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Schools lack understanding on benefits of language learning, MSPs told

Holyrood’s Education Committee is examining subject choice in Scottish schools.

MSPs are examining subject choice at Scottish schools (Ben Birchall/PA)
MSPs are examining subject choice at Scottish schools (Ben Birchall/PA)

There is a lack of understanding in Scottish schools about how learning a language can help pupils improve their literacy, MSPs have been told.

Holyrood’s Education Committee has been hearing evidence from a range of people within the sector as part of its inquiry into subject choice at schools.

It has previously been suggested that pupils at schools in areas of higher deprivation are being offered fewer subjects to choose from.

Francisco Valdera-Gil, a lecturer in modern languages, told MSPs some of the most deprived schools in Glasgow are not offering modern languages to pupils.

Addressing the impact of that, he said: “There’s a lack of understanding, although it’s very clear in policy, of the role modern languages plays in literacy. To me, that is not totally understood by the profession.

“I work in teacher education, I also work with teachers delivering the one plus two, and I can see that there are schools in Glasgow that are (the) most deprived are the ones that tend not to do the modern languages.

“There’s 4,000 words in English that come from French and it’s through the learning of language that our students are exposed to that.”

Mr Valdera-Gil also suggested languages could be offered in conjunction with other subjects.

He said: “There’s no reason why modern language could not be part of another qualification – there’s no reason why it cannot be part of science, of geography, of art, of any other subject.

“I think there is a notion in the four nations of the UK that people are just bad at languages, the thought that a language is more difficult than another subject, it is not.

“But whether we like it or not, that is a myth that people live with and that makes them not take the subject.

“There is work to be done in schools to convince the population, to manage their expectations, that languages can be done.”

The narrowing of subject choices in many Scottish schools has had a profoundly negative effect on the uptake of Gaelic. Catriona MacPhee, Comann Luchd-Teagaisg ard Sgoiltean

Meanwhile, Catriona MacPhee, of the Gaelic Secondary Teachers Association Comann Luchd-Teagaisg Ard Sgoiltean, warned reduced subject choice is affecting Gaelic learning.

She said: “The narrowing of subject choices in many Scottish schools has had a profoundly negative effect on the uptake of Gaelic – especially, but not exclusively, that of Gaelic learners.

“It does need urgent intervention to protect Gaelic itself, Gaelic education and most relevant today, the right of Scotland’s young people to learn Gaelic in their schools.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Learning languages equips young people with skills for an increasingly complex and globalised world and, since 2013, we have invested an additional £30.2 million for the implementation of our ambitious 1+2 language policy.

“Evidence shows language learning is becoming the norm, with data from 2018 showing 91% of primary schools and at least 62% of secondary schools across Scotland providing the full entitlement to learning a second language from P1 through to S3.

“Wherever possible, schools should ensure young people can choose their preferred subjects in the senior phase, working with partners to make their offer as broad as possible.

“Where a subject cannot be offered by the school, national guidelines encourage flexibility, enabling schools to consider alternative approaches that best meet learners’ needs and aspirations.”

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