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It is widely recognised that offering only optional languages up to 16 has taken its toll on the success of our education system as a whole. The director of the National Centre for Languages, Isabella Moore, states:

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You only have to go into the City of London to see that most of the employees now are foreign. The reason is that they come to this country able to speak different foreign languages competently—not just one, but maybe two and often three—and to do business in them.

Isabella Moore’s statement is striking. I was reminded of it as I read the Financial Services Skills Council’s report, Graduate Skills and Recruitment in the City, of September this year. The paragraph on skills and abilities makes it clear that foreign graduates have a huge advantage over English graduates in the City. Those graduates are a direct product of globalised labour markets which have undergone periods of change in recent years—namely, countries in eastern and central Europe with developed education systems. The report noted that, as I just said, many of the graduates who apply to international firms speak several European languages, including their first language and English, and that the potential further expansion of the EU will increase the flow of highly skilled migrants from East to West.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that we do not welcome the great benefits that people from other countries bring to our economy. Those economic migrants make an invaluable contribution to our economy. But I believe that we should be giving our children the skills that will lead to their having the same opportunities to compete in that market. That is the least that we can provide.

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, talking on Radio 4 at the weekend about the need to make learning a foreign language interesting, attractive and important. With great respect, I worry that we fear requiring children to undertake challenges in their school life unless those challenges are somehow sugar-coated. One only has to consider for a moment the growth in competition for jobs from highly skilled, low-cost economies such as China and India, where children are learning foreign languages and are hungry to compete with our children in the UK, to appreciate just how important languages are.

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In short, our children cannot be aspirant if they do not speak at least one modern foreign language. That is how important this is. Therefore, I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is to carry out a language review and that the Secretary of State has noted the amendments that we tabled in Committee and has recognised that this is an urgent matter.

I have reread the Minister’s response in Committee, where he made it clear that,

That is why I have revised my amendments so that the choice of languages would remain a matter for the discretion of the Secretary of State. I believe that that is right, as it allows time for consultation on the most appropriate languages to learn and flexibility to adapt languages learnt in a changing world.

I congratulate the Minister on the initiatives that he has introduced. A positive drive towards training

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more PGCE students in languages and the target by 2010 for all seven to 11 year-olds to have the opportunity to learn a language are very welcome.

I was intrigued to hear about the Spanish language dance mat that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has been sent. I hope that before this Bill goes to another place other noble Lords will have an opportunity to test it out.

I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, that while the principle of their amendment is laudable, I fear that the cost implications in the immediate future are too great. However, it is a worthy aim, which I hope the Minister can factor into consideration of the future of primary education. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the workforce were absolutely right. I well recall that my introduction to learning French was entirely audiovisual. It was not necessary for the teacher to have a qualification in that foreign language under his or her belt. I learnt just from listening to a tape and watching a screen. It was fantastic. I can still repeat much of what I learnt many years ago. To say that the measure is unworkable because there are not enough teachers exacerbates the downward spiral. I shall repeat that comment when we discuss science education next Tuesday. We cannot afford to lose any more time. This matter is critical.

I have said much about the need to teach foreign languages to meet young people’s aspirations in the global economy. This is not just about securing jobs in the City; there is huge competition for all jobs. The flexibility that so many foreign students have to take on new subjects because they can converse in a different language is amazing. We are denying our children huge opportunities and chances in life because of the frankly dreadful policy that is in place.

These amendments are tabled in spirit with amendments on the three sciences and the IGCSE that we shall discuss next week. They are all presented with a joint purpose—to raise standards in our schools and to give our children the global opportunities that they deserve. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response to our amendments and a stronger policy commitment to modern languages than we have seen from his department so far.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I very much support these amendments. My children went to the French lycée aged four and mopped up French like sponges. That is the age when children begin to learn language. Although initially I was delighted that the maintained system would by 2010 offer children aged 10, for the first time, the chance to choose a foreign language, nevertheless I could not help reflecting that in most independent schools there was no question of having an option. You were taught a foreign language. You may not have enjoyed it much but you jolly well got used to it. Now we are in this disastrous situation, which seems to have got worse since 2003, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. That is clearly due to the fact that foundation status was removed at that stage.

