Letters: New rules harm language teaching


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The Independent Online

As the headteacher of a state comprehensive school which is a specialist language college, I read with interest Viv Groskop's column (18 August) about the demise of language teaching in schools.

A factor she failed to mention was the detrimental effect on language teaching of the school league tables, notably the newly revised "value added" measurement, introduced in 2011.

I prided myself that a high percentage (more than 90 per cent) of my students took a foreign language up to GCSE level. Even my low-ability students gained at least a smattering of either French, German or Spanish.

But new school league-table measures mean that weak students who gain only a low-grade GCSE in a foreign language count badly against the "value added" figure for the school.

The way for a school to get a good "value added" figure in foreign languages is to either selectively enter only bright children (so their high grades score well) or enter academically weak children for a foreign language that is their native tongue (for example Urdu or Punjabi).

In my school, encouraging low-ability white British students to take either French, German or Spanish is a strategy doomed to failure.

The solution? With great regret, I have had to make taking a foreign language no longer compulsory in my school.

Ben Warren

Headteacher, Summerhill School, Dudley, West Midlands

Viv Groskop is right to be concerned about the decline in language teaching in British schools, and I agree with making learning a foreign language compulsory at an early age, even though most who did well in languages in the past were from the high-achieving schools, state and private, and not the "bog-standard" comprehensives.

But she is very wrong to say that "our obsession with making language learning into ... an intellectual exercise is to blame" and to put the focus in language learning solely on speaking.

Having recently checked the French and Spanish GCSE exam papers, I was struck by the emphasis placed solely on speaking, as in ordering pizza, booking flights or reserving a hotel room.

All useful in learning basic tourist-level language, yes (provided you can understand the replies, of course) but hardly challenging, and an utterly inadequate preparation for further study.

Even an A at A level does not mean what it once did, and does not necessarily signify fluency in a foreign language.

Many pupils (and perhaps boys in particular who are acutely self-conscious about newly-broken voices as teenagers and thus lack confidence when speaking) prefer the writing and reading way of learning languages, rather than the role-playing, speaking-based tourist guide-book language teaching of today.

Eddie Webb

London SE10

A legal way out for Britain in the Assange impasse

The solution to Julian Assange's predicament is clear. His human rights are not violated by the prospect of a criminal trial in Sweden, and the European Arrest Warrant procedure used is lawful. The UK is now under an international obligation, under EU law, to send him promptly to Sweden. Ecuador must respect that decision.

But Ecuador has granted him political asylum, and therefore assumed responsibility for his safety. The UK and Sweden must respect that. So, the UK Government can provide transport (military perhaps) to fly him directly to Sweden, but he would be escorted by Ecuadorian security forces.

In Sweden, the Swedish authorities must allow him to remain in the "care" of Ecuadorian personnel at their embassy until the trial is concluded, Ecuador guaranteeing to deliver him to the Swedish court for the duration of the trial.

If he is acquitted, the Ecuadorian authorities in Sweden must take him straight out of the country and to Ecuador as a free man. If he is convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment, similarly Sweden must allow Ecuador to take responsibility for him, by guaranteeing to Sweden that he serves the term in an Ecuadorian jail.

I believe this complies with international law.

Nicholas Crampton

Mundford, Norfolk

(The writer is the former Crown prosecutor responsible for European Arrest Warrants for the Crown Prosecution Service in Norfolk)

Is freedom of information less important than answering claims of sexual assault? The Independent seems to be coupling the two. Let's get a sense of proportion.

What governments get up to behind closed doors is important to know and increasingly hard to find out. But it is a global issue and, thanks to WikiLeaks, we have been given a way of encouraging governments to be more honest and open or suffer public humiliations. Mr Assange and his colleagues have done a great service. His personal problems are a sideshow to this.

Clearly, he has accusations to answer and the sooner he does so the sooner we can get back to the main story. He is probably right to believe that leaving the Ecuadorian embassy is the first step to a long stay in the United States where the accused US military leaker, Bradley Manning, is still incarcerated without trial.

Why can't the Swedes set up a trial and establish a video link to Mr Assange's room in the embassy that we can all have access to? A WikiTrial would be a perfect way for the two Swedish women to make their cases and Mr Assange to give his side of the story in full view of the world.

David Phillips

London SW18

Laurie Penny's article "If you really believe in WikiLeaks, you must want Assange to face up to justice" (22 August) mentions that neither the British not the Swedish governments are willing to guarantee that Assange won't be extradited to a third country.

