HC Deb 18 December 2002 vol 396 cc51-3WS
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke)

Today we are publishing our National Languages Strategy.

To date the focus for language learning has been targeted at secondary schools, when for many it is too late to excite and motivate the desire to learn another language This has resulted in a declining number of people post-16 studying languages and a shortage in the number of language teachers at both primary and secondary level.

We want to increase flexibility in the curriculum at Key Stage 4 to give pupils the opportunity to pursue additional vocational routes, and therefore we have decided that Modern Foreign Languages should be an entitlement at Key Stage 4 and not a compulsory subject. We must recognise that our current system is not delivering the language learning system that is required in the 21st Century. It is our responsibility as a government to take steps to reverse this trend and rebuild the capacity to deliver language learning at all levels, starting in primary schools and continuing to adult learning.

The strategy that we are publishing today looks beyond the classroom in order to maximise and promote language learning opportunities. Our strategy will be geared towards both motivating individuals to learn—the push factor—while at the same time ensuring that high quality and appropriate opportunities are available—the pull factor. Creating the appetite for learning while at the same time broadening and enriching the options available, are the two key planks of our languages strategy.

The starting point of this strategy is to provide a flexible system of language learning for all, to develop the capacity of the system so that every pupil at Key Stage 2 has the opportunity to study at least one foreign language by the end of this decade, and ensure that language learning has a key place in the transformed secondary school of the future.

Our strategy therefore has three overarching objectives: to improve teaching and learning of languages, including delivering an entitlement to language learning for Key Stage 2 pupils by 2010, making the most of e-learning and ensuring that opportunity to learn languages has a key place in the transformed secondary school of the future: to introduce a national, voluntary recognition system, to complement existing qualification frameworks and give people credit for their language skills; and to increase the number of people studying languages in further and higher education and in work-based training by stimulating demand for language learning, developing Virtual Language Communities and encouraging employers to play their part in supporting language learning.

We face a number of challenges, but we are committed to improving language learning. Our strategy proposes a number of measures to address these issues.

First, we recognise that there is a shortage of modern foreign language teachers at secondary level, and relatively few primary teachers have been trained to teach languages. We will work with the Teacher Training Agency, with teachers and with other professionals and language experts to build a new pool of primary language teachers and other language specialists who can support language learning.

But we must also recognise that our strategy alone is not enough to deliver our ambitions. We will extend and revitalise the Language Assistants programme and there will be more opportunities and incentives for language undergraduates to work in schools. But even this is not enough. We must, and we will, draw on the diversity of skills of language speakers within the community and other education institutions. We will do this by providing a short "Teaching a Foreign Language" qualification, to give people the additional teaching skills and recognition to work with teachers in the classroom.

Secondly, there is little provision that targets individual learners, enabling them to learn at their own pace, and few opportunities for recognition at various stages of their learning either in school, further education, higher education or the workplace. We will introduce a new voluntary recognition system to complement existing national qualification frameworks and the Common European Framework. This will give people credit for their existing as well as newly-acquired language skills and form a ladder of recognition from beginner level to a standard which sits alongside GCSE, A level and NVQ national qualifications.

Thirdly, we are aware that too many schools and teachers are working in isolation, without access to support networks. LEAs will have a key role to play in supporting schools in the implementation of the strategy. We propose that LEAs should be the coordinators of primary language learning programmes, ensuring that every primary school has a language coordinator and that by the end of the decade every Key Stage 2 pupil is offered the opportunity to study at least one foreign language.

LEAs will provide expertise, commitment and a strong co-ordinating role drawing together headteachers; local Specialist Language Colleges; the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) Comenius Centre networks; other schools with language strengths; Higher Education Institutions; business; and language speakers within the community and other education institutions.

Finally, we acknowledge that whilst more schools are using ICT in language teaching, its use is underdeveloped in over three-quarters of primary schools and a third of secondary schools. We will continue to work with public and private sector providers to raise the quality and widen the range of online teaching and learning materials. We are determined to make the most of opportunities to collaborate with other countries by looking at how twinning can add to the learning experience.

We will appoint a National Director for Languages to champion language learning and drive forward our strategy which will run alongside the Government's overall Primary Strategy to raise standards of literacy and numeracy in primary schools.

Our strategy will be supported by direct investment, which will rise to £10 million per year by 2005–06. It will also benefit from our broader programmes to support the school workforce, invest in school improvement, and raise standards of teaching and learning, and from programmes managed by our key partners.

Languages should take their proper place at the heart of initiatives and activities to further the wider social, economic and political agenda. To do this we must recognise the limitations of the current system and build the capacity to deliver a more flexible, responsive system of learning which embeds learning in primary schools and provides provision tailored to the needs of individuals of all ages, throughout their lives.