Foreign Languages

Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th February 2008.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Research carried out in 2006 found that 70 per cent. of primary schools are teaching languages. That figure is up from 44 per cent. in 2003. The hon. Gentleman will know that I visited Surrey Square junior school in his constituency last December to see the excellent language teaching that goes on there. I am sorry that he was unable to join me on that occasion, and I look forward to his next question.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Southwark has a very good record of about three quarters of our primary schools teaching modern languages. Given that there has been a genuine increase in primary schools teaching modern languages, but that the number of pupils in England studying modern languages in secondary schools up to GCSE has dropped below 50 per cent., and that we are genuinely short of modern language teachers, how will we ensure that we have enough qualified teachers to give the interest and expertise at primary level that lead our youngsters to do modern languages at secondary level, too?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

On the day that I visited Surrey Square junior school, I also announced a 20 per cent. increase in funding for language learning. Part of that is to continue the initial teacher training in specialist language learning for primary schools. We have trained an extra 3,000 primary school teachers in language learning in the past three years. We need to continue that as we build up to the compulsion that we announced for primary language learning in the children's plan, which comes into effect from 2011.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Would the Minister accept that the alarming illiteracy figures suggest that the one language that is not necessarily taught as rigorously as it should be in schools is English?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

No, I would not accept that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the number of young people leaving primary school and reaching the national standard in literacy and numeracy has increased by 100,000 a year. I am sure that he welcomes that improvement.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Small primary schools with small teaching staffs often cover widespread responsibilities and areas of the curriculum. In smaller schools, French may be pushed to the periphery. Will the Minister tell the House whether, in small primary schools, French is less likely to be taught, and whether there is an underlying problem with the future of small primary schools in this country on the scale that press coverage in the past seven or 10 days suggests?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My hon. Friend will have noticed that I am extremely enthusiastic, in the light of such press coverage, to stress that small, especially rural, primary schools should explore the potential of federation. Nowhere is that needed more than in increasing language specialism in primary schools. The ability of primary schools to come together under a federation not only saves money through allowing them to share perhaps a head teacher, but enables them to share specialist teachers, such as language teachers, and tackle the problem.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Minister has given the global figures for modern language teaching in primary schools. However, is he not worried about the report from the National Foundation for Educational Research, which reveals that, for each year group at key stage 2, only half of primary schools provided foreign language teaching and only a third provided it for all year groups at key stage 2?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Obviously, we examine in detail what the NFER tells us about its research—it is a reliable research organisation—as we continue with our strategy. However, the overall figures speak for themselves. Simon Hughes last asked the question in 1990, when the Conservative party was in power. Then, only 20 per cent. of primary school students were learning a modern foreign language. The trend is undoubtedly in the right direction.