Sunday, 10 June 2012

Cautiously optimistic

I've written before about the Review of the National Curriculum, the last news of which appeared just before Christmas last year.  Since then we have been waiting for further news, in particular news of the fate of languages at Key Stage 2.

A few weeks ago (during the penultimate week of May) I heard from two reliable sources that further news would be coming at the beginning of June.  I was not surprised by the timing, as it would be half term, and big news about education often seems to come out during holidays when teachers aren't in school.  

Yesterday evening this article  - Foreign languages to be compulsory from age 7 - appeared in the Telegraph (where else?!)  It states that the learning of a foreign language will become a compulsory part of primary education from 2014.

Some of the salient points from the article:

  • A system in which all primary children learn a foreign language from age seven will give pupils a much stronger foundation, which they can build on in secondary school to become fluent.
    I started to learn French when I was 7.  I took O'level, A'level and S'level.  By the time I got to university I was proficient in French, but not fluent.  I was not anywhere near fluent until I returned from my year abroad, at the end of the third year of my degree.  Stating that Year 11s will become fluent is complete pie-in-the-sky, as far as I am concerned, and dangerously misleading.
  • Under the plans, schools would be allowed to decide which language, modern or ancient, their pupils should be taught.
  • Primary teachers will be required to focus on a single language to avoid a piecemeal approach. Personally I am very pleased about this - better to learn a lot of something and be fairly proficient than to learn lots of bits of things and end up knowing nothing.
  • Secondary schools complain, however, that there is little consistency in the knowledge and skills of pupils joining from primary schools.
    The involvement of secondary schools in this new chapter for primary schools will be absolutely crucial.  If they are to build on the foundations that their primary colleagues have built, they will need to be confident that those foundations have been consistent, good quality and in an appropriate language.  Finding a solution that suits all stakeholders will be a huge challenge.

  • By the age of 11, pupils will be expected to speak the language in sentences with appropriate punctuation, express simple ideas with clarity and write phrases and short sentences from memory.
  • They will also be expected to understand basic grammar and be acquainted with songs and poems in the language studied.
    This links very closely to the new proposals for Literacy in KS2, as outlined in this BBC News article.  It speaks of a new emphasis on grammar, spelling, phonics and poems, all in a day's work for MFL, n'est-ce pas?  If a school chooses to teach an ancient language rather than a modern one, they may find the songs and poems part a little challenging!
  • Research also suggests that being a foreign language can help to improve conversation skills and literacy in English, as well as benefit study in other subjects.
    Yes, but there are many teachers and headteachers who still haven't seen the light.  We need to continue to make the most of the cross-curricular nature of MFL.
  • The announcement this week, which will be consulted on over the summer, is not expected to include any additional funding to help schools provide language lessons.
    So we shall await the Big Announcement in a few days time.  I am concerned that the consultation will take place "over the summer" - do they want teachers to be involved in this?
    Additional funding isn't needed necessarily to "help schools provide language lessons" but to train teachers and to put in place suitable schemes of work and materials, as well as to provide the crucially needed support which is now sadly absent from so many local authorities.
So, as I said at the beginning, I am cautiously optimistic.  There is a lot of work to be done in the next two years if this plan is to succeed.  For some primary schools 2014 will be very much business as usual, but for others it's going to be a long, hard climb to get to where they need to be.


  1. I don't agree with just having one language taught in the school. We teach three. The high school teaches the same three. The children are able to choose which language they want to study further at high school and I feel we give them a taster of all three. The children appreciate not having to learn French for four years and the high school appreciate that too.

    I think we still have the issue of teachers not feeling confident teaching MFL and I can understand where they're coming from - I cannot teach music to save my life! I think more money is needed in schools to facilitate this. I think some schools became slack(er) when the government turned its back on the plans to make MFL compulsory in primary schools and now it seems as though they're going to have to sort themselves out again! Some schools need help!

  2. Some good points well made Clare. I hadn't actually thought too much about the fluency bit, as I was too flabbergasted that Primary teachers (often non MFL specialists) are expected to achieve all of the above with no money.
    I await further news but remain optimistic.