Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages, which has been pressing for some years now for foreign languages to be part of the required curriculum in primary schools. I am therefore delighted that this will finally be the case from September this year, and I congratulate the Government most warmly on this reform. It has been a long time coming, having been on the cards for September 2011 but abandoned as part of a cross-party agreement before the most recent general election. I have never gone along with the idea, promoted from 2004 onwards, that compulsory languages at key stage 2 was a sensible strategic alternative to keeping languages in the national curriculum for all until the end of key stage 4. I believe that we should have both.
The focus today is on key stage 2, and the timing is very good. With some concentrated focus and leadership from the Government, starting now, we can ensure that we will not be back here in four or five years’ time being told by the language naysayers that pupils still do not like languages, there are not enough teachers and in any case English is enough. This is not the occasion to rehearse the arguments about why languages are important; we really must take that for granted in today’s debate. Suffice it to say that in the 21st century, knowing English is vital but knowing only English is a serious drawback. Primary school is the place to start making sure that pupils in the UK are on the front foot.
I apologise in advance to the Minister for the many detailed questions I shall be asking. If he does not have time to answer them all today, I hope that he will write to me and place a copy in the Library.
We will not be starting in September with a blank sheet of paper. Some 97% of primary schools already offer some language teaching and there is some excellent practice in several parts of the country. However, the latest data from the Language Trends survey indicate a wide variation in practice. Many schools treat their provision as a very lightweight introduction to a new language and concentrate solely on oral skills. Around one-third of schools say that they neither monitor nor assess pupils’ progress. Schools are not confident about the more rigorous aspects of language teaching.
There are five issues that need urgent attention from the Government if the new policy is to be a success overall, not just in small patches. I will address each of them in turn. They are guidance, support and training; teacher supply; measuring progress and continuity; capitalising on home languages; and the role of Ofsted.
First, the survey reveals a high level of dependence on outside support. However, there are real problems with schools’ access to that support and training. Official guidance barely exists. The new documentation for schools has only three pages outlining the purpose of study, attainment targets and subject content in modern languages. That compares with 88 pages for English. Surely that sends a message to schools about the level of importance attached to studying a foreign language.
The DfE says that schools should seek advice and support in preparation for key stage 2 languages, but does not actually provide any support or indeed guidance on how to find it. What is being done, and what more can be done, to ensure that schools have access to the support and training that they need? In particular, will the Government facilitate training for the new programme of study? Without further guidance on the intended outcomes of key stage 2 languages, it is also very difficult to know how much time to give to the subject in the timetable. England provides one of the lowest amounts of teaching time to modern languages in both primary and secondary schools of all the OECD countries. The current typical offer is one 30-minute lesson a week, and while that might be valuable in itself it is unlikely to lead to any measurable level of competence by the end of key stage 2.
The second big issue is teacher supply. How will the Government ensure that enough primary school teachers are trained to teach a language, bearing in mind that this becomes compulsory in only a few months’ time? What opportunities will there be for teachers to spend time in a country where the language they are teaching is spoken? Given the shortage of suitably trained teachers, what advice will the Government be giving to schools on the use of unqualified speakers of a given language who, perhaps with the appropriate training, might assist schools with their language provision?
The Minister might be interested in the case study of the Al-Noor primary school, an independent Muslim school in east London hoping to become voluntary aided. The pupils, none of whom are native Arabic speakers, start to learn Arabic in reception class and by year 6 have reached a level judged to be equivalent to GCSE. The teacher is not a native Arabic speaker either, although he is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. However, he does not have QTS because the assessment-only route to QTS is not available, as I understand it, in languages. Is there any modification of the QTS process that the Government could make to improve the supply of qualified language teachers?
The third issue is measuring progress and achieving continuity. There is currently no guidance on the level to be achieved at the end of key stage 2 or how it is to be measured. Other countries use the Common European Framework of Reference, or a version thereof, which is adapted to measure the progress of young children. Without a national system of measurement, there is a danger that schools will adopt a minimalist approach that will not provide a secure or consistent enough basis for secondary schools to build on in the same way as they do for maths, English and science. Without this, year 7 pupils will all too often find themselves starting from scratch again in languages, which leads to boredom, demoralisation and a reluctance to continue languages after key stage 3. Will the Government therefore introduce a formal assessment measure? Will they set a defined level of achievement for pupils to reach at the end of key stage 2?
