Language learning should start early, experts say
More primary school children in England are learning a foreign language, research for the government suggests.
The proportion of primary schools teaching a language has risen from 70% in 2006 to 84% last year. In 2002, the figure was just 44%.
Schools Minister Jim Knight says the government should meet its target of giving all primary pupils the chance to learn a language by 2010.
The number of pupils taking GCSEs in foreign languages is falling.
It is no longer compulsory for secondary pupils to study a language after the age of 14.
The new figures - from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) show that traditional languages dominate, with French being most popular (89% of primary schools which teach languages) followed by Spanish (23%) and German (9%)
A small number (under 3%) offer Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Urdu.
The survey suggests that 84% of schools are offering pupils in KS2 (ages seven to 11) the opportunity to learn a language within class time – a rise of 14 percentage points from 2006.
And 54% of schools are fully meeting the entitlement for all year groups – a rise of 20 percentage points from 2006.
Last year the government accepted the findings of Lord Dearing in his review of languages when he said language learning should be compulsory in primary school.
Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "It's excellent news that so many children have the chance to learn a second language while at primary school.
"Children find language learning easier in primary than starting in secondary school.
"Today's research means that we are on target to meet our aim of ensuring all primary school children have the opportunity to learn another language by 2010."
The National Centre for Languages (Cilt), which promotes language learning and helps to train primary teachers to teach languages, says it is delighted by the findings.
Director of Comunications Teresa Tinsley said: "It's really good news. We were picking up that more schools were coming on board. There is a lot of demand for our support for training. It's an amazing, rapid development."
Berkshire teacher Stefania Caddick-Adams, who works to promote language teaching in about a dozen primary schools, says the latest research will mask great differences in what is really going on in primary schools.
Some schools, she says, might be seen as "teaching" a language because they have a parent who runs a French club after school, for example.
"They may do the register in a language every now and again or do PE in a language occasionally but that does not amount to proper language teaching.
"It is great that the government are highlighting the importance of languages but they are trying to pat themselves on the back a bit too early," she said.
Ms Caddick-Adams, from The Downs School in Newbury, Berkshire, will next week stage an event called "Around the world in a day".
Primary school children from Berkshire and Oxfordshire will get a taste of different languages, cultures and histories. They will try their hand at calligraphy and African drumming and hear songs and stories from various countries.
The ending of compulsory language learning after the age of 14 in 2004 brought England into line with Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, most local authorities have put modern languages into the primary curriculum according to Scottish Cilt.
In Northern Ireland, schools have to teach languages to age 16, but can "opt out" of this requirement.
There has been a large fall in numbers taking modern languages at GCSE in England. In 2001, 78% of all pupils were taking a language at that level while last summer, the proportion was 46%, according to Cilt.
In Wales, the proportion of 15 year olds entering at least one language GCSE fell from 46% in 1996 to 30% in 2006.
The NFER research was based on a survey of 3,789 schools which had responded to a similar survey in 2006, plus questionnaires sent to all local authorities in England. There was a response rate of 72%.