Parlez-Vous Francais? ...Not If You're in the 75pc of Primary Pupils Whose Schools Missed Targets for Teaching Languages

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Byline: by Graham Grant

GETTING to grips with German grammar or French vocabulary is a chore many parents will remember from secondary school. But they may not realise that there i s a S c o t t i s h Executive recommendation for modern languages to be taught to primary pupils as well.

Despite these guidelines, however, a new study shows three-quarters of Scottish primary schools are missing key targets. Critics say the original guidance, aimed at fostering a greater interest in languages among schoolchildren, has been rendered widely redundant.

In 2001, an expert group set up to boost the study of French, Spanish, Italian and German in primary said schools should be delivering about 75 minutes of teaching a week. Almost a decade later, a report by academics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow has found that fewer than 25 per cent of primaries meet the recommendation.

Study author Dr Daniel Tierney said teachers were working hard to deliver the recommendation and that pupils were enjoying the courses. But he found the efforts of the schools taking part were being hampered by a lack of planning at both local and national level.

Other reasons for the lack of progress include competition from other areas of an already crowded curriculum, workload pressure and shortages of trained staff.

Teachers felt modern language lessons were not always seen as a priority, with one primary dropping them to allow more time for pupils to rehearse for a school show.

The concerns raised by the study will add to existing warnings that modern languages in primary are being neglected because of a lack of specialised teacher training.

There has been a growing campaign in recent years to make the subject compulsory in teacher training institutions.

Dr Tierney said: 'There are obvious time pressures on the curriculum - and teacher loss and a lack of training has left these lessons on shaky ground. A lot of money was invested and we have done well in UK terms in introducing a language into primary schools, but it is not sustainable on the present basis.' Yet SNP ministers who inherited the modern languages initiative from the previous Labour-led Executive have moved away from fixed targets on the number of hours spent on modern languages.

An Executive spokesman said primaries were still expected to offer modern language teaching that was 'exciting, engaging and relevant' and that pupils should start no later than P6. …