The Language Trends survey revealed that 60% of primary schools have no contacts on languages with their local secondary schools. The issue of continuity is often just dismissed as too complex to deal with, yet the national curriculum requires that key stage 3 should build on key stage 2. The need for a proper system to record pupil progress and pass this information on to secondary schools is key to the success of language teaching at key stage 2 and, indeed, throughout statutory schooling.
Crucially, will the Government ensure that a national recording mechanism is introduced to facilitate information transfer and also to provide data that would enable local, national and international comparisons to be made? The London Borough of Hackney and other school partnerships offer one example of an approach to achieving continuity, by having all schools, both primary and secondary, agree on which language is taught at key stage 2. Will the Government provide a strong steer to encourage schools to work together in this way?
The fourth issue that I flagged up is the value of home languages. One in six primary school pupils does not have English as their first language. We should recognise this linguistic capital as a significant asset. The Government’s decision to remove the list of seven languages allows primary schools the freedom to develop home languages as well as to introduce a new one. The challenge is how to recognise and accredit home languages now that the Asset system has been withdrawn. What will the department can do to make the Government more aware of the potential importance of the rich range of languages spoken in the UK for economic growth, national security and international diplomacy? Without the Asset scheme, how do the Government intend to support and develop higher levels of literacy in home and community languages?
Lastly, I want to say a few words about the importance of Ofsted inspections, which will play a critical role in measuring the successful implementation of this policy, as well as encouraging primary schools to take the reform seriously. To what extent will the inspection of language provision be part of Ofsted inspections from September 2014, and will the Minister assure noble Lords that full account of the new policy on key stage 2 languages will be taken in inspection visits and that it will form a part of all inspection reports?
I am excited about this new policy, but I ask the Government to pay urgent attention to the various gaps in the system that I have described, in order to prevent the policy from backfiring in practice.
My Lords, no subject in your Lordships’ House could have a better champion than the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. I am one of her—if I can call it so—pupils. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is here, because 60 years ago, at the school we both attended, I was decreed to be incapable of taking on board anything to do with science or mathematics and was placed in the languages stream. I have never forgotten what I learnt there. I listened to the marvellous and very encouraging comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about rigour in language tuition. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and I will remember the rigour with which we had to learn languages in those far-off days.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for all the expert advice that she has produced today, together with her commitment, drive and enthusiasm in beating the drum for something which appears not to be of enormous importance for school curricula, especially at an early stage: primary school, or when moving on to secondary school. I am afraid I am a bit lost with what the noble Baroness referred to as stages—is it stage 4? In any case, the first stage is the most important one.
The noble Baroness referred to mandatory tuition, and I had a question mark there. I believe that it can be, and ought to be, all the more important, since in another part of your Lordships’ House we have just had an enthralling debate on the world wide web with the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox. That demonstrates the worldwide means of communication, and I suspect that a good bit of the world wide web is not in English, although English is probably the majority language of communication. If the Minister has time, I hope that he can say—or write to me or let me know somehow—whether there is a chance of using the world wide web and expanding its fantastic capacity for teaching and furthering worldwide communication.
On a personal basis—if the noble Baroness will forgive me this—when I was at the University of Oxford, I often had an essay crisis in the middle of the night. BBC Radio 2 went off air at midnight, but one did not worry—there were stations that could be listened to for 24 hours out of 24. On long wave, one had French radio. I was able to take all four French channels, and I am delighted that they have improved my communication. I then came to learn about the BBC World Service and all the languages and services that it provided.
Part of my activities in your Lordships’ House dealt with a thing called the North Atlantic Assembly, consisting of NATO parliamentarians. I was drafted on to a committee that dealt with communications and putting over some aspects of Western policy, especially in what we used to call the Soviet Union. The population of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was 240 million people, of whom 130 million did not speak Russian. The BBC World Service was able to put out communication and wonderful ideas about our way of life in the eight or 10 different languages that were spoken in the Soviet Union. The noble Baroness’s drive for languages can open the world to young people.
I am sure that we will hear from the Minister about professional teachers and their methods, but I wonder whether he can give me some indication of the new psychology of youngsters, since it is 50 or 60 years since the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and I were drilled with rigour in languages. Modern languages can be fun for youngsters for both sport and chat but, my goodness, in future when I am long gone, I am sure that their professions, business, trade and finance will be improved, and it is vital that modern languages are part of their life. I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness for this debate and, once again, I hope that she will forgive me for the usual Lyell hobbyhorse.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, on the stalwart and steadfast leadership that she has shown on this issue. A difference of opinion remains between her and me on the decision over key stage 4 modern foreign languages but, having been guiding the ship of the Department for Education when that decision was taken, I have naturally taken an ongoing interest in this, which is I why wanted to make a contribution to the debate today. I think that the noble Baroness’s introduction covered all the issues that could possibly be covered in this debate, so I apologise in advance for repeating some of them; I am just going to pick out two or three that matter particularly to me.
