UK: Gov't to review language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Oct 18 12:41:46 UTC 2006

Government to Review Language Policy
17 October 2006

Education department in the House of Commons last week

The government is investing nearly 1 billion into personalised learning
for students to provide catch-up lessons for failing English and Maths
students. Speaking in the House of Commons last week, the Secretary of
State for Education and Skills, Alan Johnson, responded to criticisms that
frighteningly high numbers of children in the higher years of our
secondary and upper schools cannot read well [Andrew Selous, Con, SW
Bedfordshire], saying: Some 66% of children who reach the right standard
in English at level 4 aged 11 will go on to obtain five good GCSEs, but
only 9% of those who do not reach that standard will do the same.

And addressing concerns regarding the numbers of students taking foreign
languages at GSCE and A-Level [Graham Stuart, Con, Beverley and
Holderness], Mr Johnson replied: With the introduction of languages in
primary schools, and the improvement of the quality of teaching and
learning at key stage 3, we expect more pupils to want to continue to
learn languages at GCSE and A-level. I can announce to the House that I
have asked Lord Dearing to review our languages policy at key stage 4 and
to consider what more can be done to increase take-up.

Responding to the fact that less than 100 students took up languages at
A-Level in the East Riding of Yorkshire last year, Mr Johnson was asked
whether he regretted removing languages as a compulsory GSCE three years
ago. He replied: No. The fundamental question is whether that strategy was
right. The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a drop, but there
has also been an improvement in attainment by those students who have
continued to study languages. Continuing on the language issue, he said:
There is a problem in this country: people who speak three languages are
called trilingual, people who speak two languages are called bilingual,
and those who speak one language are called English.

Our strategy to do so is for children to start learning languages
earlierat age sevenand no longer to force kids who are starting their
GCSEs to study a language if they do not wish to do so. Forcing 14 to
16-year-olds to learn a language will not achieve that objective, but
exciting children about languages at an early age, and finding new and
more inspiring ways of teaching languages, will do so. And further to the
debate in the House, it has been confirmed that Lord Dearing is to
collaborate with the Department for Education and Skills Lid King,
National Director of Languages, to work with representatives of Further
Education on what might be done to widen access to and increase interest
in language learning among students.

Lord Dearing noted: I believe the answers to the questions we have about
the recent decline in modern languages are out there in the education
community and it is my job to find them. As with my work on the review of
the National Curriculum, I will start from scratch, wanting above all to
listen and learn.

Vijay Pattni.


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