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Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Does the hon. Lady agree that the answer is not to retreat from the compulsory teaching of languages, but to teach languages in a better way? The Welsh model gives one hope that the same approach might be adopted in England, and that bilingualism and multilingualism might be regarded as more normal, as it were. Such a move would be welcomed by hon. Members of all parties.

Ms Stuart: I come back to my earlier point, which is that compulsion is not conducive to learning. That is why the drop-out rates are so high in the age group under discussion. I understand that that was part of the Government's motive in removing foreign languages from the core curriculum.

The challenge is to make sure that students enjoy learning languages, and that depends on how they are taught. However, I have three main concerns. First, removing languages from the core curriculum may result, albeit unintentionally, in fewer young people studying foreign languages. If we do not make young people study foreign languages, we may deprive them of other, more cross-cutting skills.

Secondly, we will deprive business of the skilled work force that it needs. Finally, I am worried that such a policy will not provide the national capabilities in the higher education sector that the Government say are needed, at a time when the national languages strategy calls for more modern language graduates.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister say whether the effects of the policy of removing languages from the core curriculum are being monitored? What is the evaluation process? In the light of what he has seen so far, does he still think that the policy was right?

7.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): First, I welcome this important debate instigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). We had a brief opportunity for a conversation earlier when my hon. Friend asked whether I was a monoglot or a polyglot. I claimed to be the latter, but with the qualification that my French was pretty rusty, and my Spanish even worse.

I was asked earlier this year to take responsibility for taking forward the modern foreign languages strategy. I recalled my regret at ending my studies in French at 16, and in Spanish at 14. I absolutely concur with what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston

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said about the scale of the challenge that we face to improve our country's record in foreign language teaching.

I want to describe two visits that I have made in my ministerial capacity this year. In February, I went to the US, where I visited a language immersion school in the southern city of Charlotte. It was a state school, free at the point of use, for primary-age children. Classes were taught entirely in foreign languages—French, German and Japanese. That underlines the point made in the debate that the earlier we address the question of language teaching, and the earlier we give children opportunities to learn another language, the more likely we are to encourage children—and adults—to maintain language learning.

In May, I had the opportunity to go to Spain. I visited a primary school in Madrid, where part of the teaching was conducted in English. I observed a science class, in which the science curriculum was delivered to Spanish children in English. That school was linked, via the internet, with a school in Liverpool, where large parts of the curriculum are delivered in Spanish.

Hywel Williams: I invite the Minister to visit my constituency of Caernarfon. He need not go as far as the US or Spain, or even Catalonia or the Basque country. I am now speaking in my second language. When I was six or seven years old—and voluntarily or otherwise—I learned English by a version of the language immersion process. My constituency lies 60 miles to the west of Chester, and it contains plenty of people with a similar experience. I cordially invite the Minister to visit.

Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation and, subject to the demands of my diary, I would be delighted to come along and see that for myself. He raises a serious issue: we can learn a great deal from communities in our own country where children often grow up bilingual, or even multilingual. Learning that lesson from Wales is an important part of taking forward the strategy for modern foreign languages in our schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston referred to the report on the west midlands languages strategy published by Advantage West Midlands; that was an important contribution to the discussion. The strategy was one of a series of regional approaches that have sought to address the language needs of business and outline a range of initiatives to deal with the situation. That work in the west midlands was conducted in conjunction with CILT—the National Centre for Languages—which has been working closely with networks in the regions to ensure that we align the challenges that we face in education with some of those that we face in the wider world, including the world of business and industry.

Interestingly, the rising demand for Spanish, to which my hon. Friend referred, fits with the emphasis on Spanish in the national languages strategy. I am pleased to say that, although the numbers taking some other languages at GCSE—including French and German—are declining, for Spanish the trend is in the opposite direction, so it is not all doom and gloom.