I very much welcome the Government’s decision on this; it is a good thing now to make modern foreign languages mandatory in primary schools. I welcome that and wish them well, and I hope that we can work together to bring about success. That was a decision that I faced over a decade ago, and I decided not to go ahead with it. However, coupled with the decision not to have mandatory foreign languages at key stage 4 was the decision to move the subject in time to primary schools and make it compulsory at key stages 1 and 2—never to leave it floating as being compulsory only at key stage 3, which I regret. I do not think it was the wrong decision not to make it compulsory way back in 2002—I am not sure that we had the resourcing within the nation and the education system to do so—but there are certainly lessons to be learnt about what has gone on in the decade since. It is those that I want to spend two or three minutes talking about now, and I have two or three questions to finish off with.
What went wrong? What would we do differently if we had to start again? First, giving the school system 10 years to enact something was far too long. School leavers or class teachers who were there at that point would not be there 10 years later, so there was no lever to give a sense of urgency to make primary schools get on with it. Secondly, although ring-fenced money was given to modern foreign languages teaching at the start of the process, it was put into the general school budget around 2006—not under my leadership but under later leadership, That was a mistake. It took the lever away again from encouraging primary schools to teach modern foreign languages. Thirdly, we never solved the problem of there being sufficiently highly qualified teachers in the primary sector. However, there were some things that went well, which is why 97% of the schools at least have a modern foreign language specialist.
It is worth the Government bearing these points in mind as they go forward with this task. First, we made great use of the specialist language schools, which are not there now. Those provided a core of partnership that is badly needed if primary schools are to make a go of it. They cannot do it alone; they need partnerships to join and leadership somewhere in the education system, because it might not be there in their own school. Secondly, we had co-ordination by the local education authority, which is no longer a player in the game. I am not sure where the co-ordination will now come from. Thirdly, we had designated advanced skills teachers who played a leadership role. There are some things that I would do differently but some things did have an effect, as we can see a decade later.
My questions for the Minister on this occasion are these. First, I found it quite difficult to find out the number of primary ITT-model foreign-language places for next year. Does he have those figures? I attempted to look them up but could not find them. Secondly, is partnership not absolutely key? There should be partnership with key stage 3 in the secondary schools to which those schools’ children are likely to go, partnership with other language speakers in the wider community and partnership with expertise wherever it might exist, whether in local colleges and universities or in neighbouring primary and specialist schools. The Government have not gone for a system of organisation where they force partnership on schools. I am worried about how schools will voluntarily make these partnerships, and make them effectively. That came out of points 5A and 5B in the consultation process which the Government have just taken forward. That was the most raised issue and I am not sure what the Government’s response to it is.
My last point is on pedagogy. We all want it to happen but making it happen will depend on the quality of teaching in each and every one of our primary schools and for each and every one of their pupils. What is the Minister doing to improve pedagogy and teacher quality in modern foreign languages? However, I wish the Government well with this. It is long overdue and I regret the gap that has happened, but it gives us a glorious chance to get it right in the years to come.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for initiating this debate and join in the tributes to her tireless work on behalf of languages. For those of us with a keen interest in modern languages, it has been encouraging to see the increased enthusiasm generated by public and private sector organisations, as well as such respected bodies as the British Academy and the Chartered Institute of Linguists, which have helped to inform and persuade the Government of the importance to this country of speaking languages other than English.
We live in an international world where technology has revolutionised the speed and range of communication. It brings together the multilingual nations of the world and the UK will be the poorer economically, culturally and socially if we cannot participate in languages other than our own. We saw a serious decline in the study of languages, which accelerated when the previous Government decided to remove the requirement for a language beyond the age of 14. The EBacc has helped to reverse the trend at key stage 4 with a healthy increase in GCSE entries in 2013, which we hope will be sustained. However, the decline at school led to a decline in university language study and, consequently, in those opting to become language teachers. Secondary schools are experiencing a shortage of skilled and enthusiastic linguists, and primary schools will have to compete if they are to fulfil their remit to interest children in languages at a young age.
