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Languages optional at KS4

Audrey McKie

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Graham writes:

As far as I'm aware, languages remain an "entitlement" - a dreadful word that means you don't have to do something if you don't want to - or if the senior management team don't want you to.

I read in the Independent that, thanks to the TR, Languages were back on the scene, but got awfully confused because no other source of information seem to corroborate that statement. And I am afraid, neither are you.

By the way I was trying to read that article you were talking about a couple of posts ago (on the Independent website) about the benefits of learning languages early. However, I must confess that i am unable to get to their archives. Would you be able to help me with your extensive IT skills to find that article? I would love to read it...


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Dear Audrey / Colleagues

This is the page containing the article in The Independent, 28/2/2002


The headline is:

'Guten Tag' to German at the age of four

The British are notoriously bad at foreign languages. Now ministers want to give all children the right to learn a language in primary school. Emma Haughton visits a Sheffield nursery which is showing the way

But, again, it's only "entitlement".

As for the Tomlinson Report, there are only three core skills:

1. Maths (i.e. basic numeracy)

2. Literacy (i.e. English)

3. ICT (i.e. basic computer skills)

I see no glimmer of hope on the horizon for languages.

As The Daily Telegraph put it (Opinion, 19 Oct 2004):

At the heart of Tomlinson, there is a colossal non sequitur. By requiring less academic pupils to learn only basic maths, functional literacy, "communication" and computer skills, it is hoped that more of them will discover an aptitude for "employment and adult life".

But why should they? If science, literature, history, languages, music, art, geography, religion and politics are no longer considered essential attributes of humanity, then the effect will be to accelerate the infantilisation of adolescence. The motivated will still study these subjects, but the rest will prefer soft options.


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I really thought there was a glimmer of hope but I have not found anything which supports my wishful thinking.

What a shame! I feel so disheartened by the whole thing... I can't help but worry about my job and also the future of those generations of pupils who will arrive so ill-prepared into the international working world.

Thanks for the links, I'll enjoy the reading...

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  • 3 weeks later...

In Germany or better Lower Saxony all children start learning English in primary school; then learning the foreign language is mainly based on listening and speaking (learning how to count, colours etc.) As Germany still has a three tiered school systen only those pupils who go to the upper two schools (grammar schools and secondary modern) have to continue learning English. In grammar schools (year 5) the children then start learning how to write English, grammar etc. In year 6 every pupil has to begin a second language mostly french, Spanish, Italian and still Latin. They have to continue learning at least one foreign language (mostly English) till their A-levels, two till their GCSE.

When it comes to priorities in language teaching in Germany we now have come to understand that learning grammar of course is necessary but we see grammar as a means of properly communicating what you what to express and our lessons focus on communication. We try to follow this communicative approach even when teaching and/or revising grammar: we do not tell the students e.g. when to use past tense or present perfect but based on authentic texts they have to find the appropriate sentences and have to find out when to use which of the two tenses and then come up with a rule themselves. All this is done in the foreign language.

My own school has two bilingual classes in which we teach subjects like history, politics, geography and P.E. in English (from year 7 on). At the moment we think of offering bilingual moduls in those subjects using French as a means of classroom communication.

I think one reason why we are so keen on learning foreign languages is that we know that not many people speak German outside Germany and that German is difficult to learn. The British attitude is a problem for us especially for my school as it is extremely difficult - not to say impossible - to find a school in the UK which wants to start an exchange with us.

As you might know the Queen visisted Germany last week and she kept stressing the importance of young people of both countries getting to know each better to reconcile and get rid of prejudices. We were really pleased to hear that but the intended changes in the British school curricular are really counterproductive and offer no incentive to really learn foreign languages and to get into contact with e.g. German kids.

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I recall reading somewhere that non-German-speaking children, e.g. refugees and asylum-seekers, are enrolled in special schools (Förderschulen/Sonderschulen) in Germany until they master enough German to survive in mainstream education there. Is this really the case for every child for whom German is an additional language? I need to know because a parent has written to me to ask whether his intellectually gifted daughter, who doesn't speak German, will be enrolled in special education when the family moves from the UK to Germany.

David Wilson


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  • 3 months later...

As we predicted, languages are definitely in decline. Two thirds of state schools no longer insist on languages being studied by childre beyond the age of 14, GCSE entries have plummeted, and only a smal minoroty of children now study languages beyond 16. This article appeared on 28 February 2005 at the BBC website:

"Languages in schools 'in decline'.

French and German lessons are in "chronic decline", with too many students

dropping languages altogether at age 16, a study warns."


I find this a bit ironic as the BBC is contributing to the decline by no

longer producing broadcast TV programmes for adult language learners. I

suppose it's a "bums on seats" thing. High-quality TV programmes of the

sort that the BBC used to broadcast (remember "Buongiorno Italia" and "A

Vous la France?) are expensive to produce and don't attract large

audiences. I guess this accounts for the epidemic of cheap-to-produce

"reality TV" programmes showing people making a mess of buying a property

in Spain or setting up an Indian restaurant in France - and don't you just

love it when everything goes pear-shaped? Now here's an opportunity that

the BBC appears to have missed. How about showing a success story where,

say, an English couple who have taken the trouble to master the French

language (by following a BBC course) make a real go of setting up a B&B in


I hope that we are all keeping up the pressure on Liz Cleaver at the BBC -

as individuals and through this Forum and our subject associations - to

review this short-sighted policy. It appears that a disproportionate amount

of money is being pumped into broadband delivery of educational materials.

I am not convinced that this is a sensible move. Firstly, who wants to be

educated sitting bolt upright, two feet away from a computer screen? Not

me. I would rather sit in a comfy armchair watching a TV programme with my

dog's head on my lap and a glass of beer in my right hand. Secondly, in

future will we be able to afford to be online for an indefinite amount of

time? As I indicated in a previous email to this Forum, many broadband

service providers are moving over to a pay-as-you-go service, along the

lines of that provided by mobile phone service providers. My broadband

service provider will introduce a sliding scale in April, whereby average

users like myself will continue to pay around 15-20 pounds per month and

the heaviest users will pay up to 300 pounds per month. It's the end of the

free lunch!

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