Primary Modern Languages Programme stopped in Northern Ireland

By Colletta Smith

  • Published
Sorcha Turnbull teaching
Image caption,
Sorcha Turnbull said she had been given three weeks' notice

Tuesday was the final day of funding for the foreign languages programme for primary schools.

The Primary Modern Languages Programme has been scrapped as part of Department of Education's cuts for the new financial year.

Four hundred and thirteen schools in Northern Ireland have had staff come in to teach Spanish, Irish or Polish.

Eighty-six teachers are employed under the scheme, most working in a handful of schools for a few hours at a time.

The Department of Education said the decision was regrettable but necessary, given the budget cuts they are facing and the fact that the scheme cost £900,000 a year.

They also suggested that schools fund the classes from their own budgets.

The headmaster of Killowen Primary in Rostrevor said that is not possible for his school and was very disappointed the scheme had been stopped.

"If we believe in education for all children equally, then we should provide it for them. It has added an extra dimension to their whole learning in school," he said.

For the teachers, the decisions also has a personal cost.

Three weeks notice

Sorcha Turnbull is a full-time Spanish teacher in nine different primary schools, and was given three weeks notice that her job was coming to an end.

"I'm sure I'm not on my own in having a massive mortgage to pay, and I'm going to have to go around with my CV and hope that some schools will take me on," she said.

She also said that it had been very difficult to tell the children that the Spanish lessons were ending.

"When I told them that there was no more money for Spanish they said 'Miss I'll pay you from my communion money if you come and teach us Spanish,'" she said.

The impact the decision will have on language learning further down the line is hard to quantify, but in England languages have been made compulsory in primary schools, and Scotland have just invested £7.2m in the teaching of a second language in primary schools.