It is noteworthy that an impressive 91% of the responses to the Government’s consultation agreed with the introduction of languages at key stage 2. It is widely recognised that the earlier a child learns a second language, the easier it is for them to absorb that language as a natural development at a time of life when so much else is being newly learnt. Breaking the barrier of one foreign language makes other languages more accessible. If there is such agreement over why this should be done, we need to look at how it could be done successfully, and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, outlined some of the issues there. It would not be appropriate to expect primary teachers to acquire language skills overnight that were not previously required. They are hard-working and hard-pressed enough in giving young children the best start to their education, so creative measures are called for to bring the fun and excitement of languages into primary schools.
When the previous Government were encouraging primary languages, imaginative materials were developed under the key stage 2 framework for languages. Children were encouraged to explore the new language collaboratively through games, songs and rhymes, and to show what they had learnt through simple conversations, role-plays and short performances. At school in France when I was eight we had to learn something by heart every evening, be it a fable de La Fontaine, some grammar rules or little known aspects of French history. Reciting these back was one of the few bits of fun in an otherwise humourless school, and many of those have actually stayed with me today—some more useful than others, I have to say. Learning songs and rhymes helps to develop children’s working memory, which is another essential tool in language learning. What account have the Government taken of these materials, which were tried and tested only a few years ago?
Another suggestion is to mirror the British Academy’s language assistants programme, which provides classroom placements in 14 countries overseas for English speakers with at least two years of higher education. Are there similar programmes to attract language assistants from overseas into our schools here? Student native speakers would bring currency and youth into lessons and marry their fluency with the teaching skills of the class teacher. Are the Government able to provide schools with advice on such exchanges?
Another connected source of support can come from embassies. A few years ago the German, French and Spanish ambassadors clubbed together to offer their backing to the then Government to revitalise interest and proficiency in their languages. This time round, when the range of languages was being debated, representatives from the Japanese embassy were anxious to ensure that Japanese should not be ruled out as one of the permissible primary languages. Along with that representation came offers to support the teaching of Japanese. They and other nationals succeeded in increasing the range of languages. What discussions have been held with London embassies to enlist their collaboration in promoting their native languages within the curriculum?
Primary schoolchildren are no strangers to technology. I hope the Government are also supporting the development of imaginative programmes geared to younger children to help them to master languages through computer-based games and activities. Our aim should be to inspire the next generation to see languages as the route to better global communication, more rewarding careers and a better quality of life.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. I associate myself very strongly with her reference to the common European framework of languages.
The excellent idea—initiated, I think, by Lord Dearing—of the language ladder seems to have disappeared through the floorboards. It is essential to have a way of assessing the progress of children at key stage 2, and this framework would provide that because it is adaptable to the earlier stages. More than that, it is also something that teachers themselves should be very much encouraged to make use of to upgrade their own language skills, or even to start at the beginning and treat learning a language like learning a musical instrument, where you have the associated board and examinations at various stages; it does not matter what age you are—you can take grade 1 when you are eight or 80. Such a framework is essential before we embark on the very welcome return of languages to key stage 2.
I have three questions for the Minister, all of which I think have been asked before in one form or another. First, are the Government planning for the department to set up some sort of crash courses for serving teachers in order to add a specific qualification in the teaching of languages to their existing qualifications?
Secondly, and even more importantly, are the Government minded to set up short training courses, preferably in-school, for bilingual non-teachers who could then act as peripatetic teachers in groups of schools? Of course, this entails what has already been mentioned: the need for collaboration between schools in an area. Primary and secondary schools should act as a collaborative group, and peripatetic teachers could therefore teach in both secondary and primary schools. Having a native speaker who has trained as a teacher, however briefly, would be an enormous advantage. I wonder if the Government have any ideas to set this up—immediately, really, because September is not so far away.
That leads to my third question: how are we going to break away from the domination of French as the most-taught language in primary schools? I have nothing against the French language—or rather, I have some things against it, although I am not anti-French—but the predominance of French is a purely historical matter that should be remedied in the 21st century. I hope that making use of native speakers of a variety of different languages would be extremely helpful.
