Lynn FulfordBy Lynn Fulford – Associate Dean of Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has embarked on a consultation on the Government’s plan to introduce foreign languages into the primary curriculum at the start of Key Stage 2, when children are seven years old.  Disappointing then that a recent report by the CfBT Education Trust indicates that almost a quarter of all primary schools have no teacher with language qualifications beyond  GCSE and that, whilst teachers are confident to teach vocabulary and phrases,  they are much less secure about the more technical and rigorous aspects of language teaching – including reading, writing and grammatical understanding.

The lack of expertise in primary schools is not surprising – language graduates going into primary teaching are few and far between and a Teaching Agency initiative to encourage trainee teachers to undertake part of their teaching practice abroad had its funding cut under the current Coalition Government.   The study of languages at Key Stage 4 is not compulsory – only just over 40% of our young people study languages at GCSE so, to break the cycle, we need to develop a more innovative approach to encouraging teachers and teacher trainees to gain confidence and expertise in their ability to teach languages at primary level.  This means investing in those who may have limited language skills so that they can develop them.   Nor should we forget that many of our children and teachers are already fluent in community languages – so we need to build on their linguistic expertise.  It is disappointing therefore that the Government does not recognise community languages in its proposed languages curriculum, preferring that our children study Ancient Greek or Latin rather than Urdu or Punjabi!

At Birmingham City University, we have developed excellent links with the University of Cordoba so that some of our undergraduate trainee teachers with GCSE and A Level Spanish can spend time teaching in primary schools in Spain – and Spanish trainees reciprocate by teaching in our local primary schools.  The benefits to our trainees, our schools and our children are enormous.  Children learn from native speakers, our trainees improve their linguistic confidence and our schools enjoy hosting teachers from Spain.   Three of our trainees are currently supporting a local primary school with a Spanish family whose children can speak no English and who have relocated to Birmingham.  However, these initiatives take place without funding and are reliant on our trainees’ good will and willingness to fund their own visit to Cordoba.

The Education Secretary is right to promote the teaching of languages in our primary schools – the learning of a foreign language builds confidence, empathy for others and general linguistic awareness that impacts on fluency in English – but he may also need to consider more innovative ways of enabling this to happen.

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Lynn Fulford

Lynn Fulford

Associate Dean - Student Experience & Quality Assurance