Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 18:56 UK

Primary languages missing target

Flags and language lessons
More primary schools are teaching languages

Almost a fifth of primary schools in England could miss a government target to offer language teaching by next year, a report says.

The National Foundation for Educational Research says overall language provision in primaries is increasing.

There is a target for language lessons to be available for seven to 11 year olds by 2010 - with languages set to become compulsory the following year.

Ministers said the strategy to get pupils learning earlier was working.

Languages ceased to be compulsory for secondary pupils after the age of 14 in 2004.

Instead the focus switched to increasing the number of younger pupils learning languages in primary school.

The report, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, was intended to establish what progress was being made in primary schools.

It found that in 2008, 92% of primary schools were offering languages in some form. This was a rise of 22 percentage points from 2006.

It also found the vast majority of primary schools were "making good progress" towards offering the full entitlement.

However, the NFER researchers found up to 18% of primary schools will not be able to offer the opportunity to learn a language to any seven to 11 year old child.

This non-statutory target was introduced as part of the National Languages Strategy last year.

But a higher proportion of schools - 26% - may not be ready to implement languages as part of the compulsory curriculum in 2011.

About 30% of schools were currently not offering this level of language learning to their pupils, the research found.

Rose review

I'd settle with them learning their native language first before teaching them a foreign one!
John F, London

Schools facing more difficult circumstances, for example those with a higher number of pupils eligible for free school meals, were less likely to be offering languages, the report found.

However, it said the number of such schools doing so had increased over the last three years.

One of the main barriers the researchers found was lack of time to fit languages into lessons.

Languages will become a compulsory in primary schools from 2011, following a review of the primary curriculum by Sir Jim Rose.

Numbers of GCSE entries in languages have declined since they were no longer compulsory.

A separate study undertaken by Cambridge University has found that a majority of head teachers feel there is a lack of continuity between primary and secondary school language learning.

And almost 50% of heads questioned for this research said a language should be compulsory after the age of 14 for most pupils.

Schools minister Diana Johnson said: "We know that when children start learning a language at an earlier age they can absorb more, build more confidence and become more passionate about language learning.

"That is why we are making languages compulsory in primary schools from 2011 and will continue to ensure schools teach them until age 14."

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