This morning I asked someone who has lots to do with corresponding and communicating in foreign languages which two languages he would choose as the most useful to be taught at key stage 2. He said that his heart told him French—because he loves French—but his head told him Mandarin and Spanish. We ought to widen the range of languages taught and make use of all the skills that there are. As we know, many languages are spoken in this country at present. Mandarin is taught quite widely, but mainly in private schools at present, and we do not want it to be a skill that is confined to people who have been to private schools. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer those questions.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Coussins, and declare an interest as the vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned the decision that was taken in 2004. That was preceded by a Nuffield report on the teaching of languages, which had pointed out very clearly that in most foreign countries children were introduced to a foreign language at the age of six or seven and that on the whole this was recommended as a more effective way of teaching foreign languages. She mentioned the trade-off, that key stage 4 would be dropped, which was done very reluctantly on the part of some members of the Opposition at that time. Many of us fought hard against it and have regretted that decision ever since.
The relatively slow development within the primary sector has been described, but by 2010 well over half of primary schools offered some teaching in modern foreign languages. Today, as we have heard, the figure is 97%. The Ofsted report in January 2011, Modern Languages: Achievement and Challenge, pointed to the achievements of primary schools: approximately two-thirds of the schools visited were rated either good or outstanding in this area, especially in listening and responding, as distinct from reading and writing, in the foreign languages. That picks up the point about rigour that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned. What comes above all through from the report is the enthusiasm of the seven to 11 year-olds for their language studies and the diverse and imaginative approaches of teaching.
However, one feature that stood out from that Ofsted report was the importance of the competence of teachers. Some larger primary schools recruited language specialists themselves while others used part-time assistants, sometimes linking with the local secondary school and sharing their assistant. Ofsted noted that, generally speaking, schools that had access to native speakers achieved more highly than those that did not, although the imaginative use of DVDs and video facilities, linking up with partner schools and using the internet, e-mail and even Skype links substituted for this on occasion.
The NUT also emphasised the importance of teacher competence and the need to ensure sufficient time and resources for the training of teachers. Given the importance that Ofsted placed on the role of native speakers, there might be more of a role for training UK-based native speakers to help in schools—many French and German people are longstanding residents in the UK—as teaching assistants supplementing classroom teachers rather than substituting for them, but providing a very important link as a native speaker in helping with the teaching. It has always struck me that we send a great many young people overseas with as little as six weeks’ training to teach English as a foreign language. Why should we not reverse that and train some of our very competent native speakers in this country to do the same in our own schools?
The NUT also emphasised the importance of links with local secondary schools, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and others have also spoken about. The new national curriculum gives schools considerable leeway to decide what language to teach and how to teach it. However, if the idea is to encourage young people to pursue modern foreign languages later in their studies, it is vital not to demotivate them at key stage 3. Nothing is more demotivating than having to go all over again, often painfully slowly, the elementary stages of language teaching when it has already been covered at your primary school.
Some of the most successful experiments in primary teaching have come from the linking up of what were the specialist secondary language colleges with the feeder primary schools. Sometimes they sent their staff out to help with the training of teachers and with developing the courses in those primary schools. How far is the Minister’s department encouraging primaries and secondaries to work together in local cluster groups, as I gather happened in Hackney—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned this—to achieve a smooth transition from one stage to another?
My Lords, I am pleased that the motion refers to “mandatory” rather than “modern” foreign language teaching, since I shall talk mainly about Latin and Ancient Greek. I, too, echo the tributes that have been paid to my noble friend Lady Coussins for her leadership in this area.
First, I congratulate the Government on making foreign language learning compulsory at key stage 2, with Latin and Ancient Greek included among the languages available. As we have heard, from an early age children have an enormous capacity for learning languages. My own granddaughter, aged just five, who lives in Moscow, is the most fluent Russian speaker—in fact the only one—of all four members of her family, having spent some two years in a Russian school; and her English-language skills have certainly not suffered.
Classical languages, especially Latin, are particularly helpful in learning about how languages work. I can think of no better way of getting to grips with grammar—as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and I experienced—and Latin is directly relevant to the study of a whole group of modern European languages, so many of whose words and idioms derive from it. Beyond that, Latin and Greek can open a window into a much wider realm of literature, history, drama, law, philosophy, science and culture. They can combine well with other languages at primary level, each feeding off and reinforcing the others.
There are excellent materials available for teaching Latin at this level. The Minimus course, developed by Barbara Bell of the Primary Latin Project, has sold more than 130,000 copies and is widely and successfully used in schools teaching Latin to seven to 10 year-olds. It features a Roman family living near Hadrian’s Wall, including their slaves, a cat and a mouse, Minimus. The resources available include books, games, songs, a musical, comic strips, animations, finger puppets and more. Minimus is even on Twitter, although I imagine he should squeak rather than tweet.
