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 918.

    In many scientific studies I've seen recently, they have highlighted the benefits of learning another language from a very young age (e.g. better memory). I think starting as an early teenager at 13, children often don't have the patience to learn a new language.
    Also @Big John the Red, the language of Brazil is Portuguese, which in my opinion is an overlooked language despite its usefulness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 917.

    "7 is too late"
    What is your proposed teaching method?

    The focus on spoken language doesn't guarantee better usage in your own language.

    A significant section of the world who are illiterate speak more than one language.

    As for judging the medium of web for grammar misjudging the idiolect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 916.

    I hate to admit it; I'm 29 and I'm still learning English every day, thanks to a state education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 915.

    7 year olds learning a foreign language?
    my 6 year old grandson doesnt even get taught english spellings at his school, (6 year olds dont get taught this yet apparently).
    what a joke foreign languages before being taught english.

  • rate this

    Comment number 914.

    Ironic for those with the "Speak English first" campaign is that their comments seem to be littered with misspellings and poor grammar! People who have second, or subsequent, language skills usually have a greater-than-average ability in their primary language, so an English-speaking child given the opportunity to learn an additional language will be benefited, not deprived. Oh, and 7 is too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 913.

    Just teaching the use of the apostrophe with the concepts of verb and possessive adjective or pronoun will be a massive leap forward!

    As a French I have been raised with poems and dictation from the age of 6. Useful for learning 4 more languages. The concepts are the same in every language of the world so if you understand them in your language you can understand how any other language works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 912.

    With the expansion of private space travel, wouldn't it be a good idea to teach them Klingon?

  • rate this

    Comment number 911.

    Most of the secondary schools in my area including the one I work at have finally understood that trying to teach pupils a second language when their grasp of English is not perfect is ridiculous. By all means give a seven year old a taster session but to try and teach a second language is not helpful as those who work in schools know.
    Also the primary teachers will not have the necessary skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    A very right decision. Learning your own and other languages early on is very useful

  • rate this

    Comment number 909.

    I'm sure being forced to learn a foreign language will be an absolute breeze for say, a Somali child who is already having to learn English & Somali.


    They will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    It's about time we "caught up" with the rest of the world,we are way behind others when it comes to languages,however why Latin is suggested beats me as apart from a few professions,it is a dead language.We need more languages for business and not just rely on others to speak English.BBC gives no space for further expansion as the word limit is very tight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 907.

    813. Welsh is not pointless with no cultural advatage! Being bilingual from birth meant that I have a been able to learn german easier than monolinguists who were in my class. Hope they introduce learning a foreign language in Wales too from 7.

  • rate this

    Comment number 906.

    @868 - social skills should be taught at home, then enhanced at school. That would free up a lot of curriculum time, unburden non-teaching time and have a positive effect on discipline.

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    As a final note I spent years training my mind and know that the human mind is capable of much more than the edu. system lets you believe.

    Multiplying two 11 digit numbers only writing down the answer is easy and anyone could do it...

    other skills are best learnt later: speed reading and lang. if taught properly

    @902 but GCSE history won't fix this - it specialises- you should see wiki

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    A pome for use in schools:
    Gove is a p*llock. You know it is true.
    He's ruining the system for me and for you.
    He thinks that good teachers come out of a tin
    To be picked up and used, or tossed in the bin.
    Teachers are people with hopes, fears and aims
    Who resent being pawns in his ludicrous games.
    So here's an idea, Govey, try working with schools
    And stop coming up with these stupid new rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    @893 - rote learning isn't useless, it develops a very valuable skill: memory. Most children are nowincapable of memorising any more than a few words (not even in the right order) because they haven't been trained from an early age to do so. Memory is a skill you can/should develop. Adding cognitive to rote provides useful benchmarks and references and helps develop language or other skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    @ 880

    second point
    "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    history should be compulsory. im 21 and im embarrassed with the lack of knowledge that those just 2 years below me have about past events. even events that have happened in the last 30 years


  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    About time too.

    It is true that most English speaking countries do not have a large population of bi or trilingual people compared to say China or Nigeria for example, Arabic is spoken across half the planet as well as English and so is Spanish and now Mandarin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    For all the people that are saying this is not necessary, waste of time, bs because english is the most know and spoken language internationally. Yes this is correct for now but what bout in 10/20years time? With China wealth strength and production export growing at this current speed it wouldn't be surprising if more and more people started to learn their language so why not prepare them now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    Bring it on. should have been done years ago. Add Mandarin to the options and if possible start younger.


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