Varied foreign language skills in primary pupils cause key stage 3 headache

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Secondary schools are struggling to cope with the mismatch in foreign language knowledge and ability between pupils coming from different feeder primary schools, according to a new report.

Secondary schools are struggling to cope with the mismatch in foreign language knowledge and ability between pupils coming from different feeder primary schools, according to a new report.

The annual Language Trends report, published by CfBT Education Trust, found that both primary and secondary schools were facing a “demanding agenda” in language teaching and learning ahead of the new national curriculum implementation in England.

It revealed that in primary schools, there was a “very wide spectrum” of practice and a lack of consistency in approach and outcomes which left some secondary teachers struggling to cope.

The study said it was not “on the agenda” of secondary schools to have to cater for the diversity of knowledge and ability among year 7 pupils. “The vast majority of pupils do not experience continuity and progression as they move from key stage 2 to key stage 3”, the report said. This made planning for teaching difficult at key stage 3 and led some teachers to disregard what pupils had already learned at primary school. 

The new national curriculum for key stage 2 is to make languages compulsory from September 2014 and it is hoped this might help the situation.

The report also confirmed the impact on languages of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate as a performance measure, with many schools now making the learning of languages compulsory for some pupils, or at least strongly encouraging them to opt for those subjects. 

An increasing number of schools where languages are optional reported that the number of students taking languages at key stage 4 has risen in the last few years. 

However, one in five state schools “disapply” lower ability pupils from having to study a language at all.

The study found that schools were not planning any other measures to increase take-up and while the EBacc may close the gap for bright pupils in more disadvantaged schools, less able pupils were not usually encouraged to study a language. Teachers also wanted to see languages receive greater recognition as an important tool for success in the workplace.

Tony McAleavy, director of education at CfBT, said: “A recent international study showed that English pupils were significantly behind their international peers in terms of foreign language learning. 

“If we are to turn this situation around, we must capture the opportunity provided by the introduction of foreign languages into the primary curriculum, linked to the aspiration for improved standards in the reformed GCSE and A levels.”

Linda Parker, director of the Association for Language Learning, said the introduction of a new curriculum provided an opportunity for schools to re-examine their arrangements for language learning. 

She said that currently “pupils are being disadvantaged by systems which are not putting the need for a continuous, positive and motivating language learning experience at the heart of planning”.


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