New curriculum 'to make languages compulsory from seven'


Labour's Stephen Twigg backed the government plan for languages

Related Stories

Learning a foreign language will be compulsory from the age of seven in England's primary schools in an overhaul of the national curriculum, the education secretary is to announce.

Michael Gove will also say later this week that children as young as five will be expected to recite poetry.

There will also be a new focus on spelling and grammar.

The plans will be put out to public consultation later in the year, ahead of a scheduled introduction in 2014.

The proposals come amid concerns over a decline in pupils taking foreign languages at GCSE.

In 2010, 43% of GCSE pupils were entered for a language, down from a peak of 75% in 2002.

The last Labour government ended compulsory language study for children after the age of 14 in 2004.


Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg defended that decision, telling the BBC's Sunday Politics the "mistake had been not to focus on primary schools first".

He welcomed the government's ideas, saying: "I think it's absolutely right. Children will get a love of languages if they start them young."

Under Mr Gove's plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek, as well as French, German and Spanish.

Start Quote

There will be debate around what is appropriate at different ages”

End Quote Department for Education

The Department for Education said that where English teaching was concerned, the aim was to ensure that pupils left primary school with high standards of literacy.

A systematic approach to the teaching of phonics - the sounds of letters and groups of letters - would be advocated to help pupils to become fluent readers and good spellers, it said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the school leaders' union, NAHT, said "reciting poetry and learning foreign languages are great for young children: both useful and enjoyable. That's why almost every primary school in the country teaches them both already."

However, he added that teachers should be given the "respect and trust for their experience and professionalism" to know how to teach these subjects.

"For example, we have to strike a balance between teaching phonics and reading for meaning and pleasure."

The plans are expected to emphasise the importance of grammar, setting out exactly what children should be expected to be taught in each year of their primary schooling, as well as giving lists of words they should be able to spell.

Pupils would be read poems by their teachers, learn simple poems by heart and practise recitals from the age of five.

'More rigorous'

However, Michael Rosen, the children's writer and poet, expressed doubt about what he called "government diktat".

"I detect in the latest Gove plan - as implied and reported - is what I'll call the itch to instruct and dictate to teachers and children because it will do them good, that teachers and children themselves can't or shouldn't choose, investigate and discover what is suitable and worthwhile," he wrote on his blog.

The Department for Education said Mr Gove was determined to make English teaching at primary schools "more rigorous" and was publishing the draft programme of study now for informal consultation.

A spokesman said: "Some will think aspects are too demanding, others that they are not demanding enough, and there will be debate around what is appropriate at different ages."

He added that public opinion would be considered and the programme redrafted before being put out to formal consultation later this year.

In May, a study commissioned by the Scottish government said children in Scotland should begin learning a second language as soon as they started school at the age of five.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    Its bad enough more & more kids are coming into school with no idea or understanding of the English language at all, and the teachers having to teach them English in addition to teaching their class, without adding additional languages into the mix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    I have to agree with these proposals to a certain extent. My love of language & poetry was inspired by Michael Rosen & I could recite his poem 'I'm the youngest in our house...' at the age of 5. But this will not work for all pupils. One size does not fit all & some children just don't take to languages even their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    Seven is far to late to start a second language. My Spanish nephew is not yet three but speaks both Spanish and English well. His school uses both languages as a matter of course and the vast majority of the children are bi-lingual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    The only point of learning a language is to be able to communicate with other people. That said, everyone knows English nowadays. Therefore, learning a new language is a waste of time for English students. I'm a foreigner and that's the only reason I learned English at school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    The Gaelic schools speak Gaelic for all lessons. They know that the children will get English at home. This ensures that the children become fluent. By the time they get to high school they are bi-lingual. Therefore, forget 1,2,3 hours of lessons a week. It just will not work. Set schools up as Gaelic, Welsh, French, German, Spanish schools and let the parents choose where to send their child.


Comments 5 of 12


More Education & Family stories



  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • Aimen DeanI spied

    The founder member of al-Qaeda who worked for MI6

  • Before and after shotsPerfect body

    Just how reliable are 'before and after' photos?

  • Lotus 97T driven by Elio de AngelisBeen and Gone

    A champion F1 designer and other notable losses

  • A poster of Boris Nemtsov at a rally in St Petersburg, Russia, 1 MarchWho killed Nemtsov?

    Theories abound over murder that shocked Moscow

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.