Scottish schools' language funding 'hard to assess'

generic pupils in classroom The Scottish government wants pupils to be taught two languages from primary school

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MSPs do not know if enough money has been allocated to pay for plans to teach pupils two foreign languages from primary school, a committee has said.

The Scottish government wants primary pupils to learn two languages in addition to English.

It has allocated £4m to the proposals - which head teachers have described as a "a drop in the ocean".

A report by the European and external relations committee said it was hard to assess whether the funds were adequate.

A lack of language skills is costing the economy more than £500m a year, the Scottish government estimates.

Start Quote

The government has taken a long-term and ambitious approach to tackling the current shortage of language skills and its impact on the economy”

End Quote Christina McKelvie Committee convener

It wants children to learn a second language from primary one and a third language no later than primary five, the so-called '1+2 approach'.

Most Scottish pupils currently do not start learning a foreign language until primary six.

Committee convener Christina McKelvie said: "The government has taken a long-term and ambitious approach to tackling the current shortage of language skills and its impact on the economy.

"Our committee supports them in this and applauds that funding has been provided to support this at pilot stage.

"But what we have found hard to assess is whether this funding is adequate as it is still not known what the current levels of skills and resources for language learning in schools are."

The committee had spent six months investigating the Scottish government's proposals.

Committee members visited schools to see language teaching in action and meet with parents, teachers and pupils.

'Job market'

They also hosted a conference to bring together policy makers, academics and education practitioners to explore the issues raised during the inquiry.

In its evidence to the committee, the Association of Headteachers and Deputies in Scotland said the £4m that had been allocated was a "drop in the ocean", while the government's own Languages Working Group estimated that two- to three-times that amount would be required.

Ms McKelvie added: "We have uncovered areas that the government should reflect upon as it begins to roll out this policy from pilot to Scotland-wide.

"In particular, whilst the committee believes local authorities require flexibility on how they deliver the policy locally, there does need to be more continuity.

"Therefore, we are recommending that local authorities ensure one language is taught continuously from primary to secondary schools. This will help develop competency and can feed into the local job market more productively."

Ms McKelvie also said evidence given to the committee had shown that acquiring the skills to learn languages was as important as the language learned.

She added: "It is with this in mind that we have recommended the government ensures that children with Additional Support Needs are adequately provided for."

Languages Minister Alasdair Allan said: "Our ambitious languages policy to provide every child in Scotland with the opportunity to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue by 2020 underlines our commitment to supporting a future workforce in a global economy.

"We have already invested an extra £4m to language learning for the forthcoming school year.

"We want all children to be able to benefit from the skills learning a language provides. I thank the committee for their report which supports our ambitions and we will formally respond to in August."

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