HL Deb 13 July 1990 vol 521 cc554-95

11.38 a.m.

Baroness Lockwood

rose To move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on European Schools and Language Learning in United Kingdom schools [13th Report, HL Paper 48].

The noble Baroness said: I first thank members of Sub-committee C for their help and diligence during the course of the inquiry. I also thank noble Lords who intend to speak in the debate this morning; in particular, I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. Her experience in the field of education will add greatly to the debate.

The report is based on a communication from the European Commission on European schools in the context of inter-cultural and European education. The Commission's document proposed a three-year project during which some of the existing European schools could be invited by the education authorities of interested member states to participate in an experimental scheme to test the feasibility of enabling existing schools to add a European component to the content of teaching courses and related examinations. The document also suggested that some existing secondary schools might offer the European baccalaureate.

The inquiry covered two themes: European schools and the lessons they might offer to other schools, and language teaching and learning in the United Kingdom. The term "European schools" is a technical one, designating the nine schools set up to provide education for the children of employees of the European Community. They are jointly financed by member states and the European Community and cater for pupils from the age of three to 18. All the schools follow a common curriculum and are organised into language sections for teaching purposes. From their first year of formal education at the age of six all children spend part of each day learning a second language.

In the secondary section, pupils receive most lessons in their mother tongue and the remainder in another working language, that is English, French and German. The only formal qualification offered is the European baccalaureate which is based on examinations taken at the end of the seventh year of secondary education. It is offered exclusively by the European schools. The standards of the schools, particularly in modern language teaching, are high, though provision for less able pupils is limited.

As well as receiving evidence on the schools the sub-committee had the pleasure of visiting the one European school in the United Kingdom based at Culham, Oxfordshire, which they found most impressive. Certainly, there is much to learn from its methods of language teaching. Nevertheless, the sub-committee found no case for increasing the number of such schools in the United Kingdom. The schools are extremely expensive to run. Although they are non-residential, the committee was informed by the Department of Education and Science that the cost of the Culham school in 1987–88 was four times more than the cost of a state school with a similar number of children. Witnesses pointed out that there are more pressing priorities on the education budget.

The sub-committee also considered the Commission's suggestion that some existing secondary schools might offer the European baccalaureate. It concluded that this too is not practical at the present time. It noted some problems about the administration of the examination. Moreover, such an extension of the European baccalaureate would entail both teaching and examining some subjects of the curriculum in a language other than English. Valuable though that would be, adequate resources are not currently available in the United Kingdom. Instead, the report suggests that, since the international baccalaureate is a widely-recognised qualification, it may be a more appropriate model for expansion than the European baccalaureate.

The majority of the evidence received by the committee related to language teaching in the United Kingdom. That evidence led the committee to conclude that the two main problems affecting modern foreign language learning in the United Kingdom are the current crisis in teacher supply and the widespread lack of motivation and interest in foreign languages.

Current provision for language learning in many United Kingdom schools compares unfavourably with that in other member states. Pupils in United Kingdom schools tend to study fewer modern languages, start doing so later, and give up earlier, than their Community counterparts. Despite that—the committee would like to emphasise this point—modern foreign language teaching has improved greatly during the past decade. The committee recommends wide publicity for the changes that have taken place.

At present most pupils at maintained schools in the United Kingdom start learning a modern foreign language at the age of 11. About half give up at the age of 14. The implementation of the national curriculum in 1992 will increase dramatically the number of fourth and fifth year secondary pupils who continue to study a modern foreign language to the age of 16, doubling the numbers of pupils learning languages after the age of 14. Modern foreign language teachers in United Kingdom schools thus currently face two extra burdens—the radical and rapid changes in teaching methods and an imminent doubling of the numbers of pupils. The committee believes that it is imperative that adequate in-service training facilities should be provided. Teacher exchanges with other member states should be further developed. The committee welcomes the recent Community decisions on the Lingua programme and considers that that can be extended. Educational visits and exchanges can promote language fluency and foster cultural understanding.

Widespread concern was expressed in evidence about the Government's new policy on charging for such visits. The committee believes that this policy should be changed without further delay if, on the basis of current surveys, it is found that it has discouraged visits. The committee recommends that the skills of pupils who speak a Community language other than English at home should be encouraged wherever possible. It agrees with the vast majority of witnesses who urge that foreign language teaching should be offered in primary schools. Planning for that should start now. Teacher training colleges should include foreign languages as an essential component of B.Ed. courses.

The United Kingdom is currently facing a severe crisis in the supply of teachers of modern foreign languages. Many more language teachers are needed to meet the provisions of the national curriculum. According to the Department of Education and Science, the shortfall in the number of teachers required is over 1,700 or 11 per cent. Other witnesses gave an even higher figure. Therefore, urgent action is needed to redress complaints from teachers about status, conditions and pay.

The committee also proposes a nationwide keeping-in-touch-with-teaching scheme to encourage already qualified teachers to return to work. Training facilities, child care arrangements and flexible working patterns should be provided for existing teachers in order to retain them in the service and to encourage others, mainly women, who left for family reasons.

The employment of qualified teachers from other member states and of more language assistants, besides the use of peripatetic teachers, particularly in those languages which are infrequently taught, can all help to ease the crisis. The committee strongly believes that all state maintained secondary schools should provide for the teaching of at least one European Community language. The vast majority of pupils should continue to learn a first modern foreign language for at least five years. Pupils should be encouraged to learn a second foreign language. Diversification in modern foreign language teaching should not be restricted to the most able pupils. We feel that the less able pupils would also cope.

The committee recognises that many of its recommendations entail additional expenditure, but consider that the recruitment and retention of well-trained and motivated teachers is crucial. However, its final conclusion forms one of the principal recommendations in the report and would cost nothing to implement. It is that the attitude of British society towards foreign language learning must change. Teachers and pupils, parents and politicians, employees and employers, must all be made aware of the vital importance of modern foreign language learning as a means of communication and cross-cultural understanding and as an aid to business and overseas trade.

The report reveals a deep-seated cultural problem. For too long we have relied on our island status and for too, long we have expected others to learn our language. That can be no longer tolerated. As a full member of the European Community, we must change our approach accordingly. Languages and communications are the key. The Government recognise the depth of the problem. On behalf of the sub-committee I welcome the very detailed and careful response to the report which has been circulated to all those taking part in the debate. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for responding in that way. The committee has not yet had an opportunity to consider the response but I am sure that it will welcome the already extensive action which the Government are taking.

At this point, I shall make just two comments. First, although the several witnesses from the teaching profession appearing before the sub-committee were most enthusiastic in their approach to language teaching and the development of a European culture, the committee was left in no doubt that improving the overall morale of the profession is critical if the problem of teacher shortages is to be resolved. Despite the recent change in teachers' pay and salaries, which is recorded in the response, I wonder whether the Government quite perceive the intensity and the urgency of the problem. I hope they do.

Secondly, I was dismayed to read in the response that the Secretary of State does not think that it would be, reasonable to plan for the introduction of a modern foreign language into the primary school curriculum until at least the end of the first decade of the next century". A whole generation of children will have passed through the education system by then. We must act with much greater speed and urgency.

The committee recognises, as its report indicates, all the difficulties involved in extending the teaching of modern foreign languages. Its recommendations are intended to help alleviate the problem. We were told in evidence—we recognised the realism of the statement—that it would take 10 years to plan and mount a programme for language teaching in the primary school. That is why we recommended that planning should start now, and that one feature of the planning should be the inclusion of a foreign language as an essential component of the B.Ed course for primary teachers. At least we should be—

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will give way for a moment. I was a member of the committee and I shall be speaking later. She is at the moment speaking about the response of the Secretary of State for Education and Science relating to England and Wales. Foreign languages have already been introduced as an experiment in primary schools in Scotland, a subject about which I shall be speaking.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I must inform the House that he was very diligent in pointing out to the committee from time to time that the system in Scotland is quite different from that in England and Wales.

Scotland is mounting a number of pilot projects which are very welcome. I am talking about planning for the introduction of language teaching in primary schools across the whole of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord will agree that the committee felt it essential that we should start to plan now and that foreign language teaching should be a component in the B.Ed for primary teachers. We should start to tackle the problem before the beginning of the next century.

We cannot let a whole generation go by before doing anything. In any case, if the publicity and awareness programme, which the committee hopes the Government will mount, is successful, it could be that parents themselves will refuse to accept such a delay. I have found it encouraging to receive letters resulting from the publicity given to the publication of the report. Two letters came from parents so anxious that their young children should learn a foreign language that they were seeking to set up an informal language teaching group for primary age children in their own community.

Pressure from, and the involvement of, parents succeeded in extending the teaching of Welsh to children in Wales. It would be good to see similar pressure and involvement from both parents and industry for the teaching of European languages in the whole of the United Kingdom on a much wider scale. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on European Schools and Language Learning in United Kingdom Schools [13th Report, HL Paper 48].—(Baroness Lockwood.)

11.56 a.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, as I rise to address the House for the first time I should like to express my thanks for the kindness, the courtesy and the patience shown to me over the past few weeks. I ask for that tolerance to be extended for a few minutes more. I know, having been a headmistress for 25 years, that I should not feel daunted, but I have to say that taking an assembly for 650 adolescent girls is not half as worrying as speaking to a score or so of noble Lords in this august and historic Chamber. Secondly, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on the report produced by the Select Committee which she chairs. I thank her also for the kind words she said earlier about me.

I think I agree with practically everything that the noble Baroness said. I was particularly glad that she made the point that there are indeed very many first-class teachers of modern languages in our schools. As we look at and appraise language learning and teaching in the country, I hope that we will not forget that.

The report of the Select Committee is so good, so well researched and so comprehensive that there is hardly anything left to say. Well, of course there is. It would appear from last week's Economist and indeed from today's newspapers that we cannot take for granted agreement on the importance of learning a language other than one's own or even of encouraging European awareness, or, to use the educational jargon, empathy. Moreover, newspaper advertisements for top career appointments in international companies do not, curiously, always list fluency in a foreign language as an essential qualification together with the technical expertise and interpersonal skills which are always demanded. The Select Committee is right to emphasise that British attitudes to language learning and teaching must change.

