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Departments: Languages

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what effect she expects the outsourcing of her Department’s language teaching operation to have on costs. (138898)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how her Department will determine which language providers to use under the new language teaching business model. (138900)

A procurement team will oversee the purchasing of language training from new suppliers in accordance with Government guidelines during the tendering and evaluation process. Our objective is to set up a framework agreement with at least two possible suppliers for each foreign language. Maintaining a high standard of language training will be a priority.

To ensure high quality we will build into the contract specification rigorous standards and processes, covering academic calibre of staff; teaching methodology; range and depth of programmes; external accreditation and recognition of widely known benchmark standards; and customer-focused administrative and learning resource support. Quality assurance mechanisms will monitor that standards are being met, including through briefing, training and performance management of teachers and continuous assessment of students.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what evidential basis she reached the conclusion that the language teaching function would be uneconomic for her Department to operate. (138901)

As preparation for its move towards Trading Fund status, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Services carried out a rigorous analysis of its business and competitive environment, to identify its strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats it faces as it becomes a commercially-focused organisation. This, taken together with the FCO’s own policy review of language training, which was carried out in close consultation with a variety of stakeholders at all levels across the FCO, has informed us that:

the business demand for language training is changing from one-to-one to group training, a much more effective way of delivering tuition, involving four hours per day direct teaching time;

demand for all languages fluctuates considerably;

the recommended productivity of teaching staff (percentage of time spent teaching as opposed to other tasks e.g. lesson and exam preparation, producing materials, administration, pastoral care and liaising with overseas centres) is between 45 and 50 per cent. Very few languages attain this level and productivity is likely to fall below 30 per cent. in most languages with the move to group classes and more in-country training;

a flexible hours and agency model operating on a “pay per use” basis achieves good productivity rates. Most external providers employ this model because of the fluctuations in demand;

FCO language training costs on average 15-40 per cent. more than other providers;

40 per cent. of our existing teaching for priority languages is currently out-sourced despite our large in-house teaching staff; and

performance by exam results indicates that the quality of teaching is not enhanced by having a permanent workforce.

For all of these reasons, we consider that not only are there advantages in cost terms of moving to a new business model, but there are also advantages to be gained in terms of flexibility and quality of service.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many departmental staff were trained in a foreign language in each of the last three years for which figures are available; in how many languages training was available in each year; and what proportion of training was carried out overseas in each year. (138902)

The number of staff receiving language training was:

Financial year

Number of staff

2006-07

252

2005-06

386

2004-05

405

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has permanent teachers in 14 languages:

Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Spanish.

The FCO also employs lecturers on a flexible basis in a further 27 languages:

Arabic, Bulgarian, Bosnian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian.

The FCO had no in-house teaching capability in eight of the 22 FCO priority languages;

Pashtu, Dari, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Burmese, Urdu, Cantonese and Thai: training in these languages was outsourced.

The proportion of training carried out overseas varies according to the difficulty of the language. Easier languages will normally include a period of around four weeks in-country; the most difficult languages have one year training in the UK and one year training in-country.