The council where one language isn’t enough

6th November 2015 at 00:00
Glasgow to insist on ‘dual linguist’ specialists in its secondary schools

Modern language teachers must “walk the talk” and be able to teach more than one language, the education director of Scotland’s largest council has said.

Maureen McKenna, from Glasgow City Council, made the comments as Scotland prepares for all children to start learning their first foreign language in P1, with a second language introduced from P5.

Secondary language specialists with just one language would struggle to find work in Glasgow schools, Ms McKenna added.

Glasgow now has a policy of employing “dual linguists” only, following the introduction of the so-called “1+2” approach, which will come into full effect by 2020.

The authority was not alone, warned John Stodter, general secretary of education directors’ body ADES. Similar attitudes existed in other councils and not just those in the Central Belt, where teacher supply was less of a problem. “Having teachers able to be more flexible is vital in authorities that suffer shortages,” he said.

Mr Stodter added that the General Teaching Council for Scotland was looking to encourage universities to increase the number of teachers with dual qualifications in all subject areas, from languages to sciences.

Ms McKenna was speaking to TESS ahead of her address to the Scottish Association for Language Teaching (SALT) conference tomorrow at the University of Strathclyde.

She said: “If our language teachers can’t achieve 1+2, how can we expect our primary pupils to? They have to walk the talk.

“When schools want to diversify and introduce Spanish and Italian, they can’t because they are limited by the teacher. That means potentially you could limit a child’s ambition to learn more languages because of the teacher. That’s not a wonderful situation.”

Role models

However, she acknowledged that many teachers were already dual linguists, some were multilinguists and others were undertaking more training. Glasgow was currently funding 20 teachers to add another language to their portfolio, she added.

Ms McKenna said: “We are responding to the changing demands and language teachers are, too. Only a tiny number don’t want to undertake this kind of professional development and that could be down to their personal situation. But I don’t believe that’s a long-term position languages teachers can hold, so we will keep going back to them.”

The reaction to Ms McKenna’s speech from language teachers was likely to be “very mixed”, SALT chair Gillian Campbell-Thow predicted.

“Single linguists currently employed will find that a great challenge,” she said. “It is a huge personal commitment to learn another language; they may have other commitments and this may not be a priority.

“A lot of people argue that it’s easier to pick up a language when you have that skill already, but while some languages may come from the same family, you can’t just say: ‘Because you have French you will pick up Spanish, Italian or German easily.’

“But we should be investing in ourselves as professionals, looking to the future and leading by example. If we want our children to pick up more than one language, they have to have role models.”

Joined-up thinking

However, Ms Campbell-Thow noted that some teachers with multiple languages were not getting the chance to use them because the “curriculum builders” in schools were not prioritising the subject.

Similarly, she said, the portfolio of languages offered in Scottish universities was shrinking, creating “a vicious circle” which called for “more joined-up thinking”.

Professor Do Coyle, head of the University of Aberdeen’s school of education, warned that talented people with only one foreign language should not be turned away from a career in teaching.

The GTCS said it was not against the idea that all language teachers should be trained in two languages, but added that there were “clearly some issues that would need to be addressed”.

Even when someone had studied a second foreign language at university level, they had to have “the academic requirements and residence requirements” to teach, a spokesman said. Currently, the residence requirement for a second language is three months.

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