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It is very worrying indeed that at the secondary stage there are so few pupils now taking the subject voluntarily. We are also seeing very few going on to read foreign languages at university, so we have a growing spiral of horror. I urge the Government to think in terms of recruiting more people. One or two suggestions have been made—for example, recruiting people who are perhaps over here doing other jobs and who have foreign languages. Even within our own community, there are people who have considerable skills in modern foreign languages. We should be recruiting them to help us—as a temporary measure, if you like—to get over this problem and to reinstate foreign languages.

I commend the Minister for the interest that he has clearly taken in this issue, not just because I have as a result had the dance mat sent to me. There has also been a lot of activity in terms of helping the individual. I commend the BBC’s attempts in the interactive programme “jam”, which children and those with special needs can take particular advantage of. It is also open to teachers to interact in the same sort of way. You have the same situation as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was talking about, where you could learn from a screen updated with the internet. As far as I am concerned, the earlier this is done, the better, and you should make it attractive in whatever way you like. You could have daily a language of the week. As has been pointed out, we have all these different languages, and everyone could speak their own and show the different words that are used in their mother tongues. I urge the Government to please do anything that they can on this issue and to treat it as a matter of urgency.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I shall use a foreign language to say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. I cannot forget that years ago when I was Secretary of State for Education we endeavoured to bring in French to schools for children at the age of eight, with the suggestion that there should be a second foreign language at the age of 12 when children had gone into the upper school. We started a special language teachers’ college, and we tried to encourage people to go in and to learn other languages. There was a big upsurge, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will find out, in the study particularly of Russian at that time, followed quite closely by Spanish. There was quite a widespread fashion in schools to learn Russian because of the significance of Russia in the 1970s and 1980s, and Spanish became a more popular subject. I do not quite know why so much of that initiative has withered on the vine. It may have been partly the outcome of financial reductions proportionately in educational spending.

I completely agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Buscombe and Lady Howe, that this is a disaster. A country such as ours, if it expects to go on being successful, even in the most direct economic terms, cannot expect to be taken terribly seriously, or to get contracts, or to win service contracts in particular if it is completely unable to speak any language but its own. It is not very easy to conduct diplomacy entirely in one’s own language; it makes one very unpopular

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with foreign powers. But it is much more than that; it is about a kind of narrowing of the whole sense of the world’s culture and it is an inability to know any of the literature of other countries in a world that is becoming increasingly interdependent. It means that Britain in many ways is impoverished by the simple incapacity to speak anyone else’s language. It is not only about language, but about thinking in the way that other people think.

I remember years ago, when I was teaching in Africa, hearing one French African say to another, “Voila l’esprit Cartésien”. That was in the middle of a desert in Senegal. I could not help thinking that there was something quite staggering about French culture when all those miles away from metropolitan France people can talk about l’esprit Cartésien. That tells you something about other cultures, other languages and other countries and the contribution that they can make to the world’s civilisation.

So I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in her amendments, and I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will listen very carefully because I am sure that his heart is already with the debate.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, one trouble with the French is that they cannot admit that Descartes was wrong. I entirely support the spirit of my noble friend’s amendment. It seems enormously important that we should get ourselves to a position where we find foreign languages easy, as many other European nations do. The learning of languages is clearly not inherent to us in a genetic sense; it is something that we have allowed to develop as a cultural artefact.

Having been top dogs for a long time, we do not realise that we cannot now “boss it around” in the way that we used to. Although we have the great privilege of English being the international business language, it will clearly be under threat from Chinese. The Chinese are determined to make their language the business language of the East and they are putting a lot of money into that. I am delighted that we are responding through the British Council to keep English in there.