Assange claims that the only reason he sought political asylum was the clamour in the US to get him to America and lock him up because of his publication of diplomatically embarrassing WikiLeaks.

I cannot understand why no British newspapers, many of them famed for their independence, sought to question the two governments about why they are refusing to give this guarantee. Their answer or non-answer would clarify whether this is a case about a sexual offences investigation and women's rights or about freedom of the press.

Clare Parker

Farnham, Surrey

Taxpayers foot bills for Harry

Your correspondents (letters, 24 August) seem to think Harry's shenanigans are completely private to him and of no legitimate public interest. Considering that he is a massively privileged member of the royal family, with an opulent, taxpayer-funded life, complete with a hugely expensive protection squad, also funded at public expense, I disagree with them.

Why should we, the people who pay for all this, be allowed to see only the calculatedly PR-friendly activities of this idiotic man? He will be 30 in two years, so he is hardly a teenager whose behaviour can be excused as immaturity.

The most irritating part of this saga is the way it demonstrates yet again how the Establishment continues to work to protect themselves and their own, and how the public allows itself to be brainwashed into parroting the Establishment line as it is fed to them.

As far as I can see, the only time the Press Complaints Commission actually acts is to protect the royal family from the consequences of its own unpleasant and arrogant behaviour.

Penny Little

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

Prince Harry was a young man on holiday having a fun-filled evening when his privacy was cynically invaded, and his trust and openness taken advantage of, by some sneak wanting to make a quick dollar. Mobile phones with cameras are a peril in this day and age. Any photographs have no place in the British press because there is no "story" here. He wasn't on royal duty and he wasn't doing anything illegal. What a load of fuss over nothing.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Just who is the fundamentalist?

The article on Richard Dawkins and the Free Church (20 August) is, I am afraid, based upon a false premise. The Free Church did not "take exception" to Dawkins appearing at the Faclan Book Festival in Lewis, nor are we furious at his coming to Lewis. Indeed, we have welcomed him to the island and thank him for raising issues which we consider to be of vital importance.

The article caters to the prejudices of some of your readers by describing us as "fundamentalist" and "hard line". Can you imagine the fury you would have aroused if you had shown some balance and described Dawkins as a hard-line fundamentalist atheist? We are the ones who welcome him and are offering him the chance to put us right where he thinks we are wrong.

He, on the other hand, refuses to discuss, exchange dialogue or debate with us, perhaps because he is so certain of his beliefs and intolerant of anyone who would dare to question them. But just who is the fundamentalist?

The Rev David A Robertson

St Peters Free Church, Dundee

In brief...

The true cost of care homes

Alas, Patrick Cosgrove (letters, 24 August) is guilty of believing that politicians tell all the truth and nothing but the truth. The £35,000 applies only to nursing care; you will have to pay for all social care costs on top of that. The situation is similar to university education costs. The headline figure is £9,000 a year but when you add what it costs to live the real figure is nearer £50,000 for the three years.

J K Apps

Redhill, Surrey

Decathlon for me

Is Usain Bolt guilty of hubris? Admittedly, he's useful at sprinting 100 to 200 metres on an exquisite, man-made surface, but the greatest athlete to live? I feel some of our Bronze Age relatives or Stone Age hominid ancestors might have given the lightning man a run for his money over more difficult terrain. The Decathlon is the true test of manhood.

Nicholas E Gough

Swindon, Wiltshire

Only at Luton

Peter Smith (letters, 24 August) thinks Luton Britain's rudest airport. It must also be the only one not to have drinking-water fountains for passengers, the only one to charge drivers for disembarking passengers anywhere near the terminal buildings and only one to provide just a dozen seats for more than 200 passengers in the gaterooms.

John Naylor

Sunningdale, Berkshire

Quiet courage

I agree with John Lidstone (letters, 23 August) on honours except for one important point. In the final paragraph the word "conspicuous" should be deleted, or replaced by another word, say, "beneficial". People who repeatedly perform inconspicuous but beneficial acts are at least as deserving of an award as those who perform conspicuous acts.

Keith Chard

Bracknell, Berkshire

Back to the...

Mary Dejevsky made a few errors and omissions in her history of the future (24 August). The PM during Labour's second and third term of office (2019-27) was Yvette Cooper. The railways were amalgamated into one company (British Railways) in 2021, with the State acquiring 51 per cent of its shares. Mr Johnson withdrew from the First Minister elections after the infamous "Borisgate" scandal. And GB's head of state in 2037 was President William Windsor.

Julien Evans

Chesham, Buckinghamshire