Language lessons must be made relevant to teenagers, report says
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Language lessons must be made relevant

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  A comprehensive overhaul of language teaching is needed to reverse the dramatic decline in pupils taking French, German and other languages, a report commissioned by the Government has said. "Urgent" changes should be made to GCSE courses to make them more relevant to teenagers, while foreign languages should be a standard part of primary school lessons, Lord Dearing said.

He warned that the current GCSE syllabuses had a "dulling" effect on teenagers. He quoted one teacher saying that the exams put youngsters "in a cage" and warned that many teachers believed the way secondary school studies are organised had a "stultifying effect" on teenagers.

Lord Dearing, a former Post Office chairman who has produced a series of major studies on education for successive governments, said that ministers may have to reverse their decisions to make languages optional for the over-14s if the "severe" decline continues.

His report said the decision had "undermined" efforts to improve language teaching.

Lord Dearing said that the widespread perception that language GCSEs are more difficult than other subjects may have contributed to its decline because schools shun the subjects to bolster their standing in league tables.

His report said: "There has been long sustained argument that the standards for the awards of grades are more demanding than for other subjects, and that this has contributed to the flight from languages, both because of the concern of students to get good grades and the concern of schools to do well in the 5 A*-C achievement and attainment tables. This is a continuing sore point."

Since compulsory languages were axed in 2004, the proportion of pupils taking a foreign language at GCSE level has fallen from 80 per cent to just 50 per cent.

Lord Dearing said that a return to compulsory language teaching for 14 to 16-year-olds was not his "preferred" option, but said it "should be used if it proves to be needed".

Instead he called for languages to become a "standard" part of the national curriculum in primary schools to "respond to the enthusiasm and ability to learn through games and play at primary level."

He said: "For languages, the earlier the better. We like the way they are being taught in primaries as they are introduced through cross-curricular work, and the way they draw on the young children's sense of fun. We propose that they should be embedded in the primary curriculum."

Lord Dearing also called for regulations forcing schools to teach at least one European language to be lifted, to give pupils a much wider choice of non-European languages.

He said: "For today's young people, languages matter: they are an investment that can enrich their lives socially, culturally, and economically. There is a significant danger that if some pupils - particularly low achievers - are restricted to a monolingual, monocultural education they will be increasingly unable to deal with the complex demands of our society."

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, welcomed the study.

But David Willetts, the shadow Education Secretary, said languages must be taught "to all pupils in every school". He said: "Opting out from modern languages in schools means pupils are opting out from opportunities in life."



                                                                               News by Independent   Published: 15 December 2006
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wrestling | Elisa di Rivombrosa | LECCE | business | ministers | mathsschools | physics | leading | The move has prompted Human Scale Education (HSE), a pressure group which promotes more personal education, to urge ministers to set up an investigation into whether large schools are effective in delivering improved standards. | In a letter to Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, Mary Tasker, the HSE's chairwoman, said she wanted to express "serious concern" over the trend. | Reasons given for the rise are twofold: there are now fewer secondary schools than a decade ago as a result of amalgamations and failing secondary schools being closed; the Government is promoting the expansion of successful secondary schools so they turn fewer children away. | Ms Tasker said: "The Government's enthusiasm for encouraging successful secondary schools to expand flies in the face of what many parents say they want for their children." | Sheila Dainton, a supporter of HSE, said: "We must put the brakes on and ask if bigger schools are a move in the right direction or an accident waiting to happen. We urgently need to ask if big is best or whether small might be better still." | In a recent survey of parents in Bristol, most said they wanted small secondary schools with small classes where pupils were known by their teachers. | However, John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary school heads, said small secondary schools might not be able to deliver such a broad curriculum, as they could not afford to hire enough teachers. "There are good and bad big schools - and there are good and bad small schools," he said. | HSE aims to persuade large secondary schools to adopt a more personalised approach to learning, and plans a pilot programme with around 50 schools. Those that have already signed up for the scheme include Wilsthorpe Business and Enterprise College in Derbyshire, a secondary school with just over 1,000 pupils, which is setting aside a designated area of the school specifically for teaching 11- and 12-year-olds in their first year of secondary schooling. | Westlands School in Sittingbourne, Kent, is dividing its 1,600 pupils into three separate mini-schools, each with a separate principal and vice-principal. | Each school within a school has a different name - Norman, Tudor and Stuart - and has around 500 pupils. The only difference in school uniform is that each of the three has a different tie. Ms Tasker said: "No one wants young people to spend their secondary school years as a cog in a machine. Young people's enthusiasm for secondary school can rapidly fade when they are faced with large impersonal buildings, often huge by comparison with the primary school, and inflexible timetables requiring them to move classrooms every hour." | A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said it did not stipulate an optimum size for secondary schools. | Senior civil servants argue, however, that it is important to look at class sizes rather than school sizes. | "Raising standards is our number one priority and we have invested unprecedented amounts in secondary schools, which have lowered the number of pupils per class and raised the number of teachers and teaching assistants," the spokesman added. | "To back this up, we are giving schools almost £1bn to personalise learning to ensure all children have an education that inspires them and helps them to do the best in every subject."
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