Foreign Language Teachers

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th April 1983.

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Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Ayrshire South 12:00 am, 26th April 1983

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the decline in the numbers of teachers of Russian, German and Spanish.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received no recent representations on this subject.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Ayrshire South

Will the Minister confirm that the Government's cuts in educational expenditure have meant a slump in the teaching of so-called minority languages, particularly Spanish and Russian? As hundreds of millions of people around the world speak such languages, would it not be better for us to spend just a few hundred thousand pounds teaching our children to speak to those people instead of spending hundreds of millions of pounds on learning how to kill them?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

All hon. Members appreciate the problem of minority languages in British schools. Ninety-two per cent. of pupils who begin learning foreign languages start with French, and only a small number learn other languages. I have good news. During the past 10 years the percentage of 16-year-olds taking O-level German has increased by 52 per cent, and by 22 per cent. for Spanish. Over the same period there has been a drop of 53 per cent. from a small base of those taking O-level Russian, but that may represent the unpopularity of Russia with British parents.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

Does the Minister recognise that the enforcement of staffing ratios in response to falling rolls means that many schools are dispensing with teachers of minority subjects? Britain is going backwards in the teaching not only of minority languages, but of all languages at A-level. Unless the Minister does something about it, we shall continue to go backwards.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

There are several regional accents in the House, including those of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and myself.

The fall in the birth rate affects viable groups inside schools. The fall in the number of minority languages being taught arose during the comprehensive reorganisation, when the same subjects were spread throughout more schools. This year Britain has the lowest pupil-teacher ratio ever. The figure is 18·1:1 compared with 18·7:1 in January 1980. Obviously, the Government cannot reduce that figure for ever. Schools and authorities must organise teaching so that they have economic teaching groups.