One way and another, we are going to find ourselves in a world where we need to speak foreign languages and, in any case, doing so is a matter of courtesy. If you are dealing seriously with people from another country, it is clear that you, one of your colleagues or someone in the business must understand them, their culture and their language. This should be, as it is in so many other European countries, something that we generate ourselves.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, language learning has to start at the earliest stages, when it is easy. I have the habit of buying DVDs on eBay and, from time to time, I end up with some fairly strange products. So, when I have not quite read what it is I am buying, my daughter watches “Shrek” in Cantonese and various other things in French and Mandarin. But she absorbs and enjoys them, and one picks up the occasional foreign word in her conversation—it seems to be a natural facility at that age.

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As my noble friend Lady Buscombe said, there are many good products out there at the moment. There are self-education courses aimed at almost every level. It does not require teachers to know the language; they can learn it along with the pupils. Indeed, having an inexperienced teacher helps you to learn to use the product and to get over problems. We could set out on a journey together in Russian, my teacher and I, and I do not need her to start with a word of it. So long as she understands how the process works, we can follow the same course together and help each other to get over the hurdles. That can happen at any age.

We do not need a great cohort of people speaking whatever language in primary schools. What are we going to dictate to primary schools that they should do? We need only give them the facilities and the encouragement so that they can pick up on a lot of material that is out there and explore languages with their pupils. They can give those pupils a facility and make it seem easy to them. They can make it seem that languages are not the enormous hurdle that they have come to be seen to be—the hard discipline or the GCSE that is hardest to get through. Languages should trip easily off the tongue.

I am absolutely delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has been given the job that he has. It means that we have two people to speak to this evening: the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the Minister—and I hope that we can convince at least one of them.

I hope that the noble Lord will take an interest in the music examination system, which, it seems to me, has always had a great deal of application in languages. It should be taken in small steps. The split between playing and theory also seems to fit very well with languages. You can have just the speaking—the enjoyment—of the language to a certain level and allow the theory to lag behind but then catch up later. That is certainly how people get caught into the system of music exams. They may well reach grade 5 without knowing much theory but then realise that they have to catch up. But, by that stage, they are already on the ladder and—whoosh—the theory comes on from behind. On the other hand, the two peg together so that, by the time you are getting anywhere serious, you are level-pegging on theory and on the enjoyment side.

There is a lot of hope if only we can realise what is out there, how easy it is to learn languages and how much can be done without enormous expenditure or training and without a great deal of dislocation. One thing we must do is ensure that we motivate schools to teach languages. At the moment one can drop languages, take up media studies or whatever and there is no difference at all; there are the same results and the same motivation. We have to make it clear that languages are to be valued and that they must be reported on separately so that schools can focus on them. Let them use their ingenuity and the facilities with which we provide them to decide how, with their pupils, they will make progress in languages.

There is a great deal of expertise and understanding out there about how to teach pupils. Let it go. Let us not have the problem we had a few

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years ago when a wonderful course called “business studies in Spanish” was pioneered by Millais School, a state comprehensive in Horsham. It was killed by the QCA, which said, “We’re not having this; it is far too expensive; it is not standard; we will charge you £50,000 a year to ensure it is up to standard”, and so it died. That is entirely the wrong attitude. We have to let lots of people try lots of different ways of motivating pupils who come from a background where there is no incentive to learn languages. We want them to pick up languages and enjoy them. Given that kind of spirit, we will get somewhere.