I am encouraged by the fact that there seems to be growing enthusiasm among schools—including state schools—to offer classical language teaching, which has for too long been seen as the preserve mainly of independent schools. This has been very much down to the efforts of private organisations such as Friends of Classics, Classics for All, the Primary Latin Project, the Iris Project, the Mayor of London’s Love Latin scheme, Classics in Communities and others. These offer encouragement, support and resources, including financial, to schools wanting to try teaching Latin or Greek.
One project, started with a grant from Classics for All, has sought to introduce and embed Latin into a cluster of schools in North Walsham in Norfolk. This has employed four teachers, working with other suitable adults, to deliver the Minimus course at the primary schools. A further, important part of the project seeks to enable students from the primaries to continue with Latin up to GCSE level at the secondary school. The project has now spread to two other clusters.
There is much good work going on, but projects like these face some challenges, which I hope the Minister may seek to address. First, children studying Latin, let alone Greek, at primary level have only a one in four chance of being able to continue at secondary level. Again, excellent resources are available, notably from the Cambridge School Classics Project. Both Latin and Greek can count towards the EBacc qualification at key stage 4 but there is something of a black hole at key stage 3. Secondary schools cannot offer Latin as a language within the key stage 3 national curriculum, only as an option outside it.
Secondly, not enough new teachers are being trained to deliver Latin and other classical subjects, and there is little or no government support for training such teachers. Much teacher training has to be carried out by volunteers. The Norfolk project has had to make use of retired teachers, teaching assistants, governors, parents and others with suitable basic skills, as well as existing staff, including teachers of modern foreign languages. I hope the Minister is willing to look into ways of working with the classics community to tackle these issues. Perhaps he, or an appropriate ministerial colleague, might consider meeting some of the leading promoters of Latin teaching in primary schools to understand the challenges they face and to explore ways of meeting them, in order to ensure that the welcome inclusion of classical languages in the mandatory language teaching programme achieves the success it deserves.
My Lords, I am also extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for tabling this debate today and add my thanks for her continuing commitment to making foreign language teaching in schools a success. As she said, this is a very timely debate, which allows us to be updated on the progress being made in implementing the key stage 2 proposals. As I think has been said, the noble Baroness has, quite rightly, identified the main challenges which still lie ahead.
First, I should state from the outset that we support the principle that foreign language teaching should be compulsory at key stage 2. Our record of producing young people and adults fluent in other languages over the years has been rather woeful. England continues to be ranked the worst country in Europe for the level of acquisition of foreign languages among teenagers. We have a long way to go, but we need to get the detail right. It may be that a 10-year run-in was too long, as my noble friend Lady Morris suggested, but conversely it seems that we are working to a rather tight timetable here for the implementation of the policy by September 2014. The Government have tried to make a virtue out of having a hands-off approach to schools, but on this occasion I hope the Minister would acknowledge that help is needed on this issue given the scale of the challenge ahead. I hope he is able to reassure us that steps are being taken by the department to roll the policy out successfully rather than leaving schools to do it all alone.
Secondly, as has been said, there continues to be a concern about the lack of staff expertise. Arguably, teaching a foreign language badly is worse than not teaching it at all at this level. For example, nearly a quarter of primary schools have no member of staff with a language qualification higher than GCSE. For many, that qualification was taken many years ago or, indeed, could be in a different language to the one they are now being asked to teach. Therefore there are challenges with the skills of the teaching pool. Arguably, that challenge—the language skills of existing teachers—is not something that will easily be met by September 2014. I hope the Minister can clarify how quality teaching will be assured and whether a national audit of the skills is being carried out. Do we have a sense of the scale of the problem, and how is the department addressing that issue?
Thirdly, there is the rather thorny issue of the choice of languages to be taught. When we debated the language order in Grand Committee which set the scene for these changes last year, I made it clear that we opposed the narrow range of languages which the Government intended to prescribe, and was therefore pleased when that element of the proposal was dropped. At the time I was unhappy on the basis that having a restricted list of languages would prevent us from benefiting from schools being able to adopt the languages predominant in their local community and to take advantage of that. For example, I was for many years a school governor in a part of Kennington which became known as Little Portugal because of the cluster of Portuguese shops and restaurants and, eventually, the large number of the families that came to live there. It made sense for that school to have Portuguese as its adopted second language. Indeed, the Portuguese embassy used to visit the school regularly and help with the language teaching there. In retrospect, that was a good model upon which we should build.
