Primary pupils will have modern language lessons by 2010
Plans to introduce language learning in every primary school in England have taken a step forward, with the announcement of pilot projects and a new national director for teaching languages.
The Early Years Minister, Catherine Ashton, says that this is laying the foundations for a "languages revolution", which will reverse negative attitudes toward learning languages.
There have been longstanding concerns about the lack of modern language skills - and the government has a target to provide language lessons for 7 to 11 year olds by the end of the decade.
And as part of this effort to bridge the skills gap in languages, the minister announced 19 "pathfinder" areas which will take part in pilot projects.
From September, there will also be a new National Director for Languages, Dr Lid King, who is currently director of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research.
The pilot schemes will be expected to find ways to introduce foreign language teaching, swapping ideas and building networks which will contribute to a national roll-out.
Among the practical problems for authorities will be finding sufficient modern languages teachers - as secondary schools have already faced shortages of language teachers.
It could mean the recruitment of more native French speakers who would act as classroom assistants.
The lack of language teachers has reflected a falling number of modern languages graduates, with a lack of students threatening the future of language courses in several universities.
The shortage of students wanting to study languages at university has in turn been blamed on the lack of A-level language students.
The government wants to break this cycle of decline by introducing languages teaching at an earlier age.
But as part of its reforms of the secondary school curriculum, pupils will no longer have to study languages beyond the age of 14.
"In the past, children have not started to learn languages until secondary school, when for many children it is too late," said Baroness Ashton.
"This has meant that only 39% of
15-year-old pupils taking a foreign language in 2002 achieved grades A* -C, while only 11% of 16-18 year olds chose to take a language A level in 2002 and only 2% of undergraduates were studying a language in 2001/02.
"We want to make sure that children are excited by languages by the time they get to
secondary school so they have a real choice to take their studies further."
The 19 "pathfinder" areas, which will begin work in September, will be Barking and Dagenham, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove,
Bury; Coventry; East Riding; Enfield; Hammersmith and Fulham, Hampshire, Kent,
Knowsley, Liverpool, Norfolk, North Tyneside, Nottinghamshire, Oldham, Richmond
upon Thames, Sheffield and Lancashire.