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Compulsory languages at KS2

The Telegraph, which seems to have some leaked information on the curriculum review, reports that, as widely predicted, the teaching of a modern language will be compulsory for all pupils from the age of seven. It will be recommended that children focus on one language and that schools may choose from ancient languages too. Look out for future announcements about compulsory languages at KS4.

What will be needed to make this work, given that existing provision for primary MFL has been, at best, a partial success?

Firstly, schools will need to allocate enough time. This will mean at leat two sessions per week, as it is well known that teaching a language is like, as Eric Hawkins aptly put it, "gardening in a gale" (the gale being English). Where will the time come from? What other things will not be done?

Secondly, who will deliver the skilled teaching required? It is reported that no new money will be allocated for this policy and, as I understand it, we have already seen some decline in provision in recent months as money for primary MFL training has dried up.

How will consistency across schools be assured? Will there be a national framework? What happens when a secondary school has umpteen feeder primaries who are providing inconsistent teaching? It remains hard to foresee a time when the Y7 teacher will be able to assume a specific level of acquired competence.

It is reported that some written skill will be expected by the end of Y6. This will represent a significant change and require a good deal more time.

The question also needs to be asked whether primary academies and free schools will have to teach languages. Presumably not, though the market and parental demand may insist on it.

Expectations need to be managed on this. If we just expect primary MFL to enthuse children for languages, provide useful literacy skills, improve their intercultural understanding, improve their communication skills, then fine, this may be worthwhile, although it will have to be at the expense of something else (unless we lengthen the school day).

On the other hand, if we expect compulsory KS2 languages to produce better results at KS3 and beyond, more linguists for the nation, then we shall be disappointed.

Primary schools are not prep schools. The latter achieve a lot in languages, but they have more time, a socially selective intake and teachers with more skills in MFL.

For a (cautiously) more optimistic view see Clare Seccombe's blog


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