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CILT Director Isabella Moore writes exclusively for

Lord Dearing’s eagerly awaited interim report on languages policy was published in December 2006. The report was commissioned by the Minister, Alan Johnson MP, to advise on what action should be taken to reverse the decline in the take up of languages at Key Stage 4, following its designation as an entitlement subject in 2004. Numbers of learners taking a GCSE in a language had fallen to 68% by 2004, and have fallen still further, to 51%, by 2006. This reflects CILT’s 2006 Language Trends research which showed that the majority of maintained schools now have less than 50% of pupils studying a language at Key Stage 4.

The decline in the number of language learners 14-16 has perhaps not surprisingly led in turn to a fall in numbers of 16-19-year-old language learners in further education, and although the Dearing Review interim report focuses predominantly on languages in schools, there are important messages for further education.

Some of the preliminary proposals made in the report include seeking the engagement of multinational companies and exploit events such as the Olympics; embedding language learning in the National Curriculum for primary schools; giving greater choice in the range of languages which can be learned (including Mandarin and other world languages); extending the range of language courses on offer apart from GCSE, for example Asset (emphasis is put on the advantages of the languages ladder) and other vocational language courses to raise the interest and motivation of learners; introducing more flexible models such as intensive courses and teaching other subjects via another language, and promoting innovative teaching and learning, including increased use of ICT, by sharing good practice and providing sufficient continual professional development for teachers.

It is interesting that many of the proposals match some of the good practice which is already going on in further education. If advice is needed on how to implement some of the proposals outlined above, one could do worse than to ask an FE language tutor. The report sets out the need for languages to be linked to vocational subjects as well as being taught as an academic subject, so that sectors such as construction and the health service, for example, are provided with staff in future who have language skills and who are also more culturally aware. Vocationally-related, or applied, language learning is something which further education has always done well, despite the recent decline in the volume and variety of such provision (see CILT report “Language Trends: Vocationally related language learning in further education”).

Language tutors in FE have for many years tailored provision to the need for their students to learn languages in different and relevant contexts. This is a suggestion put forward in paragraph 8.12 of the report.

An average FE tutor may teach part-time in a number of different colleges, all of which may be using a different form of final accreditation for their different language courses. Experienced FE language tutors are adept at identifying flexible and suitable accreditations to meet the needs of their diverse learners, the GCSE being only one option among many which FE tutors routinely select.

Paragraph 5.18 of the report describes the greater flexibility within adult learning and states: “Indeed many experts believe that more intensive approaches are more effective, and this is certainly a feature of adult learning of languages”.

In terms of effective teaching and learning, whether teaching 16-19 year olds whose main focus is not language but anything ranging from hair and beauty to engineering, or whether motivating tired adults attending an evening class at the end of a long working day, an FE tutor needs to have a range of interesting and varied activities up their sleeve to keep the class going.

The report also states [paragraph 7.23] that FE is one of the sectors which could help with delivering a more flexible range of languages for pupils at Key Stage 4, and the newly developing local learning partnerships could help foster this.

One part of the report which will no doubt stimulate further dialogue is the discussion on whether there should be a return to languages as a mandatory subject. The report says that this would only be suggested as a “Qualified Return”. Paragraph 8.12 talks about the need for languages to be taught in a variety of contexts, and that this could be achieved by strengthening the place of languages in the new specialised Diplomas. This could offer an opportunity for further education to come into its own, as the expertise for doing this already exists in the sector (presuming of course that the language tutors with experience in contextualised learning are still in post or can be re-found ““ another proposal made by Lord Dearing). In order to make the most of the opportunities which the specialised Diplomas offer for language teaching, language staff could check within their colleges to find out which of the first five diplomas they wish to offer and which consortium they are in. Notification of who has been successful in the Gateway process will be made clear by the DfES in February 2007.

Other good news is that the National LSC has emphasised the importance of languages in its latest statement of priorities. This is echoed in the interim review report; Lord Dearing recommends that the Secretary of State consider identifying languages as a priority in his annual grant letter to the LSC.

The report mentions support for languages from a variety of employer organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce. Many colleges have good links with employers and it may be worth mentioning this support when making the case to employers for language training.

There is still work to be done both to raise awareness with employers of the economic benefits of language skills, and to encourage those employers who know this to articulate their views more vociferously.

Isabella Moore, Director, CILT, the National Centre For Languages.

Read the “Languages Review” interim report here

Related FE News articles:

Lord Dearing Publishes Language Report ““ 15/12/06

“Give Language Ideas A Go” ““ 24/11/06

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