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Primary teachers 'lack languages'

Many primary school teachers are relying on nothing more than a "rusty O-level" to teach foreign languages to their pupils, just months ahead of a new requirement for youngsters to be taught the subject, research suggests.

A new report reveals that almost one in four primary schools have no staff with a language qualification higher than a GCSE, with just under a third saying that they employ someone with a degree in the language they are teaching.

And it warns that there is a growing languages gulf between England, which struggles to ensure that all children know the basics in at least one foreign language, and its European neighbours who are now trying to offer youngsters a second foreign language.

The annual Languages Trends Survey 2013/14, published by the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council, based on a poll of 415 state secondary schools, 96 private secondaries and 591 primaries, examines the state of foreign language learning in England's schools.

It found that the vast majority - 85% of primary schools - back the Government's move to make languages compulsory for all seven to 11-year-olds under the new national curriculum, which is introduced in September.

Around 95% of primaries said that they are already teaching a language, with 42% saying that they already meet the requirements of the new curriculum.

But the study also found concerns among schools about teaching the subject.

In 23% of the primary schools surveyed, the highest languages qualification held was a GCSE, while 31% said they have teachers with an A-level in a foreign language.

Three in 10 (30%) said that they have a teacher with a languages degree - down from 40% who said the same last year.

And around 15% said that they have a bilingual or native speaker on their staff to provide language teaching to seven to 11-year-olds (Key Stage 2), although this includes teaching assistants and foreign language assistants.

The survey also found that 29% of teachers say they are not confident about giving foreign language lessons, up by 2% on last year.

One person told researchers: "Most staff feel ill equipped to teach foreign languages. As a teacher you want to feel confident that you know your subject matter well. Rusty O-level and only being a page or two ahead of the children is not ideal!"

Overall, t eachers were happier teaching pupils songs, single words and short phrases and lose confidence when they have to teach the correct way to pronounce words, grammar, reading and writing, the report found.

"The survey shows that many primary schools do not have access to teaching staff with specialist training in the teaching of languages to young children and that many primary classroom teachers have neither sufficient knowledge of another language nor sufficient confidence in their language skills to be able to teach a language to the level expected in the new national curriculum," the study found.

In total 27% of secondaries can ensure that pupils joining their school can continue with the same language that they learned in primary school, it said.

Around one in four secondaries (27%) takes pupils out of a subject between the ages of 11 and 14, usually to give them extra help in areas such as literacy and numeracy.

"This means that despite languages being a statutory requirement for all, many lower-ability pupils do not learn a foreign language at all," the report said.

The survey did find that the English Baccalaureate - awarded to teenagers who score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography and a language - has had a positive effect, with the number of schools where more than half of students take a language at GCSE rising.

It added that while the EBacc had had a positive impact, there is more to be done.

Across Europe 61% of lower secondary school pupils are already studying two foreign languages, it says, adding that an ambition to raise this to 75% " highlights the gulf between language education policies in this country, where we struggle to enable all pupils to achieve a basic level in just one foreign language, and those of other advanced economies where the policy debate has already moved on to provision for the second foreign language".

Tony McAleavy, director of research and development at CfBT, said: "I am delighted that languages is finally being given the place it deserves within the primary curriculum. I know that primary school teachers are immensely dedicated and that they will respond well to the challenge but it is concerning that so many teachers lack confidence in the field of languages teaching, and many schools lack teachers with advanced subject knowledge of languages."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "After years of decline, our reforms are driving a languages revival in schools.

"Our EBacc has already meant that thousands more pupils are studying languages at secondary school - almost half of state-school pupils entered languages at GCSE last year, the highest level for seven years.

"We are also making it compulsory for children to learn a foreign language from age seven to 14, a move which was supported by 91% of respondents to our consultation on languages in primary schools.

"To help schools deliver this, the Government is spending £350,000 over the next year so that leading schools and others can help primary and secondary teachers improve their teaching of languages."


From Belfast Telegraph