However, it is clear that to have a successful foreign language strategy we must have high levels of collaboration between primary and secondary school language teachers, particularly if we accept that a variety of languages will be taught at key stage 2. This has been said by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. That, again, is a challenge for the Government, and once again those strong interschool links require not only extra encouragement but extra resources. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what he is doing to encourage that collaboration.
Finally, there is the issue of the content of the primary language learning. The best language teaching I have witnessed makes the language come alive, encouraging children to communicate, perhaps imperfectly in the first instance, and to play games. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, quite rightly stressed this, and gave some exciting examples about the importance of enjoyment at that level. I argue that grammar ought to come later. I am concerned at the messages from the department that seem to concentrate too much on learning grammar and not enough on that initial speaking and communicating.
I hope that we can agree that we are all aiming for the same outcome here, which is to raise the game of foreign language teaching at primary and secondary level, and to develop more young people who are able to communicate effectively on the global stage. I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord has to say about the plans to make sure that we are on track to achieve that.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for securing this important debate and for her insightful speech. I know how passionate she is on the subject, as she was today, and I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that I will not be able to answer all her questions, but I will have a jolly good try. My noble friend Lord Lyell referred to an essay crisis. I have to say that I have been in this job for a year, and I have had more essay crises in the last year than I had in three years at Oxford. I have that distinct feeling right now.
This Government are determined to put languages back at the heart of our education system, and to make sure that every young person in the country enjoys a rich and rewarding language education. The earlier children become comfortable and confident speaking another language, the more quickly they become fluent and the more likely they are to do well as they move into secondary education and continue with languages at GCSE and, we hope, beyond. That is why, from next September, children will start to learn languages much earlier in their school career, from the age of seven.
As the 2012 Language Trends survey indicated, 97% of primary schools already teach at least one modern foreign language, and 83% are confident that they will be able to meet the statutory requirement from September 2014. I understand that the 2013 survey results will be available in the spring, and I hope that they will show further progress in this regard. Schools are not alone; there are many classroom resources freely available to support the delivery of high-quality languages teaching in several languages, as well as many highly qualified teachers and languages experts who are willing to support primary schools with the introduction of the new curriculum. This is where the support should come from, not from additional guidance or prescription from central government.
We want primary schools to concentrate substantially on teaching a single language from the age of seven right through to 11. This will give pupils four years of study in which to develop their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills to a high level. It will give them time and space to reach a decent level of fluency early on, giving them confidence that they are good at languages and encouraging them to continue with the subject for longer. It will also increase their confidence and capability, if and when they start to learn a new language at secondary level. We are not prescribing details of assessment outside English and maths. Schools should decide these for themselves, although they will need to demonstrate them to Ofsted, and I will come to that in a minute.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised the issue of the amount of time spent on teaching languages at primary level. The Languages Trends survey showed that slightly over half of primary schools offered between 30 and 45 minutes a week, with around a quarter offering an hour. That is a good basis on which to build, although decisions about timetabling are, of course, for schools. We also strongly encourage primary and secondary schools in a local area to work together to offer the same languages, helping pupils to move smoothly between schools. Obviously this can help pupils greatly, and I shall say a bit more about that in a moment.
I turn to training and resources. Schools are already starting to prepare for the change of course, and there is a lot of support out there for them. Last year, the National College for Teaching and Leadership facilitated an expert group, now working independently, chaired by a leading primary head teacher. The group has been meeting to develop signposting of high-quality teaching resources to support initial teacher trainers as schools prepare for the introduction of key stage 2 languages. They are providing links to resources, courses, qualifications and people that the primary sector can use to support the introduction at key stage 2 from 2014, to be hosted on the website of the Association for Language Learning. We are considering the group’s recommendations carefully as we prepare for the implementation of the new national curriculum from September this year.
Organisations such as the Association for Language Learning and the Network for Languages are offering training to support the new languages curriculum. Another source of support comes from embassies and cultural institutions from many countries. My noble friend Lady Garden asked about the involvement of embassies. We have been enlisting their collaboration in promoting their native languages within the curriculum. The cultural section of the French Embassy, the Goethe Institut, the Spanish Consejeria and the Japan Foundation are already offering schools specialist support to help them teach these languages effectively. The Institute of Education’s Confucius Institute is working in partnership with HSBC to expand the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in primary schools. This is the kind of innovation and collaboration that we want to encourage in schools, and I hope that those resources will become more widely used by teachers in future.
