The way forward

THE HMI report on modern languages in primary and secondary schools must be welcomed, as the concerns about attainment in modern languages are wide ranging and deep-seated. The report is helpful and concise regarding the range of practices within primaries and secondaries. It is a good example of HMI core activity, an important quality assurance report.

It is, however, disappointing if not surprising that the report makes no comment on the serious policy failures that have contributed to the apparent lack of progress in modern languages.

The key initiatives - the staff development model to support reintroduction of modern languages into primary schools; languages for all in S3 and S4; and language diversification - all emanated from HMI initiatives and advice. This has been a growing practice in recent years in Standard grade, 5-14 and Higher Still.

The Inspectorate are involved too directly in the developmental agenda, however it might be presented. This represents real difficulties when it comes to the quality assurance role. It is extremely important for Scottish education that the issues arising from the relationship between curriculum policy advice and quality assurance are debated widely.

I hope that the committee chaired by John Mulgrew will explore thoroughly the virtues of encouraging diversity and creativity. The over-centralised approach in modern languages represents very poor value for money.

It has attracted significant resources and the first chorus of reaction would lead one to believe that all that it required were more of the same - more resources, more time and materials. I think not.

The progress contrasts sharply with an initiative such as early intervention. This grew out of developing practice within local authorities, principally Edinburgh. It was taken up as a national initiative and a range of practices has been allowed to flourish. Consequently networks develop and effective strategies are shared. For far less cost progress is made, ownership is shared and diversity rewarded.

There are a considerable number of difficulties associated with teaching modern languages in the United Kingdom. The difficulties are valid and reinforce the argument for diversity, local initiatives and creativity as the principal lesson to be learnt from this policy debacle is that finding a way forward will be difficult.

Gordon Jeyes Director of education Stirling Council

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