News | 12.05.2010

As the Prime Minister resigns and a new coalition government is formed, how will MFL policies fare under the new leadership?

Today, the British public wake up to a new Prime Minister following Gordon Brown’s resignation yesterday. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats are painting a new political landscape with their coalition government and the language community will be waiting to see whether the ‘time for change’ extends to better modern foreign language (MFL) policies in UK schools.

Things haven’t looked good for MFLs for some time now. Thwarted by removal of their compulsory status on the national curriculum in 2004, the teaching of languages is not high on political agendas. But fewer student take-ups of these subjects have a negative impact on areas such as social mobility within Europe and the rest of the world, and participation in the field of international business.

Yet there is plenty of scope for promoting MFL learning, particularly in the areas identified by CILT (the National Centre for Languages) in a recent survey: the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games and associated sectors such as the arts, hospitality, tourism and travel; global business; literacy and reading skills; international development; and diplomacy, human rights and justice. The London Underground, for example, have identified the need for further investment in language skills for their recruitment process, but unless steps are taken quickly to embrace languages more fully, increased numbers of service users during the Games will place both a logistical and linguistic strain on the company.

CILT also highlighted the linguistic richness that Britain enjoys with its abundance of community languages. One in ten secondary school pupils already speak a second language, but how many are aware that this skill could be used professionally? The last CILT survey found that at least 129 community languages were spoken in Manchester and 106 in Scotland, with languages including Bengali, Nepali, Chinese and Turkish.

However, according to a 2009 article published in the Times Educational Supplement, the Conservative Party have no current plans to make language learning mandatory in secondary schools. It stated that French and German GCSE entries were down on the previous year by 6.6% and 4.2% respectively, but because more MFL teachers are leaving the profession, the party do not anticipate making language teaching compulsory. This stance provoked the National Union of Teachers (NUT) head of education to refer to their position on linguistic issues as a ‘council of despair.’

The time for change certainly arrived for UK politics last night, but unfortunately, it appears that for the policy makers, Modern Foreign Languages are no longer the subjects du jour.

Sources: TES; CILT

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