The study of a modern foreign language is an exciting and stimulating activity at any age. I am glad to see the number of language classes available to Members of this House. It is especially stimulating for the young: There is no such thing as a national inability to learn languages". Those are the words contained in the interim report of the Modern Foreign Languages Working Group, of which I am a member. Its statements, injunctions and hopes are real, but they are by no means new. In the early 60s, successive reports spoke of the urgent need for practical proficiency in languages. As the working group has met several times at the University of Essex, it is perhaps fitting for me to quote the words of a former vice-chancellor, who is himself a Hispanist. He said: We should like to encourage students from every part of the university to learn a language—and we should like to provide the facilities for really practical instruction to allow a student to understand a language and speak it fluently". So much, then, for the 1960s. However, the urgent question in 1990 is how are we to ensure that our students both at school and beyond learn the languages? How can we interest and motivate them? We can do so through the courses, the resources and the teachers. The courses are changing dramatically. The GCSE—the General Certificate of Secondary Education—encourages a stronger motivation in the students. The emphasis is on being able to understand spoken language of various kinds and being able to respond appropriately. Then there is the ability to express oneself effectively in speech and in conversation; the ability to read and understand; and the ability to record and convey meaning in the written language. Those are the specific attainment targets up to the age of 16 years.

Even in the two A-level years there are interesting developments in courses; for example, the Oxford Board has just decided to eliminate all testing in English for its A-level examination in modern foreign languages. Moreover, for children with special needs, language teachers are beginning to work out how to teach across the full ability range and how to teach pupils of widely varying motivation and home backgrounds. Some diversification in the actual languages taught is beginning to take place.

I am proud of the fact that at St. Paul's Girls School we began 10 years ago to offer 11 year-old pupils a choice of what should be their first foreign language. Even today, I am still proud that we offered them the choice of German as their first foreign language, together with the French language. The pupils whose first foreign language is German, easily add French as their second foreign language within two years. Whatever the first foreign language may be, if it is well taught it will serve as the apprentice language, as Professor Eric Hawkins would say, for all future language learning. I hope that the Government will bear that fact in mind and that they will allow provision for a second foreign modern language in the national curriculum, so that Spanish, Russian and Italian are available as well as German and French. Of course, I should like to see Japanese and Chinese eventually included in that list, too.

But, however innovative the course is and however diverse the languages taught, teachers need proper resources. That includes not only books and magazines, but also tapes, videos and electronic mail with, of course, the machines to operate them. These are not extravagances; they are necessary enablers. The support of foreign language assistants and of native speakers is also necessary, as is the biggest boost to teachers' morale; namely, secretarial help in the staff room.

However, what our schools need—and I stress the word "need"—is teachers. We are chronically short of trained modern language teachers in the United Kingdom, as the noble Baroness has already said. The latest figures for graduate employment for 1988 show only 8.3 per cent. of modern language graduates entering teacher training. One of my colleagues on the Modern Foreign Languages Working Group, who is a university lecturer in education, Russian and French, has this year for the first time in his 17 years' experience lost two of his most gifted linguists. They have decided not to go into the teaching profession although they have passed their postgraduate certificate of education course very successfully.

As we have heard, teacher morale is low. Therefore, what can be done? The teachers we already have in our schools need help and we need to recruit more of them. It is important to define what the school authorities and the parents, let alone the pupils, expect from teachers. At present the multifarious demands on teachers' time and attention are overwhelming as they grapple with the new requirements of the GCSE and the national curriculum. Language teachers have their own particular worry about their fluency and linguistic and cultural competence. I hope for them that exchange visits to the appropriate country, linked with other schools, can be arranged and that there will always be advisers ready to help.

Thirty-five years ago, when I was a young married woman with three small children, I was teaching on a part-time basis at the Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith. The then headmistress, Dame Joyce Bishop, who is still alive today at the age of 90, asked me to help her in a national campaign to recruit married women to return to, or indeed to enter, the teaching profession. It has taken me rather a long time to respond to her initiative, but I now urge the Government, the Department of Education and Science and the individual schools to bring into teaching, women, especially those with family responsibilities, who can teach languages, even if it is on a part-time basis. However, they will need help, reassurance and practice. Moreover, they will certainly need to overcome their fear of those two terrible unknowns —the GCSE and the national curriculum.

Finally, I reiterate my congratulations to the noble Baroness and the members of the Select Committee. I hope that their report, coupled with the practical help and advice of the Modern Foreign Languages Working Group, will make 1990 the year when the British finally take advantage of learning languages and understanding other people's cultures. For this we must nurture our teacher-linguists. Perhaps the 1990s should become the decade of the teacher. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

12.9 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I am delighted to be the first speaker to have the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness on her maiden speech. If I may say so, she may have felt more trepidation in addressing this House than she ever did when addressing a St. Paul's assembly, but I would feel more trepidation if I had only to address the sixth form of St. Paul's Girls School. I am especially delighted on this occasion because the girls' school was obviously derived originally from the boys' school. The boys' school of course is almost the twin of my school in Manchester, about which I intend to say a word or two.

I was interested in what the noble Baroness had to say about modern language teaching. I should like to know much more about it. I should like to know what vocabulary is being taught because at the age of 15 at that illustrious school, although I knew all the names of the plants, flowers and animals (male and female), I had almost no vocabulary of practical everyday matters.

All I can offer today are a few random reflections on that important subject. I have never been within the language teaching world, but I have been on the edge of it for most of my life. We have language teachers in the family. My daughter, who is bi-lingual in French, was that rare being, a primary teacher of French. She was at the French Lycée between the ages of six and 19. She was marvellously happy. When I consider European schools, I think of the results on her and her English friends from not attending a wholly English school. More than 50 nationalities were represented at the Lycée. The pupils became not merely Europeans but citizens of the world. As she was an only child, and we always had a fellow pupil living with us, she was able to make close friendships with people of other countries. One year it was one of those numerous Vietnamese girls who can call themselves princesses.

There are important gains from such an education, but there are equally important losses. My daughter had never heard of King Alfred burning the cakes, Grace Darling's heroism, or even the verses of "The Wreck of the Hesperus". I am making a serious point. As a result in later life she was cut of from part of the frame of reference of her English contemporaries. She was cut off from the sub-literature which everyone reads, and she was cut off from what Dr. Brewer describes as, "phrase and fable". As it was a lay school, she was cut off from knowledge of stories such as the "Coat of Many Colours" or "Daniel in the Lions' Den". That was not part of the culture in which she was participating. Although she picked up a lot from television, there were nevertheless terrible omissions for an English girl.

The compensation, of course, was to know by heart some of the exquisite short poems of Verlaine—with due attention to the mute "e"—and a few stories about Charlemagne. I am still not sure about what type of school I should like a grandchild of mine to attend but, because of the way in which the Community is going and recognising all the shortcomings, I would probably choose the Lycée or a European school.

I welcome and commend the report with its regrets and its hopes. The lack of desire to speak a foreign language is not an English failing, it is a strange English characteristic. It may be the result of us having been for a time a master race with a native language spoken by so many foreigners. What is remarkable is that as the BBC takes its microphone deep into the heartland of the Eastern Soviet empire it can find natives who speak good English and are capable of intellectual formulation in the language. Those are people who can never have visited an English-speaking country or met an English person. The motivation, I suspect, may have been a protest against the language of communism. It is, in any case, an example of what modern language learning can attain with the help of modern linguistic insights, radio, records and tape recorders.

Six years ago I went to China and met the second-year students at Xian University. It was a great treat for them to meet British parliamentarians because they had never met an English-speaking person previously. Each of them had a tête-à-tête with a member of the delegation. Mine spoke slowly without errors and no trace at all of the old Chinese intonations and effusions such as one hears from Chinese waiters in London and sometimes from Chinese diplomats.

Over 100 years ago, the prevailing establishment in Manchester said that it was ridiculous that the grammar school, which six of the present life Peers attended, should be teaching nothing but classics in that commercial world trading city. The reform that it secured was that the school should teach the sciences as intensively as it taught the classics and that it should teach modern languages. The school was greatly increased in size. It was divided into classics, sciences and modern languages. The latter merely exchanged French and German for Latin and Greek, but they were taught with the same rigour and intention as were the classical subjects. The intention was to examine the nature of language, to learn precision in its use and to use the opportunities it gave to explore its literature and philosophies.

Those who took an honours French degree at Manchester University—they included several of my contemporaries—continued doing that. They then spent a year in Paris attending lectures at the Sorbonne, where they learned how to chat up the girls of 25 nationalities in French; how to distinguish red wine from white wine and how to smoke a Gauloise cigarette without being sick. It was an education for a scholar and a gentleman. After four years, they knew a great deal about the literature and philosophy of France, and they spoke the language well; they knew nothing of anything else with any precision—their knowledge was general—not forgetting the supplementary subject of German in which they were not all that adept.

That admirable system must be preserved in the world of today but only for the minority of people who will need to speak a foreign language well. If I am talking all the time about French, it is because it is still the main European language. German may become so, but not yet. All those who need to speak a foreign language well are not necessarily those who will have a love of Rousseau, Baudelaire or Proust. There are now combined courses in which a more practical skill is taught instead of literature.

A friend of mine who is one of the most eminent French literature scholars told me this week that he had examined the French of those students at Bradford University who were studying it alongside business studies. He found the French excellent. He had nothing but commendation for such a course, and yet he was one who was brought up in the most rigorous of the old traditions.

Thirty years ago I was deputy director of the Nuffield Foundation. As I was leaving, I had a hand in the introduction of what was called Nuffield French. The idea was that we should take the children who had passed their 11-plus in February until the holidays began in July and give them a rigorous French course through a French system that was adapted to records and taken from the system used at SHAPE. Shortly afterwards the 11-plus was virtually abolished and I do not think that the Nuffield French was successful. Teachers did not like it. At that time there was a strong influence in the primary schools against learning anything at all by heart. It still exists. At a school close to me, the teachers refuse to allow the children to learn poems. As for learning tables, that is regarded as impossible.

With Nuffield French, the idea was that the teachers could listen and keep a lesson or two ahead of the children. That was possible, but the idea of questions and answers—which was what the course was about—did not strike them as being very good. They were also upset because there was no written work for them to mark. So the idea faded away and now broken and dusty apparatus lies in cupboards at a number of primary schools.

There are primary schools where French is taught; my daughter has worked in them. However there is a temptation for headmasters sometimes to regard French as a frivolity. The moment a teacher is ill, the specialist in French is taken away to teach the other class. It is a subject that is easily sacrificed.

