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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Language teaching pilot 'working'
All primary schools will teach a language in the next five years
A pilot scheme promoting modern languages in primary schools is proving successful, Ofsted inspectors say.

"Pathfinder" projects in 19 areas of England have created a "significant expansion" in the teaching of languages, the inspectors said.

The government wants modern language lessons to be available to all primary schools by the end of the decade.

Last week, a CILT national language centre report warned a lack of language skills was damaging the UK's economy.

Ofsted has been examining the impact of pilot schemes designed to encourage the teaching of modern languages in primary schools.

Language fears

Its report says that 43% of the schools in these regional projects are teaching modern languages to older pupils in primary schools - and it commends the quality of teaching.

There have been longstanding concerns about language learning - with a declining number of students taking subjects such as French at A-level and at university.

Higher education funding councils have warned that language departments in universities are "vulnerable" and might need to be concentrated in national centres.

Learning modern languages also ceased to be compulsory after the age of 14 in September.

And there have been repeated warnings from industry about the lack of language skills in UK firms.

The government's response has been to try to raise interest in languages at an earlier age, with plans in the next five years for all seven to 11-year-olds to have lessons in at least one modern language.

The pathfinder schemes have been testing how this might be put into practice - and the initial findings from inspectors are that this is proving a success.

'Living language'

Oakthorpe Primary School in Enfield, north London, has been teaching German to year 4 pupils for the last two years.

The school incorporates language learning into everyday school life through songs, taking the register in German and writing stories, as well as using the language in many other subjects.

It says it aids the development of various skills, including literacy and information and communication technology, as well as giving them greater cultural awareness.

Its head teacher, Geof Cumner-Smith, said this integration enabled children to see German as a living language.

He said pupils found it exciting, in contrast to his experiences of children learning languages at secondary schools.

"Children's confidence has increased, and they have become more technically aware as we use the internet and video-conferencing to aid learning."

The school provides additional clubs in French, Italian and Spanish, and weekend clubs in Turkish and Greek, two languages which some children at the school commonly hear at home.

Mr Cumner-Smith said the commitment to learning languages included the whole school, and involved many teachers.

Feedback from parents and children alike had been "overwhelmingly positive", according to the school's modern foreign languages co-ordinator Jane Houlston.

"We've had great support from parents, and the children are delighted," she said.

"They don't have any fear of learning to speak a language."

'Long way to go'

David Bell, chief inspector of schools, said the progress in teaching modern languages was "very good news".

However, he added: "There is still a long way to go and schools must develop links between primary and secondary schools so that progress made is not lost when pupils move to secondary school."

Once children join secondary schools they will receive a very different form of language teaching, and may be treated as novices when they are not, said Mr Cumner-Smith.

Oakethorpe Primary tried try to maintain a dialogue with secondary schools to ensure children retained the benefits of their early language learning.

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