Dropping language lessons a big mistake, warns head inspector

SCHOOLS which drop modern languages in the first three years of secondary education have been criticised by the new head of the inspectorate.

Bill Maxwell, senior chief inspector of HMIe, said inspectors would be highly critical of schools which did not ensure languages were provided.

He said inspectors knew there were schools in Scotland dropping compulsory foreign languages from the timetable.

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Mr Maxwell said: "Some schools are mistakenly making the study of modern languages optional, saying they want to reinforce the idea of personalisation of the curriculum.

"That should not be done at the expense of providing a broad general education and we see modern languages as part of that."

He said languages needed to be "fully there" for all pupils even those with special needs.

And he was critical of the low uptake in the new Scottish Baccalaureate in languages this year.

Just 29 pupils from 15 schools took the qualification, which is a mix of Highers, Advanced Highers and a special project.

Mr Maxwell also said inspectors were coming across a "worrying number" of primary schools which did not teach languages as they had no qualified member of staff.

Teachers backed the call, but warned financial cuts meant it was increasingly difficult to preserve language education.

Several cash-strapped councils have cut language assistants and teachers as part of budget savings.

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A rising numbers of newly qualified teachers unable to find jobs has resulted in the Scottish Government cutting training places at universities.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), said: "We agree that languages should be compulsory.

"If we are reducing language assistants and cutting back on staff in schools then there are not enough teachers to provide it.

"I know people who in the past would have considered language teaching as a career but are not now because they think there are no jobs, so action needs to be taken now."

Calls have increasingly been made in recent months to make foreign language education a compulsory part of teacher training at university.

Between 1993 and 2001 all local authorities provided modern language courses for primary teachers lasting 27 days. But a recent report revealed nine no longer offer any such training anymore.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said delivery of language teaching was up to councils.

She added: "Curriculum for Excellence reinforces the expectation that young people will begin learning a modern language no later than P6, and that they will progress through the experiences and outcomes for modern languages and other curricular subjects and areas as part of a broad general education until the end of S3."