All primary schools to get specialist in languages

Every primary school will have at least one specialist in foreign languages by 2010, the Government's new "languages tsar" said today.

In his first interview since taking office, Dr Lid King revealed that the number of trainee primary teachers learning to teach languages had increased sevenfold in the past two years. A total of 460 had been recruited this autumn - with the numbers expected to increase by 2010, when a government pledge to give every seven-year-old lessons in a foreign language is due to be met.

All teacher recruits will go on a four-week placement to a school in the country whose language they are learning, while a similar number of foreign language assistants from France, Spain and Germany will move to Britain to help to teach in schools.

Dr King, the Government's director of languages, said that while all the 16,000 primary and junior schools in England should have one languages specialist, he would like to see more appointed to teach the curriculum effectively. To help to achieve this, existing primary school teachers are to be asked if they speak any languages - and given specialist training by their local education authorities and higher education institutions if they have.

The pledge has calmed fears expressed at the launch of the Government's £10m-a-year languages strategy that parents would have to search for primary schools able to provide language teaching.

Dr King said research showed between 20 and 25 per cent of primary schools included language teaching on the school timetable at present.

This varied in quantity and quality, from Liverpool, where three-year-olds are introduced to foreign languages in their nursery schools, to other areas of the country where language teaching takes part in an out-of-school-hours club.

"The biggest challenge is the training of existing primary school teachers," he said. "If you have only one member of staff available to take the subject and he or she is a normal classroom teacher, then it present difficulties with the timetable. What happens when they are scheduled to take a maths lesson? That is why, ideally, you need more."

Dr King added that the new breed of specially trained classroom assistants allowed to take lessons because of regulations introduced this September would include some hired specifically to teach languages.

"There are a lot of people out there in the community who have got language ability who could be brought into this programme," he said. "I don't think it in any way undermines the central position of the teacher to have someone who is a fluent speaker in front of the classes.

"There may be teachers with language skills who have decided, 'I'd rather be in primary than secondary,' and haven't been able to use those skills. We need to find them and encourage them to help out."

Dr King acknowledged the Government's strategy would be floundering if it failed to convince youngsters to continue with language studies after the age of 14, when it becomes a voluntary part of the national curriculum under a controversial decision taken by ministers earlier this year.

"Languages are a bit like fitness," he said. "If you ask, 'Are you in favour of being fit', everybody says yes. If you ask, 'Are you going to go to the gym', they say yes but they don't actually do it. We've got to make sure they actually take that final step of going to the gym."

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