Community languages sidelined
Tuesday, 18th March 2008
Rowenna Davis has written an interesting article in The Guardian today about the national shortfall in teachers of community languages.
It’s an issue that has been in the news repeatedly in recent weeks but one for which there doesn’t appear to be an easy solution.
Ofsted reported last year that only 35 people in the UK were training to teach languages such as Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese and Punjabi. The heart of the problem is the importance placed on Spanish, French and Latin as prestigious qualifications, with community languages often dismissed as irrelevant or of lower status.
In an age of globalisation, it’s obvious that the UK needs diversity in languages. Mandarin and Arabic have been encouraged in recent years because of economic potential but this isn’t enough. We need languages to help us deal with diplomatic, economic and cultural situations across the board, so much more should be done to help promote the status of community languages.
Rowenna’s article points out that it’s a Catch 22 situation for training. Schools can’t employ community teachers because none are available, but teachers can’t be attracted to do PGCE courses without the prospect of a job at the end of it. Hopefully this situation will be improved with the government pledging to raise the number of specialist language schools by 100 in the next two years.
Perhaps schools should look to pioneering projects such as the one at Newbury Park school in Redbridge. Children are taught phrases in up to 40 languages before they even reach secondary school! It’s an impressive scheme which celebrates ethnic diversity among pupils and places equal importance on all languages, not just French and Spanish.