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Plans to drop language training attacked

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The government's plans to make learning of foreign languages optional at age 14 have been criticised by a body which recently suveyed UK leanguage training provision, and by the foreign office minister. The Nuffield Languages Inquiry report was published in May 2000. The foundation has stated that the plans for language teaching in the government's latest Green Paper on education send out the message "loud and clear to young people - and to those who run their schools and teach in them - that language learning is a frill, an optional extra to education... It would have a seriously damaging effect on national competitiveness and on the overall education levels of our children as they seek employment. The UK would fall even further behind our European and international competitors... It is insular in its thinking, coming as it does two months after the European Commission Task Force on Skills and Mobility reported on opening up the EU labour market and recommended that all pupils should master at least two EU languages in addition to their own by the end of their compulsory education."

The Nuffield statement goes on: "Introducing flexibility and relevance into the curriculum of young people is a worthy objective, with which the Nuffield team is in complete agreement - but not at the expense of handicapping large numbers of those young people in a recruitment market which is no longer confined within national boundaries. Flexibility and a statutory provision are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to build languages into the 14-19 curriculum in ways appropriate to pupils' needs, including pupils on vocational courses. What credibility will a certificate in tourism or business have in the 21st century without a language element?"

"Furthermore, the primary entitlement is unlikely to be deliverable before 2012 - which would mean that the first national cohort of enthused linguists would reach the age of 14 in 2019. It looks likely that languages will be removed from the core curriculum well before that time, possibly by 2003. This leaves a 16 year gap - a lost generation. Is the Government about to jettison the language learning requirement for a whole generation? If the proposals in the Green Paper are accepted, many of the next generation will learn a language for three years only. We will be signing the death warrant for university language departments and the future supply of language teachers, both already in crisis. This manifestly does not tally with a strategic consideration of the UK's needs for languages. It is wholly at odds with the government's declared aspirations for languages. So where is the joined-up thinking advocated two years ago by the Nuffield Inquiry?"

The Times also reports today that the Foreign Office minister Dennis MacShane has said that further reductions in language teaching should not be considered.

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