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I would like to say a little about our national languages strategy, which was published last December. It sets out an approach to improve our capability in languages. As part of that, we have appointed a national director for languages, and we have a particular focus on primary education, and key stage 2. We estimate that only around one in five children of primary age get the opportunity to learn a foreign language in England, which shows the scale of the challenge that we face.

The strategy outlines a commitment that by 2010 all pupils in junior schools at key stage 2 will have the opportunity to study a modern foreign language and develop their interest in the culture of other nations. From September of this year, 19 local education authorities across England have been conducting key stage 2 language pathfinders to look at the best ways of improving language learning and consider what kind of support local education authorities, schools and teachers need to do that.

Absolutely critical to that is delivering and building the primary work force capacity. We simply do not have the capacity at the moment to achieve the objective that all of us involved in the debate want to achieve. As a Department, and together with the local education authorities in the pathfinders, we are working with the Teacher Training Agency, as well as with teachers and other professionals, to build a new cadre of primary language specialists. We want schools to be able to decide how and when they plan for the introduction of language programmes, and how that language learning is best delivered in the classroom. We expect that to be done in a range of ways, suitable to the different circumstances of particular schools in their own community.

A programme of initial teacher training in primary modern foreign languages is in its third year, and there has been a gradual expansion in the number of places. For example, for French, Spanish and German, there are 460 places this year. We expect to continue to increase the number of places year on year. We have also invested in 50 modern foreign languages places on the graduate teacher programme, and we are funding 119 primary modern foreign language advanced skills teacher posts. We are beginning to build up the capacity for that target date of 2010.

We recognise in the strategy that simply training more teachers will not be sufficient, so we are also funding opportunities for language undergraduates to support language learning in schools. We are developing training for higher-level teaching assistants, so that those in the community who have language skills can gain additional experience and skills in teaching to support language learning. We are also extending recruitment for the foreign language assistant programme to our primary schools.

We see our role as that of extending capacity, and creating a framework for the teaching and learning of languages at key stage 2. That framework will need to be flexible and applicable to any language, so that it fits in with our broader primary strategy. We want schools to have much more control over their own curriculums, and a lot more autonomy in terms of the particular choice of language.

I want to say a little about secondary education, as my hon. Friend understandably focused on the changes that we have made to key stage 4—the 14 to 16 phase of

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education. I am very conscious that those changes are contentious and that concerns exist; indeed, those concerns are raised with me in my frequent visits to secondary schools. I am confident that, in the longer term, the measures that we are putting place in our primary schools—I have outlined them—will make a difference, but I accept that it will take some time for the effect to feed through to our secondary schools. We cannot simply rely on that long-term impact from the primary strategy; we need to continue to focus on secondary education, and I shall briefly address that issue now.

In key stage 3—the early years of secondary education, from 11 to 14—we want a much stronger emphasis on language teaching. One tool that we possess is the growing network of specialist language colleges: specialist schools that choose to specialise in languages. They have a crucial role to play in supporting primary entitlement, about which I have already spoken. At the moment, 188 specialist language colleges are operational across England, and they are making a difference, but I am aware that some local education authorities do not yet have any such colleges. We have set a target to increase their number to at least 200 within two years. I hope and expect that we can exceed that target, in order to maximise the impact of our work in the primary and secondary sectors. The latest round of applications has just finished, and we will announce further specialist language college designations next January.

A modern foreign languages programme forms part of the key stage 3 national strategy because, of course, there is still compulsion between 11 and 14. It is critically important that modern foreign language teaching be delivered to 11 to 14-year-olds in an exciting and vibrant way that captures their imagination, making it more likely that, when modern foreign languages become optional at 14, they will choose to carry on studying them. We want to ensure that we have a set of objectives that enable pupils to develop an understanding of the skills and conventions of language learning, and the confidence to use their new language independently. The associated framework and training provide a valuable opportunity for teachers to engage in a professional debate about the issues associated with learning and teaching modern foreign languages. Teachers' evaluations of the core training show that there is a lot of enthusiasm and high motivation in terms of improving practice, and that collaborative planning is becoming more commonplace, and is regarded as very valuable by teachers themselves.

