Friday, 20 May 2016

Primary Languages are marginalised, says Ofsted chief

Yesterday, May 19th, the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, published his latest monthly commentary.  In this commentary, he writes about "the study of science and foreign languages in primary schools".

This is the summary of the commentary:

Teachers of primary languages will agree with this.  Languages are often the first thing to "fall off the end" if there is insufficient time in the week or if there is a perceived need to do more English and maths.  And bravo to Sir Michael for pointing out that learning a language boosts literacy and numeracy skills.  There are still Headteachers (and teachers) who do not accept this.

Sir Michael goes on to say that current provision for Languages in KS2 is a cause for concern as this year's Year 7 will be required to take a GCSE Language when they reach Year 11 in 2020.  They will need the headstart that they are entitled to get at primary school to enable them to meet this challenge.

During the last two terms' inspections, Ofsted has reviewed "the quality and breadth of provision in science and foreign languages in primary schools".  106 schools had a Languages focus.  Their findings were:
HMI found that the majority of primary-age pupils enjoy studying science and having the chance to learn a foreign language. However, inspectors also found weaknesses in the provision of both subjects. In particular, in too many schools they found:
·         a lack of time allocated to the study of science and foreign languages
·         a lack of teaching expertise, particularly in respect of foreign languages
·         poor working arrangements with partner secondary schools that failed to ensure effective transition and progression

So Ofsted has discovered the three issues which have troubled so many teachers of KS2 Languages since they became compulsory in September 2014.  These three findings certainly come as no surprise.

In the schools visited, 2/3 of children spent less than an hour a week on Language learning.  Ofsted have never specified a time allocation, and indeed Julie Yarwood stated recently that Ofsted has no view about time allocation in KS2.  This might suggest, however, that an hour a week is what they might deem to be the ideal time allocation.

Teacher expertise is an issue, as we know, because the current generation of new teachers are those who did not have to study a language to GCSE.  This comment will be of great interest:
"The generation of teachers entering the profession in recent years was not, in the main, required to study a foreign language to GCSE. This has resulted in a shortage of language specialists at primary school level that can only be addressed through significant investment in the professional development of staff. "
It will be interesting to see if the DfE pick up on this.
His final message is of great importance to those schools facing inspection, and will also be of help to those Languages co-ordinators fighting for their subject to be acknowledged:
"Inspectors found that the best primary schools are capable of providing effective teaching in science, foreign languages and all other subjects, without undermining pupils’ progress in literacy and numeracy. It should not be an ‘either/or’ situation. The best primary schools recognise that providing excellent teaching in subjects like foreign languages and science promotes good literacy and numeracy skills. This complements, rather than detracts from, the focus on English and mathematics."
And finally a big thumbs-up to the creative force that are Primary Languages teachers:
"In my years of experience as a headteacher, I often found that good language and science teachers were among the best at engaging with children and instilling in them an abiding interest and curiosity in the subject. If children are ‘switched off’ by poor, unchallenging lessons, this is likely to have an impact on the future take-up of these subjects. We must therefore ensure that primary-age pupils are inspired by effective teaching of science and foreign languages, from properly trained and qualified staff, and that the pupils’ enquiring minds and natural curiosity are nurtured."
The commentary links to the Ofsted document Foreign languages and science provision in primary schools.  This document is based on the findings of the Ofsted questionnaires that were carried out at Christmas time.  We have been promised the results of the questionnaires for some time, and here is some brief information.
The teacher questionnaire received 276 responses and the parent one 215 responses.  In addition children responded to a languages question in their pupil questionnaires.  My own survey a year ago received 159 responses.
The main details in this document:
  • 2/5 of teachers said that time is the biggest barrier to language teaching
  • 1/4 of school leaders said that time constraints were the main challenge in delivering languages
  • over 1/2 of school leaders and teachers said that a lack of confidence, a lack of subject knowledge and a lack of training are the biggest challenges in improving the quality of language provision
  • In 28 of the 106 schools visited, children were "not well prepared for further study of foreign languages at the end of KS2".  We can perhaps assume that this means that "substantial progress" had not been made.
It will be interesting to see how much impact these words of Sir Michael's have. Will the fact that they are from Ofsted persuade some schools to pay more attention to their language teaching?