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 Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 12:30 GMT
Unqualified staff to teach languages
Language lesson
Languages can improve employment prospects
The government is aiming to recruit adults without formal teaching qualifications to deliver its promise to teach foreign languages in primary schools in England.

A shortage of qualified language teachers means its proposals to make language lessons available to seven-to-11 year olds will depend on using adults who are not fully qualified teachers.

The strategy, which runs up to 2010, is aimed at addressing Britain's poor reputation for linguists - at the same time as the government is dropping the compulsion to study a language to GCSE level.

It intends to allow youngsters in secondary schools to drop the study of a modern foreign language at the age of 14.

'No point'

"I don't think there's a great deal of point in forcing people to go through the process of learning a foreign language at 14 when they really are completely switched off as I'm afraid a number of children are," the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said in a BBC News interview.

"The people we are talking about at 14 are people who haven't got any familiarity with foreign languages at all and really aren't gaining everything from it.

"That's why the focus has to be on a proper primary provision, which there hasn't been, and that's what we have to put in place."

EU flags
European languages are to be encouraged

Adults fluent in a foreign language will be offered a short course on primary school teaching methods to assist in classrooms.

It would not be compulsory for all primary schools to offer languages themselves - some lessons could be shared with other schools.

European languages such as French, Spanish, Italian and German will be emphasised, along with non-European languages such as Chinese, Urdu, Punjabi or Hindi.

It is proposed that students will be assessed and graded on their language skills to avoid duplicating work when they reach secondary level - rather as music skills are graded.

At present, only one in five primary schools offers some form of foreign language teaching.


The government recently announced that of 15,200 extra teacher training places in England allocated to primary schooling next year, 460 were earmarked for language specialists.

The shadow education secretary, Damian Green, said: "It sounds a pretty muddled and slightly gimmicky strategy I have to say, to say on the one hand that people can give up languages earlier, but that we're going to make it more important by starting at primary school.

"Does the government believe that foreign language learning is vitally important or not?

"It seems to me in an increasingly global world it of course is particularly important.

"So to try and do two things at once, to try and downgrade it at secondary school but try and upgrade it at primary school seems essentially incoherent."

'Big opportunity'

But the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said the government's strategy deserved "strong support".

"At last we have a radical plan that stands a chance of cracking the age-old English problem of teaching language skills from cradle to grave."

He said the proposed music-type grading system would allow anyone, from seven to 77, to have their language skills properly recognised.

"Good linguists, whether or not they have Qualified Teacher Status, will be able to help plug the enormous gaps in language teaching, providing they can work with pupils after they have undergone any necessary training.

"Not to make use of their talents would be an extraordinary waste of valuable resources."

'Wrong message'

But the Secondary Heads Association is less happy.

Its general secretary, John Dunford, said job mobility was not just for high fliers.

"Many employment opportunities at all levels of the job market are open to young people with good language skills."

He welcomed the government's recognition of the need for modern languages and of the seriousness of the situation in modern languages in secondary schools, where there was a shortage of qualified teachers.

But by making modern languages voluntary from the age of 14, the government was sending the wrong message to young people.

In practice most schools would continue to try to persuade the maximum number of pupils to continue with the study of a foreign language, as was required in all other European countries.

But teaching them would also be made more difficult by the very varied experience which 11 year olds would have had in primary schools under the government's proposals.

  The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"The government's commitment to languages in schools in questionable"
  Education Secretary Charles Clarke
"We don't do foreign languages well enough"
See also:

22 Nov 02 | Education
27 Aug 02 | Education
22 Aug 02 | Education
18 Nov 02 | England
11 Mar 02 | Education
11 Feb 02 | Education
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