Many primary school teachers 'ill-equipped' to teach languages

School pupils Schools in England are falling behind their European counterparts, the report says

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Almost a quarter of primary schools in England have no staff with a language qualification higher than a GCSE, new research suggests.

All schools in England will be expected to give seven to 11-year-olds language lessons from September.

But the annual Languages Trends Survey, which polled 591 primary schools, showed many teachers were not confident about the changes.

The government said its reforms were "driving a languages revival".

The study, published by the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council, examined the state of foreign language learning in English schools in 2013-14.

Rusty O-levels

It found that in 23% of primary schools surveyed, the highest language qualification held by teachers was a GCSE - while 31% said they had teachers with an A-level in a foreign language.

Just 30% of those polled had a teacher with a language degree - down from 40% last year.

One teacher said: "Most staff feel ill-equipped to teach foreign languages. As a teacher you want to feel confident that you know your subject matter well.

"A rusty O-level and only being a page or two ahead of the children is not ideal."

The study also warned England's primary schools were falling further behind their European neighbours.

While some European countries were now trying to offer pupils a second foreign language, English schools struggled to ensure all children knew the basics of one, its authors noted.

Child writing at school The report reveals almost one in four primary schools have no staff with a language qualification higher than a GCSE

The study said many primaries did "not have access to teaching staff with specialist training in the teaching of languages to young children".

It added that "many primary classroom teachers have neither sufficient knowledge of another language nor sufficient confidence in their language skills to be able to teach a language to the level expected in the new national curriculum".

The introduction of compulsory language teaching was welcomed by many schools, but there was concern among teachers, the survey said.

Some 85% of primaries surveyed backed the change and 42% said they already met the new criteria.

But 29% of teachers said they were not confident about giving foreign language lessons. That figure has risen 2% in the last year.

Encouraging signs

The report also polled 415 state secondary schools in England.

In this category, its results suggested that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) - which requires pupils to score at least C in a language as well as other subjects at GCSE level - had had a positive impact, with a rise in the number of secondary schools where more than half of students take a language.

But just 27% of those surveyed ensured pupils could continue the language they learned at primary school.

And authors said "many lower-ability pupils do not learn a foreign language at all".

Co-author Teresa Tinsley said there were "encouraging signs", but stressed: "Our findings show there is still much to be done before language teaching and learning in English schools can be given a clean bill of health. "

A Department for Education spokesman said: "After years of decline, our reforms are driving a languages revival in schools.

"Our EBacc has already meant that thousands more pupils are studying languages at secondary school - almost half of state-school pupils entered languages at GCSE last year, the highest level for seven years."

He added that the government was spending £350,000 to support compulsory language teaching for seven to 11-year-olds.

The study applies to England. No comparable figures were produced for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    156.John Campbell
    "Such a human being does not exist."

    According to some posters, they do; just not in Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    What a pathetic country we now live in.
    We are led to believe that our children leave school barely able to read,write,add,subtract.etc etc.
    Granted they do not speak fluent French,German,Latin Spanish,Italian Russian etc etc.
    Get a grip on reality.
    We should not expect Primary School Teachers to be experts in every subject under the sun.
    Such a human being does not exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Wait a second. Primary school teachers these days teach a minimum of 12 different subjects, so are we saying that they should have a qualification beyond GCSE for all subjects that they teach? When was the last time you met someone with 12 A Levels? No, thought not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Clearly the solution is to make the ability to speak a foreign language a prerequisite of becoming a teacher along with the rest of the entry qualifications.
    Of course this will not happen because of the cost. Looking at recent trends there is likely to be a serious shortage of both primary and secondary teachers in the very near future. One of the reasons why Mr Gove wants unqualified teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    PBS - discussion on schools - a researcher pointed out that even the lowest scoring child in a class of 31 Now considered over large by most US teachers who has an excellent teacher who can engage the children does better than any child in a small class with a dud teacher.

    Seems to me school is more about stamping out the light of curiosity and learning - don't think for yourself -

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Education is getting the basics right and then everything else is stimulating the desire to know more. We cannot teach everything so lets just show our pupils the joy of learning.
    A good primary school teacher with this gift can teach any subject so stop knocking teachers. We are not robots. We are a group of people who have this skill, and should be left to get on with our job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    150 D I would be interested to hear your solution to this apparent problem. An earlier comment suggested that 'we train the wrong people to be teachers'.
    In reality we take and train the best of the people with the necessary qualifications who apply to become teachers. Are you suggesting we offer greater incentives or perhaps force 'suitable people' to take up this career?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Many primary school teachers are Ill equipped to teach. Never mind languages, they are generally useless. They don't stretch the talented and fail to help the least able. Strolling into schools with a 1 year PGCE, and taking charge of children's makes my shudder to think how much damage they do. And then they go on strike for even more pay. Useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    148.The J Hoovers Witnesses
    "Oh. Why did Frau Merkel address both Houses Of Parliament in German, for the main body of her speech, then?"

    err... perhaps to annoy and alienate British politicians and most of the electorate within their natural habitat.!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    138. Frowny Face
    "Who cares. The world language is ENGLISH!"


    Oh. Why did Frau Merkel address both Houses Of Parliament in German, for the main body of her speech, then?

    (Sorry for wasting people's time in accidentally posting the whole of your rather silly comment earlier).

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Some years ago, I moved to a village called Horsley. Keen to contribute to the community, I contacted its C of E primary school with a well-researched offer to give entertaining tuition in either French or German to any of its pupils who might be encouraged to become interested. The then Head Teacher never bothered to call me back! You can throw pearls to a Schwein, but you cannot make it drink!

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    144 Rich

    If every responsible parent notices this like you in this country, their kids would be as Rich as you in future, otherwise, would be as poor as a Hoover

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    138. Frowny Face
    Who cares. The world language is ENGLISH! Aviation, computers, law, finance, engineering, science. Its all done in English. Stop wasting kids time learning French. No one uses it apart from the French and they all speak English anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Teachers should be able to converse, read and write in English at a high standard, that is the first priority.
    After that, as language is easier to learn at early age, the inclusion on a foreign language can both aid children's future job prospects and also broaden their culture. Based on numbers Chinese (Mandarin) and Spanish appear the logical choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    i dont care if my kids dont learn other languages
    i do care that my childs education is being used as a football in an international game of who came work them the hardest

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    So in this country, many people cannot speak and/or write in English properly because they were taught by teachers with qualifications under a GCSE level, cannot speak and/or write a foreign language in a reasonable level. Not interested in maths and could not count without fingers and toes to help, not interested in science and technology, not interested in anything at all apart from themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I lost my teaching job because of my language. Make up your mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    What about primary teachers who can't even speak or write correct English? The top priority for languages must be to instil good English, particularly at primary level. Foreign languages can come later, preferably at secondary level after the '3 Rs' have been well established. While a foreign language may be useful for a future career, the truth is that most children will never need or use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Damn those pesky teachers, thank you BBC !!!
    Living here, teaching our kids, I dunno .....

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Who cares. The world language is ENGLISH! Aviation, computers, law, finance, engineering, science. Its all done in English. Stop wasting kids time learning French. No one uses it apart from the French and they all speak English anyway!


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