I believe that French should be taught in primary schools, beginning earlier than the age of 10. However, a great deal of preparation has to be made, many teachers have to be trained and although that will not take as long as the Minister suggested, we should press for it to begin now.

12.21 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to be the first speaker on this side of the House to welcome the accession to our ranks of the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. It gives me enormous pride to think that only a few years ago I was one of her governors. I feel now that she is launched on her own. We have listened to a contribution on the practical aspects of the problem that we are discussing which has been invaluable.

I am afraid, however, that, having offered the noble Baroness congratulations, I shall set her a bad example. I shall follow this week's fashion of saying the unsayable. Although I welcome the report and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, both on it and on her speech today, I am not enamoured of it. I propose—I hope somewhat gently—to explain my criticisms.

The first arises from the fact which was inevitable, given the initial impetus for the inquiry, that European schools, their functioning and role took up such an inordinate part of the total hearing of witnesses and of the report. Given what one might have guessed originally, the conclusions were bound to be negative. One did not have to know a great deal about the schools and their intake to realise that it was improbable that much in them was directly relevant to what the committee rightly recognise as the real problem: our failure in this country by and large to make a competent showing—competent by international comparison—at teaching foreign languages.

However, out of this initial need to deal with the Europe an schools arose what I regard as a partly unfortunate choice of witnesses or limitation of the witnesses heard. Because of the European schools, no doubt, a great deal of the committee's time was devoted to hearing the representations of the various trade unions and professional bodies in the education world. It did not seem to me that they said anything original, unexpected or new.

On the other hand, it is extraordinary that if the committee were seriously concerned about the national failure it should not have done more to look at alternative forms of meeting our needs which exist outside the formal education system. For instance, it is well known that a number of multinational companies which need to circulate their senior staff to European countries take measures to see that they start with an initial knowledge, at any rate for business and living purposes, of the languages of the countries to which the staff are to be posted. To the best of my knowledge, this is normally done by sending the aspirants to these posts to private institutions in foreign capitals for total immersion in the language concerned for a number of weeks or for two to three months. My observation would be that it appears to be a more practical method than the characteristic, alas, of all our schooling in languages: the limitation to periods, so that for two or three periods of study a week the pupil is confronted with another language and has all the rest of the week in which to forget it.

We the abandonment some decades ago by the Foreign Office of the demand for languages as a condition of entry into the Diplomatic Service. Since civil servants spend more of their time abroad than at home—so, alas, do Ministers—the Foreign Office and other parts of government no doubt today make efforts see that they acquire the languages after they have been admitted to the service. I was surprised that no attempt was made to question either the Civil Service Department or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as to what measures they took and what they had found to be satisfactory forms of language teaching at that level.

It seems to me that there was perhaps a little too much concentration on taking the schooling system, the national curriculum and all that for granted and asking whether we could do better for languages within it. Furthermore, little attention seemed to be paid to the way in which languages are learnt. A fairly common observation now because people take quite young children abroad is that the simplest way of acquiring the rudiments of a foreign language is the way in which one acquires the rudiments of one's own language. A three, four or five year-old plunged into a situation where only another language is spoken will acquire a vocabulary and ability to express himself or herself in a way that a pupil in a secondary school may fight for quite a long time to achieve.

Not only do I support strongly the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, about the extraordinary idea of postponing consideration of language teaching in primary schools for a couple of decades, but we have probably got it altogether wrong. It would be much better to teach languages in primary schools than in secondary schools. We should get more and better results that way, because secondary schools could then make use of the original primary knowledge to extend knowledge in the other areas which the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, mentioned, such as European literature, culture and other such matters.

I have another criticism to make which I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, will not take amiss. I appreciate the work that went into the report but I feel that it lacks historical perspective. As I am afraid do so many of our discussions, the report seems to consider only what has been happening in the past 10, 20 or at the most 30 years. That is considered to be sufficient as a frame of reference. I should like to remind the House that what is rightly seen as a national indifference to, or in some quarters contempt for foreign languages is a relatively recent development.

I speak from a fading memory, but in about the year 1860 a young politician on the make, having some leisure from his parliamentary duties, wrote a rather impressive review in a weekly journal on a book in German about the French Revolution. I find it difficult to imagine that any politician today who had similar leisure on his hands would wish to or indeed be able to follow that example. The point I wish to make is that the individual I am talking about then became, as the Marquess of Salisbury, one of the longest-serving and most successful Prime Ministers of this country in the past century. In view of what I have said, it is curious that the term "splendid isolation" is often connected with that person. In the 19th century the term "splendid isolation" certainly did not mean cultural isolation from the rest of Europe. In the 19th century anyone who claimed to have an education—a much smaller proportion of the population as a whole had an education, but that may have set the tone—was expected to have some familiarity with other languages. If one looks at 19th century novels, one finds that to be the case not merely with French and German but also quite often with Italian.

I do not think it was during the period when Britannia ruled the waves that we became contemptuous of foreign culture. I think it is in this century that we have reached this curious position where, perhaps because we have lost the control of the waves, we tend to look increasingly inwardly upon ourselves. Unless that historical downward progression is observed, we cannot come to proper conclusions on how we should remedy it. The situation has become worse over the past 50 years or so. I am more familiar with universities than with schools. I know that universities have successively diminished their requirements in languages for would-be students. I have observed that happening on the ground in Oxford, but it has been the case also elsewhere.

However, I shall give an even more telling example of the position today. As most people know, Oxford has a university and a large polytechnic. It is often regarded as a centre of learning. Some 30 years ago the city contained two bookshops where modern books in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and many other modern languages were freely on display. If one wanted to know what people were purchasing in Paris or Rome, one could go into one or other of those bookshops and look at the books on display.

However, those facilities for looking at foreign books and purchasing them have disappeared. If one wants to buy a foreign book now, one has to find out about it and order it. That is to say the demand for contemporary foreign literature—I am not talking about literature in the narrow sense, but also of the historical and social sciences —even in an alleged centre of learning, has obviously declined. Whatever one may think about market economics, bookshops exist to sell books and do not stock books which are unlikely to be sold.

Reference has been made to the indifference of sections of industry and commerce to foreign languages. That point was referred to particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. Again I have had experience of this matter at first hand. When we were founding what became the University of Buckingham, I went to the CBI and said that one of our principal purposes was to reintroduce or to introduce the study of modern languages as part of the curriculum of all students, irrespective of their specialisations. I asked the CBI whether that would improve their job prospects. The CBI replied that that would not be viewed as an important feature as regards remuneration, promotion prospects and other such matters. That occurred over 15 years ago. However, like the noble Baroness, I too read last week's edition of The Economist, and it appears to me that that attitude has not vanished.

I join with the members of the committee in agreeing that motivation is rightly considered to be one of the keys to this matter. It is a question of motivation and resources. I feel that resources would be provided if the motivation was there, whether through parental pressure or in other ways. However, that motivation will come about only if there is a change in the prospects for young people who have linguistic accomplishments. They must see early on that such accomplishments are important. Motivation will come only if those who claim the intellectual leadership of our society assume in all they say and do, like their 19th century forebears, that there is something to be said for Europe.

12.37 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lockwood on her comprehensive speech and her chairing of our committee. I shall leave her to deal with the typically individual and vigorous speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The first part of the report which deals with the European schools is of lesser importance to us than the second part which deals with language learning in UK schools. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, agrees.

The European schools are undoubtedly excellent. Those of us who went to Culham were very impressed, not only by the ability of the children to talk fluently in several languages but also by the general standard and spirit. The music we heard in the primary school was superb. I felt envious and wished that I had had those opportunities. However, these schools are not for everyone. The academic standard is high. I am not sure whether we made that point clear. There seems to be neither the need nor the demand for another such school in the UK. Perhaps we can learn something from the methods of that establishment and the way it promotes cultural understanding among pupils.

There is, however, a need in this area for children who go abroad with their parents when their parents take a job in the Community. Most parents do not wish to be separated from their children. Paragraph 18 mentions that mobility has increased steadily and is likely to become greater among professional people and also spread to other classes after 1992. Satisfactory educational facilities are only available for a small minority of migrant children.

Here I should like to mention the British schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has asked me to say how sorry she is not to be able to take part in the debate today. A long-standing engagement outside London prevented her doing so. However, she has read the report with great interest and supports its recommendations, particularly the importance of language teaching in schools and its dependence on the supply of suitably qualified teachers. She has made the point that parents of children not suited to the very academic regime in European schools will find adjusting to a late entry at the age of 12 or 13 a difficult transition to make; for example, there should be some alternative to learning maths in French. The British schools to be found in Belgium, France, West Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Italy within the Community, and in Sweden and Switzerland outside the Community, could provide an alternative.

The schools are independent. They are inspected by HMI. Fees have to be paid. Unlike other European countries Britain gives no help to parents or the schools whereas France spends £120 million annually and Germany some £80 million on schools for the children of their nationals working abroad. The problem affects not only those people working in EC institutions who are entitled to send their children to European schools but, equally importantly, to those businessmen and women working for medium-sized and small firms or who are self-employed and whose firms cannot afford the fees. Large firms usually can and do. That puts British businessmen and women at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their European competitors just at s time when we face increased competition in 1992.

On 29th June 1988, at 8.12 a.m., the noble Baroness, Lady Young, moved an amendment to the Education Reform Bill which would have required the provision of financial help. That amendment was carried. It had support from all the parties, but the Government turned it down in another place. When that was reported the noble Baroness said that she would return to the matter and that she did not intend to allow the Government off the hook. I supported her amendment in 1988 and I support her now. On that occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said that the Government would be giving the complex questions involved the attention they deserved, since when we have heard nothing. I hope, having warned the Minister, that we shall hear something today.

I should like now to turn to language teaching and the attitude of the British to learning foreign languages. We are, as a nation, very bad at speaking foreign languages and insular in our approach. Attitudes must be changed so that motivation is greater We all seem to agree on that. The real problem is the shortage of teachers and the length of time it will take to acquire and train the necessary numbers to fulfil the obligations of the national curriculum. Three thousand seems to be the figure accepted by everyone, except the DES which still appear to stick to 1,750. If, as all the evidence made clear, it would be much more satisfactory to start teaching languages in primary schools, a 10-year plan for England and Wales would need to be put into action low. We see no sign of that happening. I was glad Mat in their response to the report the Government agreed that foreign language teaching should be offered in the primary schools, but horrified that they do not think that it would be reasonable to bring it in until the year 2010.

