Learning a language should be compulsory in schools, says report

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

  • Published
childrenImage source, davidf
Image caption,
In Northern Ireland, learning a second language is not a statutory part of the primary school curriculum

Learning a foreign language should be made compulsory in primary schools here, a new report has said.

In Northern Ireland, learning a second language is not a statutory part of the primary school curriculum.

In England and Scotland, by contrast, primary school pupils are expected to learn a foreign language.

The review of primary languages in Northern Ireland has been carried out by researchers from Stranmillis University College.

The authors surveyed language learning at over 100 schools.

They found that Spanish and French were most popular in schools where languages were taught.

Some pupils also learned German or Mandarin.

Image source, Michael Dykstra
Image caption,
The authors surveyed language learning at over 100 schools

However, not all primary schools taught an additional language.

This led the authors to conclude that there was "a lack of equity in provision for children" across the country.

They also found little consistency in how often languages were taught to pupils, and when they began to learn a language.

Some primary principals also expressed concerns about the amount of support and resources available to their teachers and pupils.

However, the majority of principals and teachers who participated in the study agreed that learning an additional language was important and valuable.

'Diverse cultural identities'

But they also said teaching foreign languages was not a priority for schools as it was not assessed or measured.

The report's authors said that the development of language skills was "vital for economic prosperity, social cohesion and the acceptance of diverse cultural identities".

"It is hoped that the findings of this study may encourage policy makers, business and educational providers to support the revision and improvement of current curriculum provision in additional language learning," the report said.

It also said that language learning was "conducive to economic growth and that can enhance the lives and future employability of children and young people".

Across the European Union (EU) more than 80% of primary pupils learn an additional language.

The research was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Languages Council.

It is a body established by the Department of Education, and over 20 organisations are represented on the council, from business, education and the community sector.