EUROPEAN INDICATOR OF LANGUAGE COMPETENCE
Letter from Bill Rammall MP, Minister
of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education,
Department for Education and Skills to the Chairman
I am writing to respond to your letter of 4
and to update you on the progress of negotiations on the Communication
on the proposed European Indicator of Language Competence.
The Communication was not discussed at the Education
Council on 15 November. Negotiations began in the official-level
working group in December and Ministers held an exchange of views
at the Education Council on 23 February. The UK also tabled a
position paper at that Council, which I attach for your information
(not printed). I also attach the latest version of Conclusions
on the Commission's proposal which were drawn up by the Austrian
Presidency in January (not printed). Coreper will discuss this
compromise text on 3 May, before the Communication and Conclusions
are tabled for political agreement at the Education Council on
The Government agrees that it is important to
improve language competence in the UK, so that more people are
able to participate fully in the global economy as multilingual
and culturally aware citizens and employees. However we have ensured
during negotiations that the wording of the Communication and
the accompanying Conclusions make clear that it is for Member
States to decide the content and priorities of their education
systems, including the language curriculum. We have also secured
a change to the wording of the last paragraph of the Conclusions,
so that it now invites Member States to take all necessary steps
to establish, rather than implement, the Indicator.
Your letter stated that the Select Committee
shares the Government's view that more detailed professional examination
of the proposals for the Indicator is required to define organisational
and resource implications before Member States can make a decision
on implementation. This is particularly important to ensure that
the exercise should not impose undue burdens on schools and pupils.
I am pleased to report that this position has been supported by
other Member States. The draft Conclusions now suggest that an
advisory board composed of a representative of each Member State
and one representative of the Council of Europe should be established
as soon as possible to take forward further development work.
The proposed role of the advisory board is set
out on pages 6-7 of the draft Council Conclusions. It will report
to the Commission by the end of 2006 on Member States' preferred
arrangements for constructing and administrating the tests. Ministers
will then take a decision on implementation at Education Council
next year, perhaps in May.
The advisory board will also produce a detailed
proposal of the costs of participation for Member States, and
discuss the timing of the survey. The UK has made clear that the
testing period for the Indicator should not overlap with other
international surveys, and have suggested a flexible testing "window"
of 2009-11 which would allow Member States to choose the most
convenient year for administering the tests.
The Communication originally specified 15 as
the age for testing. However the Conclusions now suggest a grade/level-based
sample rather than strictly age-based, as this would be easier
to administer and less disruptive for schools. The UK supports
this approach as specifying age 15 could mean having to test across
two different school years. We support the end of the International
Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) level 2 as the point
of testing in both foreign languages. This would allow us to obtain
a representative sample of pupils who are all Year 9 (ages 13-14)
in England. This is also at the end of Key Stage 3 when learning
a foreign language is still compulsory in England. However some
other Member States prefer the end of ISCED level 3 (equivalent
to ages 17-18 in England) in order to have a large enough sample
of testees with two foreign languages. The compromise text in
the draft Conclusions currently allows Member States to choose
to gather data in the second foreign language from pupils during
ISCED level 3 if a second foreign language is not taught before
the end of ISCED 2, which the UK can support as it would still
allow us to decide when to test the second foreign language.
I will of course be writing to Parliament immediately
before and after the May Education Council to report on the progress
of all the dossiers on the agenda, including the Communication
and Conclusions on the European Indicator of Language Competence.
20 April 2006
Letter from Bill Rammell MP to the Chairman
My officials have sent you the latest version
of this document which was discussed at Coreper on 3 May. I can
report that no amendments were made and we are content with the
9 May 2006
Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell
Thank you for your letters dated 20 April and
9 May which were considered by Sub-Committee G on 11 May.
We are glad to see the progress reported in
your letters as reflected in the latest version of the Conclusions
and note that this text was cleared by COREPER on 3 May without
We are particularly pleased that the amended
text appears to meet our own wish, as set out in my letter to
you dated 4 November 2005, for more thorough professional examination
of these proposals. We agree that the plan to set up the proposed
Advisory Board to make recommendations by the end of this year,
with a view to possible decisions at the Education Council in
the first half of next year, is a sensible way forward.
We are therefore content to release the scrutiny
reserve to enable the Government to support the proposed political
agreement at the Education Council on 19 May. That is on the understanding
that the text remains unchanged and that any fresh proposals developed
following the recommendations of the Advisory Council will be
submitted for Parliamentary scrutiny in due course.
We look forward to receiving your report on
the outcome of the Education Council meeting and to discussing
the implications at our next informal meeting with Judith Grant
and Lid King on 25 May.
12 May 2006
198 Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of
Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 677-678. Back