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The BIG education issue: Modern foreign languages

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By Lucy AdamsonPrimary Languages Teaching Adviser at CILT

Are schools prepared for the 2011 deadline?


Listen to an audio interview with Lucy Adamson to hear her discuss funding for language teaching, difficulties that schools may have with MFL, and the predominance of French as a foreign language in primary schools.

There’s been a good deal of media focus on primary education recently with the publication of both the Independent and Cambridge Reviews. What do they both say about languages in primary schools? Well, they both recognise their importance, for starters, and the Independent Review recommends that the subject becomes part of the statutory curriculum at Key Stage 2 by 2011. The introduction of languages into primary schools dates back to 2002 when the Government outlined that it would give children in KS2 the opportunity to learn a language.

MFL in primary schools

So, how many schools are currently engaging with this initiative? A recent survey shows that 92 per cent of primary schools are teaching languages. In terms of the languages being offered, 89 per cent of schools offer French, 25 per cent offer Spanish and ten per cent offer German. The survey also highlights the key role that class teachers play in the delivery of languages since more than half are teaching their own class. Some schools have chosen to employ specialist teachers and all schools are free to develop language provision in the best way to suit their context. Nevertheless, the issue of sustainability does need to be considered if teaching relies on one specialist individual.

Support for teachers

How do class teachers feel about delivering a new subject? Understandably, many are anxious about this, especially as the new language provision is rolled out across KS2. However, support is available from a wide range of organisations. The Government has provided Local Authorities (LAs) with funding to develop languages in primary schools. How does this funding help class teachers? Many LAs have appointed advisers who run a wide range of training days. Advisers also visit schools to offer practical advice on issues such as planning and resourcing. You can contact your LA to find out about accessing this support.

What are schools doing about planning for a new subject? Many of them have appointed a subject coordinator to oversee the delivery of languages across the school. These coordinators often provide training to support their colleagues with teaching a new language.

The future

So, what does the future hold? The introduction of languages in primary schools is very exciting, but there are challenges ahead. Schools will need to work closely with LAs and national agencies, such as CILT, to ensure that they have the necessary support to teach the subject across KS2 in a successful and sustainable way.


CILT logo

The Primary Team at CILT, the National Centre for Languages, works closely with LAs and schools to support the development of languages in primary schools. For example, CILT recently produced a pack to support languages coordinators. ‘Lift Off for Primary Languages’ was sent out to all 18,000 English state primary schools in October 2009. This pack contains a CD that includes key documentation such as the KS2 Framework for Languages, as well as PowerPoint® presentations to support coordinators in their training role.

Support is available from CILT’s Primary Languages website that offers a wealth of practical ideas as well as a wide range of video clips demonstrating languages in action. The website also links to other agencies, such as the British Council, who offer support and funding for primary teachers to travel abroad. You can also find out more about CILT primary events and professional development at the Primary Languages website.

Primary Language Teacher Award 2010

Do you know an amazing language teacher? Tell us about them by nominating them to be Primary Language Teacher 2010. Prizes include a class trip to France for 30 children! Visit



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