Other Community countries provide much better language teaching in their schools than we do. They start learning a foreign language earlier, more pupils study more than one language and more study up to the age of 18. Here most children are offered French and many opt out at 14. More boys drop out than girls. I should have thought that Spanish and German are as important as French. The Association for Language Learning was concerned about the position of a second foreign language in the national curriculum, whereby it would be studied by a small minority of pupils and would not be started before the fourth form. Mr. Saville, in his final words to the Committee at the end of the DES evidence, said (in paragraph 73): One point … I would like to add is to mention the importance that the Government specifically attaches to trying to diversify the range of modern languages that are taught". I would add, what about Latin?

One very encouraging thing that we heard from the Association for Language Learning was that the nature of language teaching has changed greatly over the past decade. The association referred to it as a revolution. I hope that that revolution will spread to all schools, which I am sure it has not yet. The emphasis now is on communication, and writing does not play such a strong role as before. The improvement in results at GCSE bears witness to the success of the modern methods.

I go back to the lack of teachers and to the schools. At A-level, far more students take French than any other language because that is what can be taught. I believe that we have to go in for more crash courses. During the war people were put into the equivalent of intensive care to learn Russian in six months. The immersion learning which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, recommends for people in industry is in line with that suggestion. My grandson, who is at Newcastle Polytechnic, is studying French, Russian and politics/economics and had to start Russian from scratch last year. It is a very good course and next year he will spend four or five months in Russia. So there are ways other than the traditional ways to train people.

The polytechnics are doing a very good job in providing modern courses. The trouble is that, having trained those people, they may go into business or industry or something other than teaching. Teaching must be made more attractive, teachers' morale boosted and their pay improved. I am glad that at last bursaries are being given to encourage people to train as language teachers.

What we have is the unattractively named PIT—the pool of inactive teachers. I understand that there are some 3,000 of them. If all came back to teaching that would solve part of the problem. They need support and encouragement. In West Sussex a scheme—"Keeping In Touch With Teaching"—is in operation. It can be read about in paragraph 102 of the report and we recommend other LEAs to set up similar schemes.

There are people willing to come from abroad, where there is a surplus. We should encourage them. I wish to make two points on that aspect. We heard that there is administrative delay in the recognition of their qualifications (up to six months) despite the general directive on the mutual recognition of qualifications in the Community. The National Association of Head Teachers has received complaints about those delays and pointed out that foreign graduates are paid at a lower rate until they receive official recognition. Paragraph 78 refers. Do I understand correctly from the Government's response that there are now no delays? Can the Minister please tell us what the position is?

The second point is that when teachers come from abroad they should have some initial training in the ways of British schools before they are launched into action. The Language Teaching Unit at York University can and does provide the necessary courses. I should like to hear whether sending foreigners there for induction is DES policy. I hope that the Minister can confirm that that always happens.

Perhaps here it is appropriate to say how unfortunate—shocking might be a better word—it is that so many people are teaching foreign languages who have minimum qualifications—O-level for instance. HMI found that 30 per cent. had no qualification in the language they were teaching. That is manifestly unfair to the pupils. The recent HMI report, A Survey of the Teaching and Learning of Foreign Languages in a Sample of Inner City and Urban Schools, makes that abundantly clear. It is a very interesting report and it is encouraging to know that there is some good practice. However, nearly half the lessons were less than satisfactory and showed some or many shortcomings in important areas. The unsatisfactory lessons were those in which the teachers used English as a means of communication.

What can be done to improve matters? There is the Lingua programme, which will support periods of integrated study in another member state. Are the Government now totally committed to the Lingua programme? Paragraph 120 of the Government's response would appear to accept the Committee's recommendations on Lingua. I should like reassurance on that point.

I should also like to emphasise the importance of the availability of distance learning, with the help of videos and cassettes, as a means of retraining and updating. We could make more use of the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges. Then there are the assistants, who have a very useful influence on the speaking and conversational fluency of pupils. During the period 1972 to 1976 an average of 4,394 were employed each year. Now the number is only 2,867. Both the NAHT and the SHA called for central funding of those assistants and suggested an expansion of the Lingua programme for Community funding for them.

Taking children abroad to give them a taste of foreign travel and to increase their awareness of a different country has been made much more difficult because of the Government's policy on charging, as my noble friend said. I am very glad to read the Government's response to paragraph 121 of our report: The Government should not delay in changing their policy as regards charging for such visits if their new regulations are found to have discouraged visits". My final words concern attitudes, about which we have heard a good deal. Paragraph 113 of the report states: The attitude of British society towards language learning is crucial … The Committee call on the Government to launch a campaign bringing together all the strands of current European awareness advertising in the context of the completion of the internal market and uttering the death knell of the monoglot tradition of English society". I hope that our report will do something to help shove opinion in the right direction.

12.50 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I most warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Brigstocke on her brilliant maiden speech. She was head of a school whose outstanding academic reputation she helped to build, the success of which is reflected in the contented comments of parents. For eight years she has been a most distinguished governor of a school where I was educated. I quickly add that my education there took place many years earlier. We all look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lady Brigstocke often in the future.

I was a member of the sub-committee which carried out the inquiry and reported. The European schools, intended for the children of parents who are EC nationals, where they are concentrated in places such as Brussels or Culham, raised little controversy. That matter was dealt with most effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who conscientiously and capably chaired the committee, in her helpful opening speech.

I should like to concentrate on the question of teaching modern foreign languages and its importance for this country. The Government's first response of 9th July (only four days ago) to the Select Committee's report agrees with that importance and confirms two principal reasons for the present unsatisfactory situation: first, widespread lack of motivation and interest among the British public; and, secondly, shortage of teachers.

There is a definite disincentive which must be recognised immediately. Our native tongue, English, is the language of a very large part of the world. It may be spoken in strange and peculiar ways in some areas but communication is not difficult. That can lead to the unfortunate idea that one need not learn a foreign language. It is a misconception that we must try to dispel, together with the attitude: "If they don't speak English, they ought to".

The Government's response confirms that pupils in British schools receive less teaching of foreign languages than do their counterparts in the EC. In order that the British people can have a better understanding of their neighbours in Europe and appreciate and relish their visits and travel in other countries, in a world that is becoming smaller every day knowledge of the principal languages should be increased. That is agreed by the Select Committee, the Government, and virtually everyone who has examined the subject.

How then can we best make progress? I should like to refer to two recommendations of the committee: first, that foreign language teaching should be offered at primary school level; and, secondly, that pupils should be encouraged to learn a second foreign language at secondary school. With regard to the primary school, a start is being made in Scotland. But, in their response, the Government indicate that it is unlikely that anything can be done in England before the year 2010. That is 20 years ahead. I was most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for giving way to me towards the end of her speech on this issue. I wanted to point out at that stage that such was not the position in Scotland.

I remind noble Lords that education in Scottish schools is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office—the Scottish Education Department. That has been so for many years. There is a separate system north of the Border with separate teachers' unions and organisations. What is called the "national curriculum" does not apply in Scotland.

Noble Lords will have heard me make the point before and I hope will not mind hearing me say again that in my opinion the word "national" should not have been used. It has misled many of the public as well as the media, in Scotland too, into thinking that the Education Reform Act applies to Scotland. It does not. In my opinion the curriculum which it promotes should have been named the "curriculum for England and Wales". I am sure that the House will understand my reason for expressing that opinion when it is recalled that I was the Secretary of State for Scotland under whom the work started on the Scottish curriculum nearly 20 years ago. Schools in Scotland come under the supervision of the Scottish Office and not the Department of Education and Science.

I welcome the experiment that is now taking place in Scotland in teaching foreign languages in primary schools. A number of Scottish education authorities have entered upon schemes in their areas. This has been possible because the shortage of teachers is not so acute north of the Border. In the Government's response it is stated that there may not be enough teacher; in England and Wales to make a realistic start for some 20 years. I hope that the Scottish example will be successful. I wish it well and hope that it may help to bring forward for England and Wales that date of 2010.

A new school of thought, which may seem revolutionary, is that modern languages should be taught at as early an age as possible. I believe that the idea has much merit and should be given an opportunity to prove itself. My noble friend Lord Beloff mentioned it. At primary stage or earlier a child absorb, another language as part of his or her first means of vocal communication. Young children usually retain that language in later life, speaking with ease and fluency. The language remains familiar to them as a spoken language. Other school subjects can suitably be taught at a later stage.

The primary school experiments in Scotland have a special significance. They, may show the way to new and more successful teaching of foreign languages with children starting to learn them at an early age. Until recently that was not an option even being considered. It is still thought to be a radical departure.

The other recommendation of the Select Committee—that pupils should be encouraged to embark on a second language—is presumed to refer to the secondary stage of education. There was not much in the Government's immediate response to that point. I ask my noble friend Lady Blatch whether she can give more information today. French has become the most widely learnt first language in the United Kingdom. Other languages should be more easily available provided this does not make for more difficulty in the supply of teachers and in continuity for the pupils. We recognise that those factors have to be borne in mind. When two languages are learnt at the secondary stage I suggest that German be considered as the second language after French. German is becoming more widely used now in industry and commerce.

From the sub-committee's work I concluded that foreign teachers from EC countries can help considerably to reduce the shortage in the United Kingdom. I am glad to note that there has been a recent improvement in accepting them and their qualifications. At a time when the EC as a whole is trying to make professional qualifications of all kinds increasingly interchangeable, one hopes that the time taken in considering those qualifications will be reduced as much as possible.

The relationship between teacher and pupil as individuals should not be lost sight of. It can provide incentive and inspiration, and not just in the case of the able or the brilliant pupil.

I should also like to say a word about exchanges. A great deal depends on the initiatives and the co-operation of parents, but many children are not able for one reason or another to benefit in that way. We should encourage well prepared exchanges arranged through schools. Even two or three weeks in a foreign country will open the eyes of a willing pupil to the reason for learning the language and will usually generate enthusiasm for attaining an ability which can be seen to be useful in later life, not as a boring schoolroom exercise. The universities already have good exchange arrangements and many students are given about a year to study in the country of the language on which they are concentrating.

I turn now to careers. Where a career after education requires the use of foreign languages—this applies increasingly in business and is not confined to working abroad in the public service or with international organisations—the principal talent being sought is an ability to learn a language. That is usually the result of foreign languages being well taught in school days. As noble Lords know, I spent 12 years as a diplomatist after the war. It was my experience based on what we in the Foreign Office were looking for in new recruits, the ability to learn a language was a vital talent.

