Lord Ronald Dearing

The Languages Review

A government adviser has said that languages should become a "standard part" of the National Curriculum for primary schools.

Nearly 10 years after publishing The Dearing Report (1997): "Higher Education in the learning society", Lord Dearing has announced his interim report for "The Languages Review" yesterday (6 Dec 2006) stressing the need for language learning to be "embedded" into the primary curriculum, after extensive consultation into discovering what could be done to promote the learning of languages for 14-16 year olds.

The interim findings of his report include the suggestion that GCSE languages specification should be "revised" to make it more engaging for young people.

He said: "Going back to the pupil, we see languages as a valuable enfranchisement for a full life: as a stepping stone to understanding other peoples and their cultures, and one that could be more relevant to their job prospects in the long term than it may seem at present, as we increasingly embrace the reality of a global wide jobs market".

"Of course the issue of a return to a mandatory curriculum has come up during the review. There are divided opinions. If other proposals prove insufficient then it may be that we should need to go for that in a substantially modified form. But that is not our preferred option. We want to find a middle way between freedom and prescription, and one that appeals to pupils of all abilities and aptitudes".

"According to a survey by The National Centre for Languages in September, the response to Jacqui Smith's letter last January, asking schools to plan on the basis of a minimum of 50% to 90% pupils following a language course in Key Stage 4 has been poor. That is why we are asking all schools to pick up that request in the next three months, but we also suggest consideration of a way in which the Secretary of State could back up that Ministerial request with a requirement on schools to set targets, supported by guidance. This would not be on the basis that one menu suits all".

Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, commented on Lord Dearing's findings:

"I agree that we need to encourage children at a very early age. The younger they start learning a language the easier it can become, which is why we want every Key Stage 2 pupil in the country to have the opportunity to study a foreign language by 2010".

"We must also get major employer organisations involved to see what more they can do to promote the value of languages skills for business. Young people need to be aware that languages can make you attractive to employers - and more employable. The 2012 Olympic Games present an even bigger opportunity to further interest young people to continue learning languages".

CILT, the National Centre for Languages, said:

"We welcome the proposal to make languages a compulsory element in the primary curriculum".

"We welcome the recommendation for a sustained programme of training and development for secondary teachers, and for further action to promote the benefits of languages to teenagers".

"In the 14-19 phase it will be extremely important to strengthen the statutory position of languages in order to provide the necessary incentive for schools and colleges to work together to build new types of provision and to make the existing offer more attractive and motivating to pupils".

"Lord Dearing has recognised that, for languages to flourish within the new specialised Diplomas, demand needs to be more clearly articulated by employers and by organisations responsible for skills planning regionally and nationally. As yet there is too little recognition of the role that language skills can play in economic competitiveness, employability, and in achieving national and regional economic and social inclusion targets".

"Languages are key in providing opportunities for international career development and can enhance career pathways for all young people. Employer surveys to be published in the coming weeks will show that employers are already starting to articulate more strongly the need for languages skills, as well as other attributes gained through language learning".

"We are pleased that Lord Dearing has recognised the role of CILT's regional networks in providing a platform for co-ordinating strategic and operational action to achieve the objectives of this programme of reform and we look forward to working with the DfES and other key partners to take this work forward".

Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather MP, said:

"There is an urgent need to halt the alarming drop in students studying foreign languages. Britain cannot hope to be competitive in the world if the next generation of school children are missing out on these vital skills".

"The Government must ensure that there are more specialist language teachers in schools to re-ignite the passion for these subjects. Students will only be excited about a subject if the teachers themselves are enthused. Pupils should start learning foreign languages in primary school - the sooner young children start studying different languages, the better".

"Any new policy, however, needs to be backed up with proper funding and training for teachers, many of whom won"t have studied languages since they left school themselves".

Vijay Pattni

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