Ministers told to enforce language learning

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STUDYING a foreign language should be made compulsory in both primary and secondary school to tackle the country’s “monoglot culture” according to a new report published today.

The Lords EU Committee has called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to ensure modern languages are taught throughout school as part of the on-going review of the national curriculum.

Their report warns that UK university students’ failure to speak other languages has stopped them from being able to take part in study exchange schemes and placements in other European countries.

The report says: “The monoglot culture that prevails in the UK has prevented its students from participating in mobility to the same degree as other member states.”

It says take up of the EU funded Erasmus programme is lower in the UK because pupils cannot speak foreign languages.

Erasmus is a flagship EU educational exchange programme for university students, teachers and institutions.

It was introduced to increase mobility within Europe and encourages student and staff to travel abroad for work and study, and promotes trans-national co-operation between universities across Europe.

The committee’s role is to consider reports in Europe before decisions are taken in Brussels and to then make recommendations to Government. It has published a report today on the modernisation of higher education in the EU.

The committee’s chairman, Baroness Young of Hornsey, said: “The Erasmus programme, in particular, is an excellent scheme, which rightly enjoys a strong reputation across Europe and which helps to deliver the kind of well-rounded graduates we want to see entering the job market.

“However, the UK’s participation has been historically low compared to other large member States. Making language learning compulsory in both primary and secondary school would be one way of increasing the UK’s participation in addition to taking steps to ensure a more diverse range of participants.”

The requirement for teenagers to study a modern language at GCSE was ended by the last Labour government in 2004 leading to a massive slump in the numbers taking the subjects.

The coalition has raised the significance of modern language at GCSE by including it in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – a performance measure it launched last year which is used in the secondary school league tables.

The EBacc is awarded to students who achieve at least six A* to C grades in subjects comprising a modern language, maths, English, a humanity – either history or geography and two sciences.

The call for language learning to be made compulsory has been welcomed by a Yorkshire school which teaches French, Spanish and Mandarin to children as young as three.

David Goulbourn, the head master of Fulneck Junior School, in Pudsey, said: “I think it is right. Making it compulsory is imperative. We are going through a difficult time as a continent and I think being able to converse and do business in French, Spanish and German will be very important. I think Britain has been asleep for far too long. We need to wake and get into the real world.”

Mr Goulbourn said Fulneck was not only promoting European languages but Mandarin to prepare pupils for a world where China was the largest economy.

He said: “Some of our older senior students from Hong Kong and China have been teaching the juniors about the language and culture and the younger ones absolutely love it.

“We are creating bilingual learners and some of our pupils are joining the senior school who are very accomplished in French or Spanish.”