In all my time as a teacher, I’ve never taught a PE lesson. To some, this will seem like a tragedy; for others, it’s the dream they’ve always had. I had the luxury of starting my career in middle schools, where specialisms were gradually introduced to pupils rather than the more common system of changing from a generalist teacher in Year 6 to umpteen unknown specialists in the first week of secondary school.
For my first teaching years, I never had to think about PE, music or French. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent survey found that these are some of the subjects that it seems primary teachers would most like to offload on to a specialist.
Often, the primary generalist will have limited experience in the subjects, having dropped non-compulsory subjects at 14 themselves, and having had barely a few hours of input during their teacher training.
In the case of languages, it’s a truly bizarre system that requires primary schools to teach a foreign language, when many primary teachers have no knowledge of the language to impart. Some will be in the fortunate position of having studied a language beyond GCSE, but very few feel genuinely confident in teaching a subject which – by necessity – has a significantly different pedagogy to other subjects, let alone content that requires such specific expertise.
In secondary schools, specialists are, of course, a minimum expectation. Trouble is, after years of downgrading the importance of languages, and quite possibly centuries of a culture which fails to value them, there just aren’t the specialists available to meet a most basic of aspirations.
What exactly are MFL hubs?
Rest assured, the government has a solution. Specialists for every school, you might think. Not quite. A significant recruitment drive of language speakers from across the globe? Well, it seems that Brexit might cause something of the opposite. No, the solution apparently is hubs. Isn’t it always?
Never known to miss an opportunity to reannounce some meagre amount of spending, last week the department announced the opening of a new centre of excellence for languages in York. Apparently, the centre will work with the nine MFL hubs around the country, which I’m sure are already doing fantastic work. What do you mean, you didn’t know there were MFL hubs?
If, like me working on the south coast, York seems a long way off, spare a moment’s thought for the poor folk of the Midlands. The new centre of excellence will be just 30 miles from the nearest MFL hub in Bradford, but if that’s a bit far north for you, then the next nearest is in Hertfordshire, just 150 miles away.
At least, I presume it is: that’s what was announced back in August, but I can’t see much evidence of what the hubs have done so far.
Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the point. Maybe someone at the DfE felt that what was lacking was not so much a bank of qualified languages teachers but a focal point for us all to boost our enthusiasm.
Maybe the role of the hubs and the centre of excellence are merely as standard-bearers to reassure us that MFL is still supposed to be important. After all, everyone could clearly see that "something must be done" about language teaching, and no one can deny that this is "something". Perhaps we should just be glad about that?
I notice that schools are often rather short of money. too. Perhaps, rather than scrabbling around to find the few extra millions needed, Mr Hinds could just open up a schools’ finance hub to give us all the warm glow of knowing that at least some money’s going into something somewhere.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979