More money needed to keep the conversation flowing
The government’s key pledge that children should learn two languages by the end of primary school will not be met unless councils continue to receive additional funding to deliver the scheme, education experts say.
There is also a need to develop more primary language specialist staff to deliver the policy in classrooms, they warn in a new report.
The new study reviewing the implementation of the government’s languages policy says that primary schools are “enthusiastically embedding” the so-called 1+2 initiative, under which pupils are expected to begin learning a second language in P1 and a third in P5.
However, the scheme was slow to take off and it was only after a funding injection from ministers that “the pace of uptake increased significantly”, says the report.
The government has invested £16.2 million over the past three years in the 1+2 approach, but has yet to confirm whether the scheme will continue to be funded this coming school year and beyond. A government spokesperson told TESS: “Further decisions on funding will be announced in due course.”
However, the report, from the education directors’ association ADES (bit.ly/1plus2report), says: “Any lessening of national commitment at this stage is likely to result in regression and a switching of attention to other priorities.”
As well as more funding, the report’s authors call for specialist languages teachers to be deployed in primary.
The “biggest single impediment” to the government’s scheme had been the capacity of existing staff to deliver languages and the lack of availability of qualified language teachers, said the report. These “very significant workforce planning issues” needed to be addressed if the initiative was to go on and succeed, it added.
Bruce Robertson, a former local-authority director of education and one of the report’s authors, told TESS: “We need to look at the role of universities in the preparation of primary teachers with the skills to deliver languages, as well as the most appropriate delivery mechanism for those children in the upper stages of primary who have already gone through five years of languages.”
He suggested that at this more advanced level, pupils should be taught by a primary-trained language specialist working across clusters of primary schools.
Under the 1+2 approach to modern language learning, the government wants every child to have the opportunity to learn two languages before leaving primary school. The government’s goal is that the policy should be fully implemented by 2020. This had led to the appointment of language coordinators who were critical to success, said the report. However, “in every case” these posts were “dependent on grant funding from the Scottish government”, it added.
Mr Robertson continued: “Bearing in mind the priorities being set out around raising attainment and tackling the equity gap, this very popular languages initiative will not be safe across all 32 authorities unless there is the funding to maintain it.”
If the 1+2 approach was to be a success, the government needed to invest in more teachers and more training, agreed Drew Morrice, assistant secretary at the EIS teaching union. “There is nothing inherently wrong with having people develop a specialism but these people have to come from somewhere and we need to invest in high quality CPD for them to develop these skills,” he said. “You can’t do that through a twilight class approach; you have to invest significantly in bringing people out of schools. I’m not aware of any significant programme to release people from their current teaching.”
A government spokesperson said: “Local authorities are making good progress towards expanding and improving language learning in schools through the 1+2 scheme, with a total of 21 local authority areas now offering modern languages to P1 pupils.”
1+2 = ‘mixed’ reception in secondaries
Secondary schools view the Scottish government’s flagship language learning policy as largely the responsibility of primaries, a new report reveals.
Secondaries’ engagement in the 1+2 languages initiative is “variable”, says the document produced by the education directors’ organisation ADES.
Under the policy, secondaries are expected to allow students to continue learning two foreign languages and to introduce a third from S1 to S3. But the introduction of the new national qualifications in the secondary sector had taken priority, the report adds.
The report also says that while councils were confident of meeting the 1+2 deadline for primary by 2020, the picture in secondaries was “more mixed”.
Some secondaries “may need support” to provide two foreign languages as part of the broad education from S1-3, it says.
Another problem highlighted by the report was secondaries borrowing time from the second language when introducing the third. That could weaken “the depth of experience” in the second language and readiness for qualifications in S4-6, it said.