UK: Talking round industry on modern languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 14 13:13:29 UTC 2007

Talking round industry on modern languages

By Guardian Unlimited / Schools 11:16am

Four-year-olds enrolling in English primary schools this year will be the
first generation of children who will have to learn a modern language from
the age of seven, writes Debbie Andalo. The move, announced by education
secretary Alan Johnson, is an attempt to try to turn around the country's
appallingly poor record in creating school leavers and graduates who are
literate in a language other than their mother tongue. The decision to
make learning a modern language compulsory from the age of seven to 14
reflected recommendations by Lord Dearing in his review of school language

His report failed to suggest a return to making foreign languages
compulsory at GCSE. Perhaps this was not surprising given that Lord
Dearing, a government education advisor, is a keen believer in shrinking
the number of core GCSE subjects in order to increase pupil choice. But
there was disappointment in some quarters that Lord Dearing did not use
the opportunity of his review to prompt the government into a U-turn over
its decision in 2002 to take modern languages out of core GCSE. Leaders of
British industry yesterday reiterated their concern that school leavers
and graduates who lack modern language skills are increasingly at a
disadvantage in the global jobs market.

Management consultancy Hay Group warned British businesses were already
recruiting MBA graduates from China in a bid to remain commercially
competitive. The UK expects to rely on 200 billion sales to Chinese by
2009. All MBAs offered by European universities, including those in the
UK, should include a Chinese module to boost language skills, say Hay. So
should Dearing have heeded the warnings of business and made modern
languages compulsory at GCSE? Or is his recommendation that language
courses should be made available to teenagers with the promise of more
overseas trips and work placements the answer?

Last Friday the education secretary Alan Johnson stirred some political
feathers when he told a conference of headteachers that the government may
have got it wrong over its reforms for vocational diplomas for 14 to
19-year-olds. Will Mr Johnson be forced to put his hand up again and admit
that mistakes were made over modern language reforms too?


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