UK schools are turning to foreign governments to fund languages

According to The Guardian, some primaries would be unable to afford specialist language teaching without the money they receive from overseas schemes.

In Holly class, Matilda, aged six, calls the register. “Ciao, Tyler,” she says. “Presente,” he replies. “Ciao, Arthur,” she says next. “Ciao, Maestra Matilda,” he says. The class collapses into giggles: Matilda is taking the register as part of today’s Italian lesson. Her teacher, Stefania Cellini, helps the children count aloud to check everyone is there. Even though these year 1 pupils are only five or six, they easily count to 28 in Italian. “You are all bravissimi,” Cellini says.

Cellini is one of 70 Italian teachers paid by the Italian government to work in UK schools and promote the language. The scheme provides 112 primaries and 27 secondaries with an Italian teacher – for free.

Sadly, this level of language tuition is rare. Since 2014 it has been compulsory for all schools to teach a modern or ancient foreign language to children aged seven to 11. Yet progress has been patchy, at best. Last year’s Language Trends report by the British Council found that “languages remain a marginal subject which many primary schools find challenging to deliver alongside many other competing demands”. Florence Myles, chair of the Research in Primary Languages network, agrees. “The vast majority of schools are falling far short and if there’s sports day, Sats or a school trip, the first thing to go is languages.”

Without this help from foreign governments, some primaries would be unable to afford specialist language teaching. Reports last month highlighted that 91% of schools have had a shortfall in funding over the past three years and some are having to use teaching staff to do the cleaning, delay turning on the heating or even close early to save money.

In the UK, around 16,500 British primary school pupils benefit from the scheme. All receive at least one hour of Italian a week. And the teaching goes beyond the compulsory seven-to-11 age group to include younger pupils.

The government has set a target of 90% of pupils in English schools taking a language GCSE by 2025, but progress has been slow. Numbers sitting an A-level in a modern foreign language have slumped, and in March the all-party parliamentary group on modern languages published a report with proposals on how to turn things around, including measures to improve language provision in primary schools. The report calls for compulsory language teaching from the age of five, a wider range of languages taught and for all schools to have a language assistant.

Read more UK schools are turning to foreign governments to fund languages

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  1. Judith Wilson

    I was clearly way ahead of my time – I went to teacher training college (Stockwell, Bromley) in 1969, wanting to teach French to children aged five and it wasn’t even an option. I had to take French as a subsidiary and it was to teach children aged nine…I was horrified and disappointed even then.

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