Language Learning Policy (Implementation)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th December 2022.

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Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

7. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation of its policy, “Language Learning in Scotland: A 1+2 Approach”. (S6O-01666)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I can report that almost all schools now provide an entitlement under the one-plus-two approach. To date, we have invested nearly £37 million in successfully achieving a culture shift in schools, with more children learning languages throughout the broad general education than ever before. This year’s funding of £2.5 million is supporting local authorities and other partners to deliver professional learning for teachers, provide classroom language assistants and deliver school outreach projects. We will continue to consolidate that progress by ensuring that our approach provides the most appropriate access to language learning for Scotland’s young people.

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

I welcome the fact that the one-plus-two language policy has been rolled out in all secondary schools and the vast majority of primary schools. It is clear from last month’s debate in Parliament on protecting Scotland’s indigenous languages that the Scottish Government has a strong commitment to language education, but it is important that other minority languages such as British Sign Language are not forgotten about. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on progress on outstanding actions in the BSL national plan?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I fully agree on the importance of BSL as a language of Scotland and of making it available to young people to learn. The Government is working with Education Scotland, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages and others to promote BSL to local authorities and to ensure that teaching resources are available.

As for progress, we surveyed local authorities on language learning last year, and more than 100 primary schools reported that they were providing BSL as part of their one-plus-two offer. That is a significant increase on previous years, and it demonstrates that the investment that we made in improving language learning is delivering positive outcomes. I hope that, in the longer term, that approach will lead to improved understanding of BSL and of the deaf community and culture in Scotland, and we will continue our progress with the publication of the new BSL national plan for 2023 to 2029 next October.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Will the Scottish Government review the one-plus-two language policy to bring it more in line with the European language framework, which will help Scotland to prepare for its return to the European Union as an independent member state?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

As the member might know, the one-plus-two approach was based on the principles of the European Council’s 2002 Barcelona agreement, which called for countries to teach pupils at least two foreign languages from an early age. We will continue to look to European best practice as we consider the future of language learning in schools, but I am pleased that our overall approach aligns with European principles. Our approach supports young people in being more confident in communicating with one another as well as with people from Europe and, indeed, around the world, which is essential if they are to become global citizens and participate in our institutions.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Here is a reality check. Between 2018 and 2022, there was a 34 per cent decline in the number of entries in higher French and a 38 per cent decline in the number of entries in higher German, whereas in England, over the same period, there was a 5 per cent increase in GCSE French and a 12 per cent increase in GCSE German. The Scottish National Party loves to parade its European credentials, but what is the reality? The reality is that we are in a country where young people are being deprived of the opportunity to develop the ability to learn other languages and, through that, other cultures. Given those take-up figures for French and German under the SNP, is the cabinet secretary concerned that there has been such a dramatic decline in that respect compared with other parts of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I notice that, in this instance, Mr Kerr is quite happy to make comparisons between England and Scotland, and I therefore look forward to him not making any comments if I ever do the same in reverse.

I recognise the important point that Mr Kerr makes about languages. It is important to note that the cohorts that will have benefited from the full language entitlement in the 10 years of broad general education will not yet have progressed to the senior phase, so the full impact of the one-plus-two policy in terms of national qualification entrances and passes has yet to be seen. However, I recognise that there is more to be done in this area. Perhaps we did not get into it in the Conservative Party debate on education yesterday, but if Mr Kerr would like to put forward concrete suggestions and proposals about what can be done, rather than just criticising, I will be more than happy to receive them.