I hope that the Government will continue to consider carefully the recommendations of the Select Committee and in particular will do more to try out teaching at earlier ages, observing the experiments now taking place in Scotland. A chance is being offered of taking a great step forward if those experiments prove to be successful.

1.2 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, we are grateful to my noble friend Lady Lockwood for initiating the debate and for the report of the Select Committee which she chaired. It has been an interesting debate and I should like to add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords on the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, to which we all listened with the greatest interest. Only last night I was talking to an old friend of mine, a French lady who used to be head of the foreign language section at the St. Paul's School for Girls. I told her about today's debate and she told me what great encouragement the noble Baroness had always given when she was head of that distinguished school which is one of the best schools for girls in the country.

As has been said, the report shows a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is clear that modern language teaching in this country compares most unfavourably with that in other EC countries. One must ask why that should be so. The report is very frank—my noble friend Lady Lockwood was probably too polite to quote from the it, but I intend to do so because its trenchant words are well deserved —when it states: The committee can see no reason why English children should be considered uniquely incompetent at foreign language learning". A good deal of the trouble results from our social attitude to foreign languages, as has been said today. As the committee says: all sectors of society must be convinced of the relevance of foreign language learning as a communication tool". The result of that attitude is that we are lagging behind the rest of Europe in the take-up of languages among pupils in secondary schools. The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers told the committee that it is becoming increasingly difficult in our schools to sustain the study even of French and German. The numbers in the 16 to 19 age group attempting A level French fell from over 20,000 10 years ago to only 18,000 in 1986–87.

For some years I have been a member of the British section of the Franco-British Council. We are concerned at the decline in our schools of French teaching, as that can only have an adverse effect on our mutual understanding with France which is our nearest neighbour. An attempt is being made by the Government to improve matters through the national curriculum, although there will clearly be problems arising from the shortage of trained teachers and the difficulty of fitting a modern language adequately into the timetable.

Our pupils also suffer a further disadvantage. In this country a foreign language is not started at the primary level in the public sector. In the EC and in our own private sector, children start at a much younger age. At the European School at Culham, to which reference has been made, they start a second language, which could be English, French or German, at the age of six. At many British preparatory schools in the private sector, French teaching starts at the age of seven or eight.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said about the proficiency in modern languages in the last century. That is absolutely true. One of the causes of that was the governesses. The leading families often had governesses who taught the children French, German or Italian. Nationals of countries therefore spoke other languages very fluently—a fluency which remained with them for the rest of their lives. You still meet elderly French people, for example, who had the benefit of that privileged education and who can still speak English perfectly. Some English people still speak very good French or even German.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, about bookshops. I can take him to a university bookshop in London which maintains an excellent stock. It claims to have a much better stock than any of the bookshops in Oxford. What he said was probably justified, but it is not so everywhere.

The shortage of modern foreign language teachers has reached crisis level, and the report says that that is likely to worsen. I understand that 3,000 additional teachers are needed to start the national curriculum's requirements and that the figure would be considerably more if foreign language teaching were to be extended in the primary sector, as it should be, and even beyond the age of 16.

What is to be done? One action that the Government could take is to encourage qualified teachers to return to teaching. The other is to increase the employment of qualified language teachers from other member states, including foreign language assistants. The numbers of foreign language teachers from abroad have declined in recent years. I understand that many are discouraged by the long bureaucratic delays of the DES in processing their qualifications before they are recognised. Until those qualifications are recognised, they are paid at a lower rate. I must ask the noble Baroness who is to reply whether the Government will adopt a policy of central funding of foreign language assistants. That policy is adopted by all other countries with which the United Kingdom has exchange arrangements and there seems no reason why it cannot be adopted here. As usual, we are lagging behind everyone else.

It is a great advantage to be taught a foreign language by a national of that country and by the direct method when the lesson is conducted in the language itself. I had the good fortune to attend a school which used the direct method 60 years ago. It was one of the pioneers and I am surprised that the method has not become universal.

In its recent report of its survey into 25 urban schools in England, HMS Inspectorate's report stated that teachers used English most of the time because their pupils could not understand more than farewells and greetings. It also stated that pupils seemed ignorant of basic vocabulary and made wild guesses in English about the meaning of French words. The inspectors concluded that schools were ill prepared to meet fie demands of the 1992 Single European Act and the national curriculum.

Visits and exchanges are important in fostering European awareness and cultural understanding and in promoting language learning. I understand from the report that many school visits have been put in jeopardy by the new government charging regulations. The regulations, which fall under the 1988 Act, are so complex and subject a planned visit to so many conditions and hazards that many schools have decided to give up trying to arrange any further visits. The new regulations discriminate against Scotland in particular. The additional cost of the journey from the north Of Scotland to the south of England puts the cost of a trip abroad beyond the reach of many Scottish pupils. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, it is wrong that they should be treated in that way when they are in the vanguard of the teaching of foreign languages. I hope that the Government will take that matter on board.

A working knowledge of a foreign language is a useful and essential aid to business discussions and social relations. But surely it is much more than that; it is important as a means of cross-cultural understanding. Translations of a country's literature have a part to play, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, mentioned. However, a good deal of the original meaning is often lost, particularly in the case of poetry. The noble Lord mentioned Baudelaire who is completely transformed and lessened in English translations. There are some who rightly say that Racine is untranslatable. Recently a Racine play was performed in English in London. A French friend of mine said, "It may be a good performance but it isn't Racine". How right the committee is to call on the Government to launch a campaign to put an end to this sorry state of affairs.

1.13 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Brigstocke on her maiden speech. I expected an informed speech and I was not disappointed. My own relationship with St. Paul's School—I hasten to add that it was the boys' section—was playing cricket against it many years ago. I cannot remember who won the match.

I was not a member of the sub-committee but I have read its report. I wish to express appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for her chairmanship and to its members for their work. It has given your Lordships the opportunity to discuss this important subject. The ability—or rather the inability—of British people to speak foreign languages has always been of deep concern to me. All my working life I was concerned with trading overseas. The ability to speak foreign languages was high on the list of priorities that I looked for among my staff. I was marketing director of a company which sold 75 per cent. of its products overseas. In order to preserve its viability it had to maintain that percentage of exports. I found the ability to speak foreign languages to be essential.

I do not know whether the teaching of foreign languages has improved in our schools. However, not long ago one could pass an A-level examination in a foreign language yet be incapable of carrying on the most basic conversation. I hope that the situation no longer exists. I have read the evidence given to the committee and it appears that efforts are being made to improve the situation. I remember learning Latin, French and German many years ago. The teaching was virtually identical for all three languages; they were all taught as a dead language. The degree of interest instilled into one was equally deadly.

The first priority in teaching children a foreign language should be to arouse their interest and to convince them of the usefulness of being able to speak a foreign language. Emphasis should be put on being able to speak the language reasonably fluently. A knowledge of grammar is a necessity but I give reading, writing and literature a low priority. They can come later once the necessary interest and expertise has been achieved and when the young person is eager to learn more. In days gone by we were taught grammar and so forth but at the end of the day we could not speak a word of the language.

Sadly, conceit is still rampant in this country. It is said, "We don't need to learn a foreign language because we are above all that. Let the silly foreigners learn English". Many people do but many others do not. That concept permeates down from the highest levels and influences people in all walks of life. Like me, I am sure that many noble Lords heard a Member of this House who held one of the highest posts in Europe joke about his inability to speak French. He appeared to be rather proud of the fact. Some of the resistance may come from a fear of making fools of ourselves but that must be overcome.

It may be a slight exaggeration but. I believe that speaking a foreign language—or better still, speaking foreign languages—is today almost as important as being able to drive a car; in particular being able to drive it on the right-hand side of the road. With our increasing involvement in European affairs—more than 40 per cent. of our trade is now within the European Community—if we wish to be on equal terms with our European partners, we must, as businessmen at every level, be able to speak at least one of their languages and preferably two or three. It is true that one will meet many Europeans who speak English. But I can assure your Lordships that psychologically one is at a great advantage if one can speak and understand the language of the person with whom one is negotiating. Inevitably, one will meet people who do not speak English, in particular at the lower levels. It is often crucial to be able to speak to those people in order to grasp the essentials of the situation.

Of equal importance are the social, political and diplomatic circles. I do not believe that it is possible to understand a country and its people unless you can speak their language. It is like being outside a house and looking in through a window. You can see what is happening but you cannot speak to those inside and find out what they are thinking and feeling. The various initiatives that are now being taken—in particular the new curriculum—give grounds for hope that in years to come British people may be able to converse with their friends in Europe in their own languages. But I still have a feeling that we may only be scratching the surface of the problem. We may be paying lip service to what we think we should do but it may be something which many people do not see as very important.

Perhaps I may touch briefly on one or two points brought out in the evidence of the committee. I promise the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that I shall not be as critical as my noble friend because I do not have his knowledge.

One requirement which seemed to be mentioned on a number of occasions was the importance of students taking a second foreign language. That is certainly very laudable but is it not rather like urging people to run before they can walk? With the shortage of qualified teachers and the inability of the vast majority of young people in this country to speak even one foreign language, I should have thought that the emphasis should be put on mastering one language fluently before embarking on a second. It is a fact that people who can speak one language will find the next one much easier and are much more inclined to take it on.

Another point which is brought out forcefully in the evidence and which has been mentioned by many noble Lords, with which I thoroughly agree, is the shortage of qualified teachers. By that, I mean teachers who are fluent in the language which they are teaching. Ideally not a word of English should be spoken in a foreign language class. That may sound rather excessive but that is the way to teach a foreign language.

Mention is also made of assistants which I understand are primarily foreign students who come to England to perfect their English and spend part of their time in schools teaching English children their language. My daughter spent her third year at university as an assistante at a French school teaching English to French children. That is a very useful way of supplementing the supply of teachers and ensures that children are taught the correct pronunciation, which regrettably some British teachers are not very good at.

As many noble Lords have said, the most effective way to learn a foreign language is to spend a period of time in the country in question. I understand that at university level in this country that is normal practice. However, at school level that is obviously impractical. Encouragement should be given—and I understand to a certain extent is being given—to visits abroad by school parties and exchange arrangements between families. I was horrified to hear that it was proposed to take away the financial support from that. If anything, it should be increased.

