Top private schools help launch national training centre for languages teachers

Teachers will be able to train in the best modern foreign language departments across the country, in both state and private schools

Eleanor Busby

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Private schools will help form a new national teacher-training centre for linguists in a bid to stop the crisis in modern foreign language skills in the UK.

The government-backed scheme, which will be based in Sheffield, aims to bring together schools from across the state and independent sector to train language teachers.

It will coordinate the training of student teachers in some of the best languages departments across the country.

It follows widespread concern from the government and education professionals about the decline in the number of students choosing to study languages.

Mike Buchanan, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), said: “This is not only culturally impoverishing, but likely to put UK pupils at a major disadvantage in a global marketplace in which 75 per cent of people do not speak English.

“The reasons for this are complex but include the difficulty of achieving a top grade compared with other subjects, leading to less take up, smaller departments and fewer teachers.”

Speaking to 300 independent headteachers at their annual conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, Mr Buchanan said that the scheme was the first national project of its kind.  

He added: “This is a truly exciting project which serves to show the many different ways in which government, state schools and the independent sector can use their individual strengths to build a better education system for everyone.”

The announcement follows Mr Buchanan's opening speech yesterday which said independent institutions could not deliver effective help to state schools by force, with "a gun pointing at our heads".

HMC already offers its own "in-house" school-based teacher training programme, HMCTT, but the new modern foreign languages School Centered Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) will be led by state-funded Silverdale School in Sheffield.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has endorsed the Silverdale project – which is expected to take its first trainees next autumn – saying that the next generation needs to be outward facing. 

Peter Hamilton, head of Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School and chair of HMC’s academic policy committee, said: “Independent schools want to be part of the solution to the critical problems of capacity faced by school language departments across the country. 

"Solutions are urgent because, nationally, language learning remains in steady retreat”.

Alongside this announcement, HMC today revealed that British universities are increasingly reliant on independent schools for the survival of their modern language departments.

In an annual survey of applicants to universities from HMC schools and those of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA), independent school sixth formers were seven times more likely to choose modern languages than the average for all undergraduate applicants. 

Mr Hamilton added: “While HMC schools are proud to be even more central to the survival of languages in British universities, this comes at the price of a terrible hollowing out of national capacity in all schools across the country.”

A new poll, of 2,132 upper sixth-formers, released today also found that only 5 per cent of respondents were most looking forward to the universities’ expensive facilities.         

Chris Ramsey, headmaster of King’s School Chester and universities spokesperson for HMC, said: "We must be wary of thinking they are mercenary and wowed by facilities: it seems they are serious about their studies and open to opportunity and to diversity of views and thoughts."

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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