Our approach to continuing professional development for teachers focuses on empowering schools to take the lead in the training and development of teachers and creating more opportunities for peer-to-peer training. The national network of teaching school alliances that we are creating will further build the capacity of schools to follow this approach, including in languages. Many schools are already doing this successfully. For example, Penrice Community College in Cornwall is working with primary school teachers in the Peninsula Teaching School Partnership to improve their confidence in using the spoken language in the classroom through French improvement sessions incorporating phonics. St Cuthbert’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Durham, part of the Together to Succeed teaching school alliance, has used different teaching models with different groups of pupils to identify how best to teach reading and writing in French. Such arrangements are not something that we can dictate from Whitehall and Westminster; they need to be sorted out at a local level. In our view, decisions relating to teachers’ professional development rightly rest with schools, individual teachers and head teachers, as they are in the best position to make judgments about relative spending priorities and requirements.
My noble friend Lady Garden asked about language assistants. The DfE provides just over £500,000 a year to the British Council to fund the language assistants scheme. As she mentioned, this covers places for UK undergraduates and recent graduates to teach English in schools and universities overseas, but also supports placements for foreign undergraduates and graduates in UK schools teaching their native language. Approximately 660,000 pupils in English schools are taught by about 1,400 foreign language assistants each year. The noble Baroness also asked about imaginative materials that were developed under the key stage 2 framework. We are aware of these materials. They are very popular, and there is nothing to stop schools using them.
Ofsted inspections, which the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, referred to, are not subject-specific but ensure that the school curriculum is broad and balanced and that it meets the needs of all pupils. When foreign languages become compulsory from September, Ofsted inspections will consider them within this overall context, and guidance will be amended to reflect this.
On assessment, the chief inspector made a speech yesterday in which he dwelt at some length on the point that in future, Ofsted will be looking to schools to demonstrate that they have in place effective assessment methodology in relation to pupils’ progress annually. This is a very significant step in enhancing the accountability of schools, and we look forward to them using this in relation to languages.
The noble Lady, Baroness Warnock, raised the issue of the range of languages taught at primary level and the predominance of French. She will be pleased to hear that under this Government, Spanish has increased 41% at GCSE and we have substantial moves in place to expand Mandarin teaching. The Institute of Education’s Confucius Institute is leading the way. The British Council is also working with Hanban to increase the demand for Mandarin teaching in schools and to address supply—for example, by increasing the provision of Chinese language assistants.
I turn to home languages, in response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. Teaching home languages can be included, although we would not want this to be at the expense of providing those pupils with an opening to languages and cultures other than their own. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked about classroom assistants. She had the fantastic idea of bringing in native speakers to support language teaching and learning in the classroom. In our view, it is important to be able to draw on a wide range of people to do this, even if they do not have qualified teacher status.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised the issue of classics, which I know is very dear to his heart. I reassure him that from 2014-15 we have more than doubled the level of bursary that teacher trainees in classical languages will receive to match the amount that trainees in modern foreign languages get—up to £20,000 for a trainee with a first-class degree. As he mentioned, Classics for All is receiving £250,000 from the London Schools Excellence Fund. He also asked about a meeting to discuss the creation of more language teachers and training. I will suggest this to my honourable friend Liz Truss, who has responsibility for that area, to see whether she would like to meet.
A number of noble Lords spoke about pupils learning languages earlier, the importance of co-operation between primary and secondary schools, and working together in partnership. There is a bigger issue here. We have a big focus on GCSE results but, as we all know, in all subjects, not just languages, the grounding that pupils get in primary school is so important to enable them to go on to get those GCSEs. We are very keen on teaching school alliances, which I have mentioned—primaries and secondaries working in collaboration, and primaries working together. We are seeing a number of primary schools, which are often at a sub-critical mass, coming together and working in groups of academies—we have incentives to encourage them to do this—or secondary academies working with their feeder primaries. We believe that this development will be very productive.
I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for her comments about what we are doing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her support. In conclusion, by starting languages earlier, concentrating on fluency and confidence, raising standards at secondary level and encouraging greater take-up at GCSE and beyond—as our EBacc policy is already achieving—we aim to end England’s disastrous language drought, and to prepare the next generation to go out into the world with confidence and to reach their full potential.