Education Matters: Foreign Languages Are Alien to Most Children; Foreign Language Provision in British Schools Is Again under the Spotlight. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi Looks at the Issues

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Byline: Shahid Naqvi

It is a fact that Britain is the most foreign language-resistant country in Europe.

While most of our European cousins are likely to be able to speak to us in English, the reverse is the exception rather than the norm.

Our laziness with foreign languages is partly borne from a belief that the rest of the world speaks English.

Britain's confusion when it comes to foreign languages is reflected in Government policy. Until 1988 studying languages was not compulsory in schools. As a result, it was largely the province of more able students or those from privileged backgrounds in the independent sector.

The introduction of the National Curriculum made it mandatory for all pupils aged 11 to 16 to study at least one language.

The policy has proved difficult to deliver however.

Teachers have expressed concern about difficulties motivating pupils and relatively low levels of attainment, putting teenagers off from future study.

Ofsted reported the quality of language teaching to be less satisfactory overall compared with other subjects.

As a result, in September last year the requirement to study language at GCSE level was abolished and replaced with an 'entitlement'.

Since then, many schools have reported a decline in uptake.

In March the Government's qualification body claimed A-level foreign languages were in 'chronic decline'. And Ministers have put greater emphasis on foreign languages at primary level.

Earlier this year they announced a pounds 115 million package to give every primary school pupil in England the chance to learn at least one additional language

Councillor Jon Hunt (Lib Dem Perry Barr), chair of Birmingham's education scrutiny committee, said the policy was a 'paradox' that needed to be explored.

'I think it is alarming. We are moving to the bad old days when young people couldn't get a proper education.'

Bill Anderson, of the Birmingham branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'One of the problems is schools are having difficulties recruiting the teachers. …