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 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 11:37 GMT
French staff to teach in primary schools
Classroom assistant
French assistants will teach UK children
Academic staff from France are to help with language teaching in UK primary schools, in an effort to improve standards.

Education ministers from both countries will sign a formal agreement next month.

This is expected to lead to around UK 200 schools using French teachers and teaching assistants.

A summit between British and French education ministers in Le Touquet on February 4 will also consider greater co-operation between higher education institutions in the two countries.

Ministers are thinking of making language teaching agreements with other EU countries, as employment law allows easy movement of staff.

Love of languages

The development comes after the government was criticised for dropping compulsory languages at GCSE level.

The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said there was "no point" in making "switched-off" 14-year-olds continue.

Instead, he said, the focus must be on improving primary school provision.

The use of French teaching staff will be augmented by recruiting people with strong language skills but no formal teaching qualifications, such as university students.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson said: "We want to get pupils interested in languages at a younger age.

"We are dropping compulsory languages at 14. People were being forced into them, meaning the grades weren't particularly good at 16.

"We want to foster a love of language learning. Hopefully, if we start pupils at a younger age, they will want to take languages when they are 14. It's a different approach."

At present, only one in five primary schools offers any foreign language teaching.

Fewer GCSEs

The DfES spokesperson added: "The level of teaching we want to offer at primary school would be appropriate and enjoyable. This would allow children to develop natural linguistic skills."

Last summer's GCSE figures showed the number of pupils sitting French exams had fallen by 8,917 to 126,216.

According to the Association for Language Learning, up to 30% of schools were expected to drop languages from September, because of the changes to the curriculum.

See also:

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