Clarke urges schools to teach Spanish as often as French

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The Independent Online

Spanish should rival French and German as the main foreign language taught in state schools, the Government says.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, released figures yesterday that showed more Britons visited Spain than France or Germany - the two countries whose languages were most often taught in secondary schools.

A total of 12.6 million Britons visited Spain during the past year - yet only 8 per cent of youngsters took the subject at GCSE level. By comparison, 11.7 million visits were paid to France, with 52 per cent of pupils taking a GCSE in the subject. More than 2 million Britons visited Germany, with 21 per cent studying the subject at GCSE level.

"Spanish is the second most often spoken business language behind English," Mr Clarke told a conference of linguists in Southampton.

The Government is anxious to kick-start the take-up of languages in primary schools, to meet a promise that every child from the age of seven should be able to learn a modern foreign language by the end of the decade.

Ministers want to improve the take-up of all languages - but acknowledge that Spanish is particularly neglected at present, to the possible detriment of the UK's ability to win business contracts and trade in Spanish-speaking countries. "We must make sure children get the opportunity they need to learn languages earlier," Mr Clarke said. "There is no doubt that our future lies in Europe and that we should be playing a leading role there."

As part of their strategy, ministers are urging Spanish, French and German speakers in the UK to make themselves known to their neighbourhood primary schools, so they can act as classroom assistants in introducing primary school pupils to languages.

The Association for Language Learning, which represents all foreign language teachers in Britain, has welcomed the Government's drive to increase the take-up of languages in the primary sector.

But the association said it remained opposed to the Government's decision to make languages voluntary for pupils aged 14 to 16. A survey has shown that one in three secondary schools has already dropped languages as a compulsory subject.