Teacher talk: 'Instead of playing with words we should play with numbers'

Jocelyne Lawrence is head of foreign languages at Barton Peveril sixth-form college in Eastleigh, Hampshire
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The Independent Online

What do you think about the Government's plan to do away with a compulsory foreign language at GCSE and to give primary-school children the right to learn a foreign language?

What do you think about the Government's plan to do away with a compulsory foreign language at GCSE and to give primary-school children the right to learn a foreign language?

This is not new at all, we have been here before only a few years back. Instead of playing with words we should play with numbers. If we want our children to become more at ease and more competent with foreign languages as well as enjoying the experience, in my view, we need smaller classes for ages 11 to 15 – let's say a maximum of 15. This would also mean better working conditions for teachers. In primary school, learning a foreign language is fine, but gaining an awareness of different languages would be better. Children could be given tasters in the same way that they are introduced to different musical instruments.

Do you welcome the new AS-level exam?

I like the idea very much, but in reality, although our results have been excellent, I feel the exams are too difficult – for languages and also for maths. For these subjects, you have to learn one step before you understand the next, unlike, say, history. There is far too much to teach in the first year of languages; a very heavy grammar and vocabulary content for example. Second-year students are more able and motivated, so there should be more to do in this year. I'm part of a consortium in Hampshire for post-16 teachers, and these views seem to be the consensus.

David Miliband, the new schools minister, has told head teachers that every child who leaves school at 16 is a "drop-out". What's your view?

I suppose that children who leave at 16 haven't been successful, or enjoyed school. It would be fairer to say that they have been failed by the system.

Is your college affected by teacher shortages?

Not too badly. It's relatively easy to get teachers interested in working at a sixth-form college. But it is getting more difficult. We have fewer applicants for jobs, especially in PE. And finding replacements for short-term contracts can be difficult because a limited number of teachers have sixth-form experience.

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