreign language assistants should be considered a key element of implementing the 1+2 strategy;
- English as an Additional Language should be incorporated into local authority strategies for delivering 1+2;
- The government should set up an implementation group to develop an engagement strategy to deliver 1+2.
Photo by Neil Turner