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Lord Quirk: My Lords, I also urge my noble friend Lord Dearing on his way. I wish him the best of luck and I congratulate the Government on having the idea. The great irony is that in this country we have the reputation of being monolingual. In fact, we are the most multilingual country in western Europe. We ignore that at our peril. Most of the languages that are spoken are either unfashionable or dangerous. Being monolingual, when we talk of speaking a foreign language in this country, we think only of the Anglo-Saxons in our midst. They are the people who are monolingual.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, rightly mentioned the problem we have in motivating people. The fact that English is misleadingly referred to as a world language helps to disincentivise our young. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Dearing gets down to business, he will not look upon GCE or even the old CSE as the appropriate models for foreign language learning, but will look more towards the model for music testing. Under the music criteria, a child learns a little at grade one on violin or piano and acquires a sense of achievement when he gets there. At grade five there is a link across to music GCSE. I think we shall have great difficulty in teaching British children French, German and Spanish unless we can find new ways of motivating and encouraging them to learn those languages.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, perhaps I may reflect for a moment. In 1993, I was withdrawn from the world of higher education, where I was devising a new funding methodology, to do a lightning review of the national curriculum. By comparison, university was a kindergarten. I had never been so terrified in my life as during the three months I was given to review the national curriculum because there was such passion and conviction, but it was all over the place. Macbeth says,

“that we but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return, To plague the inventor”.

Earlier this afternoon, I was saying that local authorities should be accountable for their decisions. I look around this House and think, “I am going to produce a report, and will be accountable to this House. I cannot escape!”. Perhaps I should take special leave after Christmas.

Somewhere in the Good Book, it says:

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Dearing, this is the time to listen and shut up. I will say things, however, from time to time, because it draws fire, excites interest and I learn.

I had a letter from a head teacher in a special school which said some good and sensible things, but she felt that this review was not really for special schools. I e-mailed her to say, “Yes, the review concerns all schools”. Secondly, several references have been made to the ladder. Without having studied it, I see it as something that must command my attention, partly because of the small steps and the motivation and recognition that come from it and partly because, between steps, there are smaller steps recessed within the school rather than externally—the individual rungs are external. It could be a means of getting that articulation between primary—where everybody is saying we should start—and secondary without the dislocation that so often happens. I say that with some anxiety but, since it has been urged upon me, I shall look into it.

I am vastly intrigued by the dance mat. I have received in the post “Flirt Spanish”, and wonder if we could trade. I have not yet assessed it for its relevance and value.

I feel privileged as well as terrified to undertake this review, and do so with the recognition of how important it is to make progress in this area. I recall the German ambassador once saying something like, “If you come to my country to buy something, speaking English, okay. But if you come to sell something, it helps to speak a bit of German”. I think we all gain from speaking a bit of German.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, anyone who has followed education policy over the past 15 years, under both parties, will know that whenever a particularly intractable problem presents itself, one not subject to the powers of mere mortals to overcome, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is sent for. By an inscrutable process which usually takes several months—he acts very fast—he produces a deus ex machina: the answer to all our problems and an effective way forward. If he was able to do it with student finance—about the most intractable issue it is possible to imagine—he may find languages a relatively easy problem to crack.

On behalf of the whole House, I say how grateful we are to the noble Lord for taking on this responsibility. In my experience, there is no challenge that he does not rise to splendidly. The country owes him many debts of gratitude for the public services he has performed over the years, and this will be not the least of them.

A heavy burden rests on him, because there is a great sense of public unease—I shall be frank—reflected in the debate this evening about the teaching of languages in secondary schools. The noble Baroness is quite right to highlight the issue in her amendment. We have grappled with it and have not found the last word on policy in any respect, and have passed the baton to the noble Lord to find a better way forward for us.

Under the terms of reference, which my right honourable friend has agreed with the noble Lord, he will examine the scope for action to further

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strengthen incentives for schools and young people to continue with languages after 14. He will look at how we can support secondary schools in making a wider range of more flexible language courses available, with accreditation so that more young people keep up language learning—if not all the way through to GSCE, certainly to the later years of secondary education. He will work with representatives of further and higher education to see what might be done to widen access to, and increase interest in, language learning among students. He will also consult employer organisations, other organisations and pupils to see what ideas they have for taking forward policy in this area.

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