You're talking my language

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Heads welcome freedom to make choices for primary pupils. Helen Ward reports

Primary heads will no longer be restricted to Europe when choosing languages to offer pupils.

Pupils aged seven and older will still have the right, from 2010, to lessons in any language.

It will give a greater role to community languages such as Bengali, and will help schools struggling to find teachers fluent in French, Spanish or German.

The move will be welcome in areas such as Bradford, where 28 per cent of primary pupils are from Pakistani families.

Ministers hope it will give schools the freedom and flexibility to make the best use of the expertise in their local community.

Stephen Fawkes, past president of the Association of Language Learning, welcomed the move saying that languages such as Arabic or Gujarati "will be more relevant in some communities around the UK". He added: "It will also mean people in schools or local people who speak Arabic, for example, at home could contribute in school as well."

In London, the most commonly spoken languages by school pupils after English are Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati.

At Churchfield primary, in the London borough of Enfield, Andrea Nutter, headteacher, introduced French and Turkish lessons this year.

About half the pupils at the 700-pupil school have English as an additional language. Forty-four languages are spoken, but the most common is Turkish.

Ms Nutter appointed Guenay Ozarin to teach Turkish to all Year 5 pupils one afternoon every other week and work as a bilingual support assistant.

Ms Nutter said: "It is great having Ms Ozarin around the school all the time, rather than having a visiting teacher, because when children see her they automatically speak in Turkish to her."

In the weeks that Ms Ozarin is not teaching, the pupils' classteacher leads the lesson, with help from Turkish-speaking pupils.

Ms Nutter said: "Turkish-speaking pupils can take a real lead in those lessons. It is a wonderful opportunity for them to shine."

French lessons also began at the school this year. Penny Schwartz, who has a joint degree in French and primary teaching, works as a Year 3 classteacher and teaches French to Year 3, 4 and 6 pupils. She said: "I really wanted to introduce languages to younger children. For me, this is the way forward."

Churchfield primary is one of 12 primary schools in the borough which introduced languages this year under a national pathfinder pilot scheme.

In the other 11 schools, teachers from five secondary schools visit primaries to give French, Spanish or German lessons once a fortnight.

Classteachers teach the subject in alternate weeks.

Enfield has pound;200,000 to spend over the next two years on introducing language teaching into primary schools and an extra pound;59,000 for information communications technology.

All schools in the pilot will have video-conferencing facilities.

Bernadette Clinton, Enfield's Pathfinder co-ordinator, said: "We wanted to be inclusive, that's why we offer Turkish. Next year we will offer Greek as well. It doesn't make sense to start languages at 11, it is just too late."

The Association of Language Learning Language World conference takes place in Oxford from April 2 to 4. www.all-languages.org.uk

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