HC Deb 20 July 1982 vol 28 cc203-4
16. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any evidence of the impact made by falling rolls on the availability of classes in foreign languages in the schools; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. Boyson

There is evidence that some schools are reducing modern language provision. My Department will be consulting those interested in the autumn about the teaching of foreign languages in schools.

Mr. Newens

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that reductions in the number of teachers as rolls fall inevitably means that schools will reduce the number of classes in modern languages, particularly where a minimum number of pupils is fixed? If we are no longer to see German being taught as a sixth form subject in the majority of our schools, is there not a need for immediate action?

Dr. Boyson

I appreciate that falling rolls create problems in the teaching of all subjects, including languages. However, relatively, foreign languages have been declining in Britain for the past 10 to 15 years. The proportion of students obtaining an A-level in a foreign language now is lower than it was 15 years ago, and among boys there is an absolute drop.

Mr. Beith

In view of the seriousness of the disappearance of languages such as German, Spanish and Italian from many schools, will the Minister seek a special initiative, including additional staffing, to make the teaching of those important languages possible?

Dr. Boyson

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is not just a question of staffing. The distribution of language teaching is wrong. In Britain, 85 per cent. of students are studying French, of whom only one-third are still studying it in the fourth year. The collapse in language teaching over those three or four years is more rapid than in any other subject. Britain has a serious language teaching problem.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that the method of teaching languages is as much responsible for the decline in the number of pupils studying languages as is the decline in pupil rolls?

Dr. Boyson

I take my hon. Friend's point. A literary approach is good for academic children, but many children benefit more from the spoken approach in which they learn to use the language and to feel what it can achieve.

Mr. Kinnock

How does the Minister hope to reverse the decline of which he spoke, or to build from the collapse of which he speaks, when the Government's economic and education policies revolve round major cuts in education, the loss of tens of thousands of teachers and the eradication of places in universities and other institutions of higher education which specifically exist to develop language teaching and learning?

Dr. Boyson

According to the statistics collected in January, there is no shortage of language teachers. If one were to question anything, one would question whether the move to comprehensive schools in which able linguists—both children and teachers—are spread around is one of the reasons for the decline in language teaching.