In a pre-Conservative conference interview, Michael Gove, the education secretary, proposed that every child aged 5 or over should be learning a foreign language. Having had 16 months of the coalition government saying lukewarm statements such as ‘primary schools that are teaching a foreign language at the moment should feel free to continue to do so,’ I’m very pleased that the education secretary has come out in support of primary foreign languages.
Gove says ‘Learning a foreign language, and the culture that goes with it, is one of the most useful things we can do to broaden empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children.’ He also states that ‘It is literally the case the learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning.’
Gove’s announcement makes it sound like this was his idea, which I feel is unfair. He highlights schools in deprived areas that are already teaching 5 year olds Spanish. The reason these schools are teaching Spanish is due to programmes put into place under the Labour government, who, had they stayed in power, would have made MFL compulsory from KS2.
Looking forward, there are three key things that are needed for primary MFL to succeed:
First of all, and most importantly, we need primary school teachers who have sufficient expertise in the foreign language they are teaching. Primary school teachers are great jacks-of-all-trades (I know, I was one) and many non-specialist teachers are successfully teaching MFL. However, if there is going to be proper progression throughout primary school, I see a need for specialist teachers, particularly for the older classes.There are some universities offering primary teaching courses with MFL specialism. Will more money be put into this area? Gove proposes changes to teacher training so one can only hope that this will be the case.
Many MFL advisers, who offered schools invaluable support, have lost their jobs due to cuts in Local Authority budgets. Will they now be reinstated? Will using training schools to support other schools and getting schools that have the language potential to take over under-performing schools, as Gove suggests, provide teachers and schools with the support they need to make primary MFL a success?
Secondly, schools need to have time to fit MFL into the curriculum. When Gove first took office he talked about cutting the National Curriculum by 50%, which would have left plenty of time for MFL. However, given the silence on this matter, I suspect the new National Curriculum will be as full as ever.
Gove proposes changes to the length of the working day. I fear that primary MFL might be used as a weapon with which to attack the unions.
Thirdly, primary schools will need good quality MFL resources, at a price they can afford. The provision of MFL varies from school to school, so teachers will need to be able to pick and choose, to find the right resources for them. Non-specialists teachers, especially, will need high-quality materials that they can trust:
- Videos and audio CDs with native speakers talking and singing in the MFL
- Background information on the country and its festivals and traditions
- Attractive flashcards and other visual resources
- Fun games and activities to enable pupils to practise and reinforce learning
- Engaging stories written in the MFL
- Ideas and lesson plans for extending pupils beyond learning simple words and phrases, so they learn how to manipulate the language and make it their own.
Brilliant Publications has been championing the teaching of MFL in primary schools for 10 years and now has one of the largest collections of resources for teaching French, Spanish, German and Italian of any UK publisher. Whether you are looking for German songs, Spanish games and activities or French teaching resources, we’ve got the resources for you.