Foreign languages essential, say school heads

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Headteachers say the study of modern foreign languages should be compulsory for sixth formers, in direct opposition to the Government's proposals for secondary education.

Leaders of the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) are urging Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, who is heading the Government's inquiry into the future of 14-19 education, to persuade ministers to do a U-turn and make the subject compulsory, at least up to GCSE standard.

In its official response published this morning to Mr Tomlinson's interim report, the SHA calls for the introduction of an English baccalaureate, along the lines suggested by Mr Tomlinson, to replace the existing GCSE and A-level system.

John Dunford, general secretary of the SHA, said: "In the context in which the island of Britain finds itself, it makes no sense to discourage people from doing a modern language as currently happens."

The SHA's findings will be heartening to ministers who were told by private school headteachers last week that they rejected the baccalaureate. At its annual conference, the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents top independent schools such as Eton and Harrow, came out against compulsory studies in the sixth form.

The SHA report calls for a four-tier diploma to replace the existing system, although it says GCSEs and A-levels would not have to be scrapped. They could "evolve" into being part of the new qualification. Students taking the top-level advanced diploma - the equivalent of today's A-level - should be required to achieve credits in English, maths, information technology and "critical thinking or theory of knowledge".

Even though foreign languages would be required as part of the diploma for six- formers, they would not all necessarily have to study the subject to A-level standard.

Even that would be a far cry from the present situation - whereby students will be allowed to drop the subject completely at 14 from next September. Many secondary schools have already jumped the gun over this proposal from the Government and have taken foreign languages off the curriculum.