Finally, I read in the report of evidence that there have been delays in checking foreign teachers' qualifications—the usual bureaucracy. With the evidence that British teachers are teaching a foreign language with only O-level or A-Level qualifications, I should have thought that any foreign teacher who can speak his own language would be very welcome.

Finally—and this has been touched on by many noble Lords —one of the most positive actions which the Government could take would be to promote the speaking of foreign languages. We still have this resistance born of the idea that everybody speaks English and we need not bother to learn a foreign language. There should be a positive promotional operation to sell foreign language speaking to the British public.

1.25 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to add my appreciation to that of other noble Lords to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for the committee's excellent report. It is good that we are discussing it, that the Government have read it and have responded to it. Also from these Benches I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, on her splendid maiden speech. She has had vast experience and speaks with authority.

Having made those two cheering remarks, I must say that my feelings are rather comparable to those of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in declaring our situation to be somewhat desperate. There is the problem of the teacher shortage which is referred to in the report. I shall not try to guess the magnitude of that shortage but it is large. The outlook is bleak. A letter to the Daily Telegraph last March from Dr. Ann Stevens, who is Dean of the School of European Studies at the University of Sussex, stated: Last week I saw nearly 130 of our students who will be graduating in the summer. All of them have studied a modern language and have spent a year in the country of their language as part of their degree course, some of them gaining teaching experience during that time as language assistants in schools abroad. About one third of them will have degrees in one or two modern languages. The others have studied a language alongside another discipline. Only one is planning to take a post-graduate teaching qualification and 'I do not suppose', she said to me, 'that I shall teach it in this country, not with conditions for teachers as they are'. Two others told me that they would really like to teach but could not contemplate doing so until pay and conditions for our teachers improve". That is only one example. It is anecdotal but it seems to typify the situation which we must face. Generally our teachers have suffered terrible blows during the past few years and until their status, pay and teaching conditions are improved, we shall not get the teachers we need.

The committee made several useful suggestions as to how we can use part-time teachers and recall to teaching those who have retired from it. However, the problem is deeper and wider than that. With regard to the lack of motivation and interest generally, which has been spoken of by many noble Lords, it is clear that public attitudes must change. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said that there is no such thing as a national inability to speak languages any more than there is such a thing as a growler among children who are put into a singing class. It is a conditioned attitude. I do not know whether it is the John Bull attitude arising from our insularity. Perhaps we consider that it is rather infra dig to attempt to speak any damned foreigner's lingo. I think that there is something of that in it.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, curiously that has not always been the case. For example, there was a time when educated people in this country were perfectly prepared to accept Latin as a European lingua franca. The other day, I was amused to see that a history book which was written in the last century contained numerous Latin quotations which were not translated for the reader. Nowadays, they would be. The reader would not be expected to be conversant with the language.

I believe that that is rather comparable to the fact that between the time of Purcell and Elgar this country produced no music. I wonder whether both are connected with the Empire: the fact that we took a superior view about other human beings who spoke other languages during the time of the Empire; and also, that we did not have time for writing music. I do not know why that was the case but it is possibly connected.

This position—and I must say this although I usually spend my time fighting for teachers—is perpetuated to an extent by some poor teaching as witnessed by the HMI report published recently. That was a report of a survey of the teaching of foreign languages in 25 schools fed by inner cities areas. It is rather depressing reading. It said that in nearly half of those 25 schools the teaching of languages was less than satisfactory. It speaks of low expectations on the part of teachers; failure to establish a proper working atmosphere; and too little of the foreign language being heard.

In defence of teachers I should say that the teaching of foreign languages is a difficult art. It is not merely a matter of knowing your subject and keeping the children quiet. There is more to it than the teaching of maths, science, history or geography. In essence it is communication; it is social intercourse. It is a convivial activity more akin to teaching dance or drama than a dry as dust classroom subject. It is therefore crucially dependent on the personality of the teacher.

Teachers who can conduct a successful language class are not born every day. The target language—to use the jargon of the inspectorate—must be taught all the time; the naming of articles, reciting poems, songs, counting, and conjugating must all be done aloud. Therefore the teacher must be completely fluent in the language.

I have sat in on some pretty dull language teaching in schools where the children were filling in gaps in work books. I felt that they were bored and learning very little. I remember one class where the teacher was much more lively and the children were all enjoying the lesson, but, unfortunately, what she was teaching was wrong. It was as much as I could do to keep quiet and not say, "Look, that is not quite right".

Regarding the widespread lack of motivation and interest, is it perhaps the case that there is a certain distaste among children for French in particular? I shall say more in that regard presently. What about the question of diversification, of teaching more languages in schools? French is spoken by 70 million people; German by 100 million people; Russian by 150 million, and Spanish by 250 million people.

The Oxford University department of educational studies is conducting a project in certain schools concerning the diversification of first foreign languages. It goes by the unlovely acronym of OXPROD. It is a study of six schools which teach German and Spanish as well as French from the age of 11. The children were subjected to a questionnaire. In the first year a great majority preferred German and Spanish to French. In the second year the low ability children went off German—it becomes rather difficult when one reaches those dreadful inflections, word orders and portmanteau words—but they still preferred Spanish to French. Some of the high ability children continued to prefer German and Spanish: in all cases, French came third. To me French is the most cultivated language, and to be without it entirely would be appallingly philistine. I put that project forward as an idea. Incidentally, in Barnsley—a mining town—Russian is very popular. That probably dates from the miners' strike a few years ago.

We must aim as soon as possible to teach languages at the primary age. It has been most depressing to hear accounts of the Government's pessimism regarding when that can take place. Teaching young children languages has been known about in the Steiner schools for years. Children are taught languages from the age of seven, which is the age at which they start in those schools. We could start teaching them at the age of five. That is the time when a child's imitative facility is at its highest. Children will imitate anything that is said to them. They cannot help it. That is the time to start teaching languages.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said regarding teaching young children languages in Scotland. I should like to advise him that certain pilot projects are taking place in England also. There is a primary school in Basingstoke in which the 400 pupils are all learning French, German and Spanish. It is one of six feeder schools to Basingstoke comprehensive and part of a language awareness project founded by an accountancy firm. That illustrates that our commercial firms are interested in the matter, sometimes perhaps more so than the Government. And they have more awareness of it. The children love it. They go home and teach their parents how to count from one to 10 in four different languages. That cannot be said to be a useless exercise.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that the children are learning all four languages at the same time? If so, God help them!

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, one school is experimenting by teaching one language one term, another the next and a third language in the third term. What happens after that I do not know. It is very much a pilot project. I presume they will test the reaction of the children.

I was speaking of imitation. The imitation by these children is apparently so exact that, having been taught by an assistant who comes from south-west France, they now speak with a south-west French accent, which one can never learn when one grows older.

I was depressed to hear the statistics given by the noble Baroness, Lady David, regarding the declining numbers of these assistants. Teachers must be accorded status, conditions and the pay they deserve generally. The learning of languages must—pray heavens earlier than the year 2010—be brought down to the primary age. It is important for children to come into contact with people who talk the language naturally that the children are attempting to learn.

I shall not bore the House with a lot of family anecdotes. But when I took my daughter to France for the first time she said, "It is most extraordinary. They look like ordinary people but they are talking French". One can have worthwhile experience even from a short visit. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, spoke of a visit of a few weeks. Even on a 24-hour visit one can have a valid experience. My son was taken for one day to Dieppe. The minibus was parked in a very unsuitable place in the main street. The driver was not actually charged by the police but a long letter from a French bus driver was attached to the vehicle which in terms of the most excellent French irony began, "I congratulate you on your parking". The letter was then translated by the class and so they learned from real life what learning a foreign language is all about.

The importation of foreign teachers and exchange visits are very important. Could we not use all adults with language skills of any age in our schools to speak French to the children? I feel very strongly about this matter. I am sorry if I have taken a long time and if at times my speech has been somewhat confused. The vital point is to increase the numbers of teachers generally; to increase the contact of children with people who genuinely speak the language concerned; and gradually to live down this extraordinary John Bull attitude that we do not have to speak other people's languages.

1.39 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, this is an important report which raises a host of fascinating subjects. I will confine my remarks to only a few of the topics under consideration. I start on the question of method and, in connection with that and in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, on her maiden speech, I reiterate what she said. There are many first-class language teachers in our schools but that, of course, is why we want such teachers for all our pupils. We must not be content with second best or unqualified teachers, especially in the maintained schools in our country. The noble Baroness said that she felt somewhat daunted. In saying how much I enjoyed her speech perhaps I may add, that given the quality of her speech I look forward eagerly to her speeches when she is undaunted.

In regard to method, most of us were taught in the old-fashioned way with the concentration on reading. The long-term productivity of that approach is negligible. A large number of people with the old general School Certificate, which I had, O-level or GCSE, in French, German or Spanish, just a few years later possessed no capacity in the language. That is nothing short of a scandal. My noble friend Lord Rodney and others emphasised that point. They are certainly right.

Your Lordships' committee reports, in paragraph 47, on the current shift of emphasis in modern language teaching away from writing and memory work towards speaking. The report also states that the nature of language teaching has changed greatly over the past decade. The emphasis today in language teaching is on communication. I welcome that, but how far has it gone? Is the overwhelming majority of language lessons conducted in the language concerned? Are the children made to speak it? I doubt that very much, though I should like to know. How many fluent French, German or Spanish speakers are we producing? I fear that we have a long way to go.

I now say a few words on teacher shortages. It is apparent that we have too few teachers of modern languages. Many of those entrusted with the task of language tuition are, again to quote the report, inadequately qualified. The committee states that the shortage, has already reached crisis level and is likely to worsen". There are longish lead times for adjusting teacher supply and that is why, as many noble Lords emphasised, action is urgently needed. I am bound to say that, while money is not everything, the market mechanism must surely be expected to work and there is now an overwhelming case for an increase in teachers' pay. I also believe that increasing the number and size of grants and bursaries for training and retraining —I emphasise retraining—beyond what we are already doing will turn out to be a worthwhile investment.

On the subject of language teaching in primary schools, again I can only echo the remarks of other noble Lords. I emphasise the perfectly obvious point of starting language teaching as early as possible. That seems to be so overwhelmingly the right thing to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and others have said, that one is amazed that it is taken for granted. To use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, I will not bore the House with a total family history but I recall that at least two of my children learnt French in primary school but the moment they reached secondary school were told to forget all about it because the other children did not do it and therefore it was assumed they would start again from scratch. Nothing more absurd than that occurred in my children's education. That really must stop.

