From education to employment

Education department in the House of Commons last week

The government is investing nearly £1 billion into personalised learning for students to provide “catch-up” lessons for failing English and Maths students.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Alan Johnson, responded to criticisms that “frighteningly high numbers of children in the higher years of our secondary and upper schools cannot read well” [Andrew Selous, Con, SW Bedfordshire], saying: “Some 66% of children who reach the right standard in English at level 4 aged 11 will go on to obtain five good GCSEs, but only 9% of those who do not reach that standard will do the same”.

And addressing concerns regarding the numbers of students taking foreign languages at GSCE and A-Level [Graham Stuart, Con, Beverley and Holderness], Mr Johnson replied: “With the introduction of languages in primary schools, and the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning at key stage 3, we expect more pupils to want to continue to learn languages at GCSE and A-level”.

“I can announce to the House that I have asked Lord Dearing to review our languages policy at key stage 4 and to consider what more can be done to increase take-up”.

Responding to the fact that less than 100 students took up languages at A-Level in the East Riding of Yorkshire last year, Mr Johnson was asked whether he regretted removing languages as a compulsory GSCE three years ago. He replied: “No. The fundamental question is whether that strategy was right. The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a drop, but there has also been an improvement in attainment by those students who have continued to study languages”.

Continuing on the language issue, he said: “There is a problem in this country: people who speak three languages are called trilingual, people who speak two languages are called bilingual, and those who speak one language are called English”.

“Our strategy to do so is for children to start learning languages earlier””at age seven””and no longer to force kids who are starting their GCSEs to study a language if they do not wish to do so. Forcing 14 to 16-year-olds to learn a language will not achieve that objective, but exciting children about languages at an early age, and finding new and more inspiring ways of teaching languages, will do so”.

And further to the debate in the House, it has been confirmed that Lord Dearing is to collaborate with the Department for Education and Skills” Lid King, National Director of Languages, to work with representatives of Further Education “on what might be done to widen access to and increase interest in language learning among students”.

Lord Dearing noted: “I believe the answers to the questions we have about the recent decline in modern languages are out there in the education community and it is my job to find them”.

“As with my work on the review of the National Curriculum, I will start from scratch, wanting above all to listen and learn”.

Vijay Pattni.

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