That brings me to key stage 4—the area of contention about which concerns have been raised. As my hon. Friend rightly said at the beginning of her speech, we are very keen to provide greater choice and flexibility for young people from the age of 14. We are all aware of the issues of disaffection and disruption associated particularly, although not exclusively, with that age group. When I visit secondary schools, and speak to young people in that age group about the curriculum and the subjects that they are studying and ask what their least favourite subject is, I am struck by how often the answer is "French" or "German"—the foreign language that they are learning. Many head teachers tell me that that can have a very demotivating effect—not only on the child who is being made to study a subject that they do not want to study, but on those in the

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classroom who do want to study French or German. The class is perhaps being disrupted by those who do not want to study.

I believe that we have made the right decision in allowing such choice as part of a broader loosening of the curriculum, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that simply leaving the matter at that would be a fundamental error. That is why we have addressed the primary entitlement, about which I have spoken. That is also why the languages strand of the key stage 3 strategy is so important. It is also why we have addressed the situation for those aged 14-plus, in terms of encouraging language learning, even though it is optional.

Many schools have opted and will opt to retain compulsory language teaching. At least half of all schools are likely to do so. Clearly, the specialist language colleges that I have mentioned will, by their nature, maintain compulsion, but many other schools will also opt to do so. The danger is that schools in more challenging circumstances, which serve more deprived communities, will be less likely to maintain compulsion. We must ensure that young people and children in those schools get the opportunities that we expect to be available to all young people and children to carry on learning languages through their educational careers.

My hon. Friend asked me specifically about monitoring. We monitor the situation carefully, although the new arrangements are not yet in place. Schools are making their preparations for changing to the optional arrangements for next year, and we will monitor that very closely. My hon. Friend mentioned post-16 education, and we want to ensure that we have the best possible quality and choice at that stage, because many young people give up studying languages at 16.

Languages are part of national campaigns to promote adult learning, such as the adult learners week that is run for the Department by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. We are promoting a range of ways to achieve language qualifications—for example, at level 2—and we are working closely with local learning and skills councils to ensure that particular needs are met. We encourage further education institutions to work with local schools in support of the strategy, and we need FE institutions to promote the advantages and social, cultural and economic value of taking a further education course in languages.

My hon. Friend reminded the House that the strategy commits us to increasing the number of higher education students taking modern foreign languages as all or part of their degree. That is an important element of the strategy and we will work with HE institutions on that. We will also encourage HE institutions to work more closely with both primary and secondary schools to support the broader languages strategy.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are sound economic as well as cultural reasons for learning a foreign language. Language graduates and those studying languages alongside their main degree have better job prospects than average. Modern foreign language graduates have lower unemployment rates than those in other subjects, such as engineering and technology, media studies and computing. Businesses tell us that they are losing vital business because their staff lack the language and cultural competence that is so crucial to our economic future.

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The national recognition scheme is at the heart of the language strategy launched last year. We are developing a national voluntary scheme that will complement existing qualification frameworks and give people credit for their language skills. That scheme will form part of the answer to my hon. Friend's challenge about 14 to 16-year-olds who do not want to study for a language GCSE but who want to continue with language learning. The scheme will have a number of grades with "can do" statements for each of the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. For example, speaking grade 5 would be achieved if a person

We have identified a preferred contractor to take forward that development and the scheme will be launched nationally in September 2005 in eight

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languages. A year later we will add other languages, including important community languages such as Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati, Greek and Turkish. That scheme demonstrates that we are serious about our languages strategy and that we recognise some of the dangers that my hon. Friend mentioned.

With the changes at key stage 4, I am confident that the primary strategy and the new focus on secondary education and beyond will start to reverse the gloomy picture that my hon. Friend painted. In the future, we will ensure that we have the language needs of our young people at heart and we will make progress, both culturally and economically.

The motion having been made at Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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