I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in his criticism of the committee but I was interested in his remark s on the need for an historical perspective. I though that was important, especially his remarks on an historical perspective as applied to politicians. While listening to the noble Lord I asked myself the question, which I am unable to answer: is it more acceptable for Ministers to insult foreigners in their language or in our own language?

I now advert to the topic of school visits abroad. In the Education Reform Act 1988 the Government were right to seek to specify what is meant by schooling being free. I supported the Government then and I do not criticise them now. However, clearly matters have not turned out as expected. The rules on charging, according to all the evidence I have been able to garner, have led to a reduction of visits of all kind. As opposed to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, I think the rules on visiting are clear. There can be no obligatory charge for a visit which is part of the curriculum. However, a voluntary contribution might be insufficient to cover the whole cost of the visiting party and there may be no other funds available, especially in times of financial stringency.

The problem might be solved by making additional funds available to individual schools, but, given the local management of schools, there is no guarantee that the funds would be used for the purpose that we have in mind. Perhaps the solution would be to designate the funds for that purpose, but I am not sure. Certainly we must think about a new way into this problem. What I do believe—here again I echo what others have said—is that this is a matter of urgency. I understand that the Government are waiting for more factual information. It is always right to make policy on the basis of a solid empirical foundation but it is a pity that we have to wait at least another year for that information and then it may take the Government even more time to make up their mind to amend the relevant Act. I do not believe that our children's education should be made to suffer for that length of time.

It is sometimes said—I have even heard one Minister in this House say it—that there is no need for most o f our children to obtain a working knowledge of one or more foreign languages. Here, I am again following my noble friend Lord Rodney. It is said that English is becoming a world language which most foreigners will master; therefore, why should we bother to learn another language? Would cultural imperialism, based on English, not be to our advantage? The example always cited to me is that the best pop music is in our language. I refrain from considering its literacy! However, I have to ask whether that is good enough. Apart from the philistinism of such a position, in my judgment it is erroneous on practical grounds. Without doubting the importance of English, it is difficult to see it emerging as the universal language of Europe. I say nothing on the question of whether the cultural imperialism to which I have referred would turn out to be UK-based or, as is much more likely, US-based.

However, even if many, and in due course most, French, German and Italian people speak English, as my noble friend Lord Rodney again pointed out there will be a substantial number who do not possess that ability. Therefore, mobile UK managers and workers will surely need to be fluent in the language of the country in which they propose to work. A simple example, but one which is quite compelling in my view and which makes the case, is whether you can read a menu. That also emphasises the point that although translations are of interest they are always imperfect. They are never exactly right.

Sometimes that is advantageous. Those of us who became Proustians through the Scott Moncrieff translation of the A la Recherche du Temps Perdu are indebted, of course, to that great man and, later, to Terence Kilmartin for those translations. When we tried manfully to work our way through the original we realised that we were actually discussing two quite separate works of literature.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, some highbrow French people read Proust in English because they think it is more interesting.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I was tempted to make that remark but I did not have the courage. The noble Lord is clearly more courageous than I am.

More generally, radio, television, newspapers and periodicals in the country to which one goes are in the language of that country. One also has to remember that most books are not translated. Those are all relevant matters as to why a facility in foreign languages is so important. Even if one is abroad as a migrant worker and someone is kind enough to speak English when necessary, most of what is going on around one is completely incomprehensible. On a practical matter, who would remember to utter cries of warning always in English as well as the local language? Are all notices to be translated into English throughout Europe?

The list is endless and the conclusion is obvious: whether we are discussing mobile pharmacists, teachers or lorry drivers, foreign language skills are vital. What holds for such people applies even more to their children, assuming, as we must, that post-1992 whole families will move. That is why the remarks of my noble friend, Lady David, who in turn referred to what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, would have said about schooling for our children in Europe, are so important.

I emphasise that, from my point of view as an economist, though most of the initial impact of 1992 will be to do with the free movement of goods and capital, eventually there must be a significant movement of labour too. Ultimately the aim must be to have at least as much labour mobility in Europe as there is in the United States. It would be a pity if the language barrier were the last restraint on economic freedom, especially if that barrier applied chiefly to British people.

For that reason, while I understand the need of the Department of Education and Science to be practical in its evidence to the committee, I did regard its evidence as most unsatisfactory. Its approach was negative and lacked vision. The same impression is conveyed by the Secretary of State's response to your Lordships' Committee which we have seen. Perhaps it is more a matter for politicians than civil servants. I look forward to hearing the reply of the noble Baroness. I hope that she will be able to offer us something much more positive at this stage of the debate.

The subject we are discussing is partly a matter of teacher shortage. It is also partly a matter of using the best techniques, in particular in making the pupils use the language. It is also partly a matter of our schools having the other resources that are necessary such as equipment and books. I repeat that, above all, it is a question of leadership and vision.

I speak as an addict of the reports prepared by your Lordships' Committees. They are invariably informative, intellectually stimulating and good guides to policy. This report is no exception. Quite the contrary, it is an outstanding contribution to an important topic. Her Majesty's Government should welcome the guidance that has been given them by this report and they should act on it. The chairman and the committee are to be congratulated.

1.53 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, as I am sure the House is, for the opportunity to debate the Select Committee's report. We congratulate her and her committee on this excellent report. We thank her in particular for the way in which she opened the debate. The depth, knowledge and insight which have characterised the report, not to mention the force of the views which have been expressed and which will be brought to the Government's attention, have been impressive.

At this point I wish to join with all noble Lords in offering congratulations to my noble friend Lady Brigstocke on her exceptional maiden speech. As we all know, she has made an outstanding contribution in the field of education. As we listened to her speech today we gained insight into her professionalism and wide experience of working with young people. That was greatly complemented by great sensitivity and a charming wit. She has also made a valuable contribution, as has already been mentioned in the course of the debate, to the national curriculum working group on modern foreign languages. We thank her for her commitment to that important work.

I shall be referring to more detailed comments later. I wish to take up one point mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Ritchie, and that is paying tribute to the linguists already in the system. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and my noble friend Lady Brigstocke, we all know that there is much more to do. I refer noble Lords to Chapter 7 of the interim report. In that chapter there will be found very fine examples of some of the work that is going on in our schools. We shall all look forward with enthusiasm to the involvement of my noble friend in the work of this House.

The Government particularly welcome the opportunity to debate the subject of language learning in United Kingdom schools. We share the Select Committee's concern that the importance of modern foreign languages should be given as high a profile as possible. The Select Committee's report will have contributed to raising that profile. For their part, the Government are doing all they can to stress the importance of languages. Indeed, I believe that we can rightly claim to have done more than any other Government to have raised the profile of modern languages. They now have a central place in the national curriculum.

There is evidence that the message is getting home. Over the past few years there has been a steady increase in the proportion of pupils studying a modern foreign language in their last two years of compulsory secondary education. When the national curriculum is fully implemented, this figure will of course rise to 100 per cent. We also have some welcome indication that in very recent years there has been an increase in the number of entrants to A-level courses.

The Select Committee drew a comparison between language learning in this country and in schools in the other member states of the European Community. That comparison was unfavourable to the United Kingdom. We have to admit that language learning is more advanced in our fellow member states but we are making every effort to catch up. It cannot be done overnight. The first major step is the introduction of the national curriculum whereby a modern foreign language will be compulsory throughout secondary education for every pupil in a maintained school in England and Wales. I would not wish to underestimate the significance of such a step. We have to allow time for the change to be fully implemented and to have effect.

The introduction of GCSE has, we believe, had a beneficial effect on the motivation of pupils. That was a point made by my noble friend Lady Brigstocke.

The exam places greater emphasis on the importance of communication skills and in particular oral skills. This change in emphasis has also been reflected in the earlier years of secondary education where motivation has also been much improved. I take note of the point made by my noble friend Lord Rodney that it may be impossible for some people to study French to A-level. I have a friend who studied French to degree level but who cannot communicate in the language. That must change and there is every indication that the situation is changing.

We recognise of course the problems caused by the present shortage of teachers of modern foreign languages. There are no instant solutions but we are taking a number of steps to improve the position and we shall continue to monitor it closely. We have listed the steps in our response to the Select Committee's report and we very much hope that they will bear fruit. They include measures in the area of teacher recruitment, including the recruitment of EC teachers; opening new routes to qualified teacher status; bringing inactive qualified teachers back into the profession; provision for in-service training, including support from the EC Lingua programme; and enhancing the pay, conditions and status of the teaching profession.

The recent successful advertising campaign, which some of your Lordships may have noticed, included a TV advertisement conducted entirely in French. It has already been successful in attracting nearly 20,000 responses. However, as I say, we will keep the position continually under review.

Another important step forward will be the introduction of a modern foreign language as a core competence for students in England aged 16 to 19. That has not been emphasised in the debate. Your Lordships will no doubt be aware that the Government have accepted in principle a recommendation to that effect from the National Curriculum Council. I have read some newspaper reports which suggest that this may not be an entirely welcome change. It is sometimes surprising to witness the degree of insularity not only of our young people and of those who advise them but, I fear, of employers too. That must change. One can quite understand that students wish to specialise and to concentrate at that age or what interests them, but it is tempting sometimes to pull the blinkers from their eyes and to show them that there is a wider world awaiting them if only they are prepared to make the effort to speak perhaps just one of its languages.

A step which the Select Committee would like to see us take, and take quickly, is the introduction of language learning in primary schools. I take all the points which have been made on this issue. It is almost unarguable that it is a good thing for children to learn languages at the earliest possible stage. But we have to start from where we are. I believe that there is a misunderstanding about the planning for introduction by the end of the first decade of the next century. What I believe was meant by the department—if I am wrong I shall correct in writing what I have saidis that because it will be something like 1997–1998 before 100 per cent. of our children leave school competent in speaking another language and because it will be another three or four years before they come out of training colleges, which takes us up to about 2003 to 2004, it will be quite a long time into that first decade before a whole cohort of young people is competent in speaking the language. That is the only argument I can offer all noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lord Beloff, against having a language as a compulsory subject in primary schools.

