New curriculum 'to make languages compulsory from seven'


Labour's Stephen Twigg backed the government plan for languages

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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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    A brilliant step.. one of the few things this government is getting uncontroversially right. English is surely the language of business around the world but local languages will have a place in popular communication for a very long time! People will be better off knowing more than just English

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    We started French aged 7 in 1965. Hated and loathed it. Carried on with it until 14 when we selected our subjects for O Level. Why were we not taught German the country with the most powerful economy in the 60s ? No it was Frog for us. The French hated us. Agincourt, Waterloo,and sinking the Vichy fleet didn't help either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    As a frequent buisness traveller, I find other nations usually have English as there second language, as after all it is the international 'Buisness' language.

    So I find it irrelevant for our children to be taught a second language at all.

    However just to contradict myself, if we want our brightest kids to get a buisness advantage, then surely Mandarin or Indian would be more appropriate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    There's no point them learning any European language unless that pupil has any intention of going into a field using it. The reason most countries learn English is because of a cultural and economic domination by the USA and all of that media is in English. They should probably learn a language like Mandarin, Urdu or Hindi which will have domination over time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    Totally agree with the idea, should have been done years ago. As previously stated elsewhere putting it into practice must be done properly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    China used the mass immigration technique to disenfranchise the Tibetans from their customs and religion. The indigenous Chinese are subject to a one child per family regime, which does not apply to immigrants

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    538 roger's comment shows exactly what a hill we have to climb. He is clearly blithely unaware of his mistakes and his wife is an English teacher! Most English teachers in Britain couldn't tell you the basics of English. For example why is the first 'c' in 'accept' hard and the second soft? How the heck are they going to attempt to teach Russian or Chinese? Hahaha...

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    Average age of teacheers is due to increase as they have to work longer. As a generality the older teachers in Primary do not have a second language. So, how are they equipped to teach it? However, if it does not apply to Academies and Gove wants schools to become Acadamies then what power does he have? Is HOT AIR a foreign language?

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    add cold showers to the list of things teachers should make children do + more contact sport on rock-hard pitches; concrete if you can find it+ dunces' hats+ standing up in front of the class to explain their pathetic tatty uniform + length of their hair + six with the ruler for messy homework. And standing in the corner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    Of course the English lanugage is dominated by American-English. The biggest English speaking nation on earth! I for one don't have a problem with that. In fact many of their rules re: spelling make a lot of sense to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    Coming to live in England from India at 13, I had learned very basic Indian languages till then.So post independance, I was in a sec: mod: way behind where I had been in an English speaking school there,& very surprised by the standard of schooling here. My teachers seemed uncomfortable when I couldn't understand what many of the students said.'Eg.. haven't /ain't got no text book'. Still the same

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    First, teach English to the teachers.
    Some of them (teachers) are utterly clueless as far as spelling and grammar are concerned.
    I recently saw an article on a local school's website, written by the Headmaster.
    In my schooldays, any of us -under 12s- writing as he did, would have spent a long time in detention writing 100 times each misspelt word and 10 time each sabotaged grammatical rule.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    teaching language is a great idea, but given the experience of a friend of mine taking his teaching certificate in the UK making sure they all speak English well enough first should be the priority, he was faced with teaching a class where 80% barely spoke english

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.


    Why limit children - can we not have multi-lingual tech whizz kids? They're not mutually exclusive...

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    Yet another pointless campaign of Mr Gove’s. First came the bright idea of doing modular exams at the end of a linear 2 year course for the next academic year group, (which includes my sister - thanks for that by the way, now she has to do 2 maths exams, 9 science modules, 3 science controlled assessments (CAs), 3 English modules, 6 English CAs, 1 10 hour art CA, 3 geography modules,3 geography

  • 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 542.

    Perhaps getting children up to an acceptable standard in English would be a more constructive use of education resourses. Qualifications in science and technology are more important if we wish to remain the inventors and the innovators of marketable goods. Emerging markets already speak english as the standard international language. Mass language education is not necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    1st -our primary has been teaching Spanish to all children for the last 4 years. Our gifted and talented Juniors do French as well. We already thought it was compulsary. 2nd - Gove wants 5 year olds to learn poetry by heart - been doing that for years - we called them Nursery RHYMES. Has this man ever been near a school since he leftor is he truly as stupid as he seems?

  • Comment number 540.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    They been saying this crap about English identity for years now, and they never get passed saying they must do something about it. Let me give you some help here Ed. The White straight English man suffers an identity deficit. He is surrounded by people who have multiple idenities. For example I am Gay and I and English. My cousin is part Jamaican, part Irish and English.


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