Skip to main content

Modern Foreign Languages: Teachers

Volume 810: debated on Wednesday 10 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the supply chain of teachers of modern foreign languages.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.

My Lords, we continue to monitor closely the modern foreign language—MFL—teacher supply and offer bursaries worth up to £10,000 tax free to encourage talented trainees into MFL. In 2020-21, there were 1,687 postgraduate trainees in MFL, an increase of 300 on the previous year and accounting for 72% of the annual target that we set for recruiting postgraduate trainee teachers. In 2019-20, 93% of MFL trainees gained qualified teacher status and 74% of them started teaching in state schools.

My Lords, against that backdrop of a 28% shortfall and a drop of more than one-third in students doing MFL degrees since 2011, I congratulate the Government on their change of heart in deciding last week to add all MFL teachers to the shortage occupations list. This year’s small increase of 300 is by all accounts going to be temporary, so will the Government now also quickly reverse the dramatic cut in MFL training bursaries from £26,000 to only £10,000, as mentioned by the Minister? MFL is the only shortage subject to suffer such a cut.

My Lords, we hope that the increase in trainees will be permanent, but unfortunately we have had to make some difficult financial decisions in relation to the ITT bursary offer. As a result, we are offering the highest bursaries for those subjects where it is hardest to attract people, which are STEM subjects, because those graduates can command higher wages in jobs outside teaching.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are to have any hope of fulfilling the role that our Prime Minister sees for us as a leading nation in the world, we cannot give too much investment, support and encouragement to the teaching of foreign languages? For commerce and trade, they are vital. Also important—and, in my experience, indispensable—is the terrific record built up in international institutions by those from Great Britain participating as translators and interpreters. It is a wonderful way of having friendships—

We agree with the noble Lord. As part of global Britain, we are encouraging the take-up of modern foreign languages. That is why they are included in the EBacc. We want schools to offer this to all students.

My Lords, instead of dealing with different subject areas or areas of the curriculum in isolation or piecemeal, do we not need a serious, in-depth, cross-party inquiry that includes the teaching profession, business, educational experts and so on to work out what young people need to be taught and how they should learn it, to equip them for the modern economy, to open up opportunity, to promote social mobility and to enable our country to compete internationally?

My Lords, we have looked at the curriculum over the past 10 years and we responded to the 2015 Ofsted review into the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages with a £4.8 million pedagogy hub to try to increase the standard of teaching of modern foreign languages.

My Lords, given that Spanish is a world language—as trade envoy to three countries in Latin America, I am aware of the focus on the education sector—does my noble friend agree that in developing institutional links with schools and universities in Latin America we should encourage the reciprocal exchange of teachers in order not only to teach English in Latin America but to boost the teaching of Spanish in our schools?

My Lords, due to the recent changes in our immigration law, teachers from Latin America will apply on a points-based system with the short-of-supply criterion on the same basis as everybody else. Through the Turing scheme, institutions, including schools, will be able to apply for funds to do that, but there is currently no arrangement for reciprocal teaching exchanges.

My Lords, the volume of foreign language graduates has been on a declining trend for some time, thus reducing the supply chain of foreign language teachers. I believe that this trend is likely to continue and, as a result, the provision of modern foreign language degree courses will end up being confined to a limited number of universities specialising in this territory. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, as I outlined in the figures, we are seeing increasing numbers of those applying to teach in our schools. That is important for the supply chain and to make sure that there is good-quality teaching, as it is a requirement of the EBacc to take a modern foreign language. In addition to initial teacher training, there is now the early career framework —professional development support—for two years, so that this is seen as comparable to professions such as law and accountancy in those terms.

The Erasmus programme has been a major driver in sustaining the recruitment of MFL trainee teachers. Will the Turing scheme match Erasmus by facilitating incoming students from the EU, as well as funding outward mobility?

My Lords, the Turing scheme is backed by £110 million and we hope to reach 35,000 students. The funding is for those at UK institutions to travel abroad and we expect other countries to fund their students to do the same.

My Lords, the British Council’s 2018 annual learning trends survey showed that more than two-thirds of schools in the state sector and over 75% of private schools employed foreign language teachers who were citizens of EU countries and that the schools were fearful for the future supply and retention of such teachers. Will the Minister comment on what has been done since then and what the Government plan to do going forward to retain and encourage foreign language teachers to teach in the UK?

My Lords, in relation to retention, I have outlined the early career framework, but there are now national professional qualifications. On average, teachers were awarded a 2.7% pay rise last year. As I have outlined, teachers from across the world can now apply on a points-based system to come here. We recognise that there is considerable uncertainty due to current restrictions on international travel.

My Lords, the Minister stated in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, that the slashing of bursaries for language trainees from £26,000 to £10,000 was the result of what she called “difficult financial decisions”. That cut makes no sense. The bursaries should have been retained as the result of an educational decision. There is a pattern here: the latest figures for the recruitment of language teachers showed that only 72% of the target was met, yet the DfE is ending its system of early career payments of up to £3,000, which were aimed at aiding teacher retention. As our distance from the EU grows, how can the Government justify making a career as a language teacher less attractive?

My Lords, in relation to the applicants we have seen this year, modern foreign language teaching is an attractive option in our country. We had to make some difficult choices. STEM graduates command higher salaries outside the teaching sector, which was the justification for retaining a similar level of bursary for STEM as opposed to MFL. Other initial financial incentives, such as student loan reimbursements, are retained for those who are already part of the scheme, but they were ended for all—including STEM—graduates. There were difficult decisions to be made across the board.

My Lords, whole cohorts of children have been denied the rich cultural experience of learning another language since modern foreign languages were discontinued from the national curriculum. What opportunities are the Government offering in further and higher education for adults who lost out on the opportunity to learn another modern foreign language?

My Lords, in relation to further and higher education, I believe—I will double-check this—that there will be entitlement to some courses to get a first level 3 qualification. In relation to employer-led standards, such as for apprenticeships, if employers view that, for instance, there is a need for having Polish in a particular sector, they can include that in their requirements for the qualifications, working with the FE colleges. That will then be part of that qualification.