What we need are teachers competent in the subject in order to teach the language. If we can have 100 per cent. of children leaving school by the end of the century competent in a language, then by the end of the first decade we shall be able to introduce—not plan to introduce—the teaching of a language in our primary schools. There was a misunderstanding in that perhaps noble Lords felt that we would start planning at the end of the first decade rather than plan to introduce it then.

I make it plain that while the national curriculum does not require a modern foreign language to be taught before the age of 11, it certainly does not forbid it.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I am most interested by the Minister's explanation of why we have to wait well into the next century before primary school teaching of languages can begin. As I understand her argument, only by then will we have recruited 23 year-olds who are competent to teach it. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, quite rightly in my view, criticised the committee of which I was a member for not looking at the way other people are teaching languages. Is it impossible for the Government to introduce crash courses for teacher training in foreign languages so that this dreadful time lag of 20 years, by which time all of us here will be dead, can be reduced and teaching can start at primary level?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. We are talking here about government legislating for the compulsory teaching of a language in primary schools. Given all the changes that are taking place in our schools now, I believe that that is too early. I can give the noble Lord the partial assurance that by not legislating we have not in any way precluded experimentation, crash courses or the introduction of teaching a language in primary schools. That is not against the Government's policy.

Where a primary school wishes to teach a language to its pupils—method is a matter for the school itself—it is free to do so. However, I have to say that the Government could not at present contemplate making a modern foreign language a compulsory part of the curriculum for primary school-age children. We have no difficulty at all with the proposition that children of a comparatively young age would benefit from an opportunity to learn foreign languages, but we must be aware of the circumstances as they are at present, allow time for them to change, and in particular allow time for changes at the higher levels to feed through the system.

I was happy to see that the Select Committee shares the Government's view that all maintained schools should provide for the teaching of at least one European Community language and that pupils should be encouraged to continue to learn a modern language for at least five years. Reference has already been made to the working group which the Government established to advise them on modern foreign languages in the national curriculum. That working group published its initial advice in March this year and it is due at the end of this month to submit its final report to my right honourable friends, the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales. I note that the Select Committee made helpful comments on some matters in the initial advice and I have no doubt that the working group will have taken note of its comments. The initial advice of the working group had in general a favourable reception. I am quite sure that its final report will be just as stimulating.

A number of specific points have been raised. If I do not cover them all, given that it is Friday and late in the day, I hope that I shall be forgiven and will be allowed to deal with them in writing. The noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to the speedy processing of teachers from the Community. Since the new arrangements came into force at the beginning of September, nearly 900 teachers from other Community countries have been granted qualified teacher status, mostly, I am told, within five to 10 days of applying. There has been some speeding up of the process and we shall continue to review its operation.

The noble Baroness also referred to the Lingua programme. There was never any doubt of our commitment to Lingua in principle. The difficulty was over the question of Community competence in the field of education. Our commitment to secure the full implementation of and maximum benefit from the Lingua programme has been shown by the fact that we have been the first Community country to open its Lingua bureau for the administration of our participation in the programme. The bureau is being run jointly by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges and the Centre for Information on Language Teaching. The Lingua programme has been established by the European Community for five years. It is already wide-ranging but its scope could not be extended, for example, to include the funding of language assistants without the agreement of all of the Twelve. But the programme will of course be kept under review in the light of experience.

Almost all noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to foreign language assistants in our schools. I entirely agree about the importance of language assistants. One of the main functions of the central bureau is to organise with the governments of the other countries concerned arrangements for the recruitment of assistants. But it must be for local education authorities and the individual schools to consider the employment of such assistants within the resources which are available for this provision. We have no plans for assistants to be centrally funded.

Reference was also made to induction courses. Induction courses for Community teachers, referred to in the response to the report, are intended to help teachers from France and the Federal Republic of Germany to prepare for teaching in this country, especially teachers who may not be trained in the teaching of their own language, to those who are native speakers, which calls for different skills. But these courses are not compulsory. They are intended to be a help and not a barrier to entering teaching in this country.

A vexed issue which goes well beyond the confines of this Chamber concerns visits and exchanges in schools. Calls have been made for a revision of our policy. Noble Lords will be aware that in the response to the Select Committee's report the Government have said that there should be no delay in changing the policy as regards charging for such visits if the new regulations are found to have discouraged visits. The Government have been concerned to gather evidence about the practical effects of the charging provision in the Education Reform Act. I know that those responses are coming in to the department. Local education authorities in England and Wales have already begun to inform the central bureau of the impact which the legislation is having locally. The NFER has been commissioned to survey schools this term and a number of other bodies have also offered to add to that evidence. Much is being done, and I shall certainly take back to the department the sense of urgency that has been established during the debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, and I believe my noble friend Lady Young, who is unable to attend today and apologises for her absence, are concerned about British independent schools. I take the point about European schools not being appropriate for all ability children. The Department of Education and Science has for some time been aware of the excellent work undertaken by those schools in Europe under the aegis of COBISEC in providing a British type of education for the children of parents working in Europe. Indeed, that was formally recognised by the Government when they introduced an amendment—albeit one which was not to the liking not only of the noble Baroness but also of myself, as I believe I went through the Division Lobby with her—to the Education Reform Act which provides for certain inspection and information services to be made available to COBISEC schools.

I am also aware of my noble friend's continued interest in the work of the COBISEC schools and her conviction, and that of my noble friend Lady Young, that further help should be given in the form of government funding. Proposals have been put to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I understand that they are receiving consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery, who has spoken to me about the subject, and others are concerned about the importance of the Spanish language. We certainly accept that Spanish and, indeed, German are important languages. One only has to bear in mind the number of people who speak Spanish in both North and South America. I believe that, other than Chinese, Spanish is the widest spoken language after English. I understand that 10 per cent. of the people in the United States speak Spanish as their first language. The position of German as something of a lingua franca in Eastern Europe and the number of people who speak Spanish in both North and South America gives prominence to those languages being given equal consideration in our schools.

I also acknowledge the force of an argument put forward to me recently by my noble friend Lord Montgomery about the quick progress which pupils can make in Spanish. However, I should point out that others carry the torch for other languages and I am simply not brave enough to take on the argument for the importance of one language over another. All I can say is that this is a very heated issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, my noble friend Lord Beloff, and others mentioned Latin. Again, I must point out that it is not a modern foreign language; it is not part of the national curriculum and the Government did not consider it appropriate to requires all pupils to study Latin. There are some who would disagree with that decision. However, the Government hope that schools that wish to offer Latin to some of their pupils will continue to do so if it is thought appropriate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, my noble friend Lady Brigstocke and others mentioned teacher morale. I am very much aware of all the hard work that teachers are putting in to introduce our education reforms. We recognise that the demands we make must be realistic, reasonable and supportive of effective teaching. We have taken positive steps to minimise the burdens wherever possible and to allow teachers more time to adjust to the pace of change.

I know that the Secretary of State has been listening to some of the pleas from teachers. Recent examples of the way in which he responded in a practical way are the announcement of standard assessment tasks for seven year-old children and our proposals for simplifying the annual curriculum returns.

I should like to point out at this stage that I believe that there is generally too much talking down of the profession. I hope that this kind of debate will have the opposite effect on morale. The changes we are bringing about to the education system certainly pose a challenge for our teachers. However, in many ways the rewards are greater than they have ever been. I am sure that teachers will find that their job satisfaction as the national curriculum and education reforms settle down will increase and that the educational benefits will start to make themselves felt and will thus make the work more rewarding.

I trust that my noble friend Lord Beloff will forgive me for having just a fleeting moment of apprehension when he said that he was going to speak about the unspeakable. Many of the points he raised—for example, the teaching of languages at an early age, using a variety of approaches, encouraging European and wider world awareness, the importance of motivation, the role for universities, languages as a condition of entry for jobs both in the public and private sector and the importance of the historical perspectivegave much food for thought and provide very positive encouragement for the purpose of this debate.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to the Scottish experiment. I can assure him that we shall be watching it very closely. I emphasise again that it is still possible for individual schools in England and Wales if they so wish to try out the teaching of languages in their schools. Of course resources will be one issue and the availability of expertise another.

However, there is a point which will arise out of the Scottish experiment. It is one which also comes to mind when we talk about the teaching of languages in primary schools in England and Wales. Indeed, I think that this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I can testify to its existence because it happened to one of my children. Nothing is more designed to switch off the mind of a young person than the situation where he or she has had to start to learn one language not once, not twice but, as in the case of one of my children, three times; they become unmotivated as regards to learning languages. Continuity between primary and secondary education will have to be looked at.

The final point to which I wish to refer relates to a second foreign language. A second foreign language is not part of the national curriculum. However, schools are free to offer a second language outside the national curriculum if they so wish. In particular, the Government hope that those pupils able and willing to benefit from studying a second language will be able to do so, especially in the final two years of secondary education.

It has been an important debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part. From time to time someone comes up with a notion that we should not waste time learning to speak a foreign language as the rest of the world speaks English. That is a point that has been made many times. Perhaps I may emphatically assure your Lordships that that is not the Government's view. We believe in the importance of learning languages. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and her Committee that we shall continue to stress that point at every opportunity.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords for the many issues that they have raised, some arising from the report and some from their wide experience. There has been a great deal of unanimity on both sides of the House about the importance and urgency of the subject. I am glad that that agreement has been accepted by the Government. I am grateful to the Minister for what she said in her response to the debate. I ask that she looks carefully again at what has been said today, especially in relation to the early introduction of teaching a modern foreign language in primary schools.

There is no time to pick up the many points that have been made, but I should like to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, whose robust contributions I enjoyed enormously. As I listened to him, I began to wish he had been a member of the sub-committee, because had he been we might have come up with a much more radical report. Whether it would have made a greater contribution towards solving the immediate problem is a matter for speculation. I thought that he might have been setting the agenda for a Royal Commission rather than a sub-committee of your Lordships' House.

The report is a response to the European Commission's communication concerned with improving the popular use of foreign languages right across the Community and of creating greater awareness of European culture as a whole, as opposed to any one culture of any individual member of the Community. It is clear that the United Kingdom has an enormous contribution to make in response to that communication. Our debate has been, I hope, part of a continuing debate which will increase the awareness of the problem and which I hope will prompt the Government into even greater and speedier action than that to which they are already committed.

Finally, I should like to place on record the sub-committee's gratitude to its clerk Dr. Philippa Tudor for the great amount of work that she put into the inquiry and the report.

On Question, Motion agreed to.