Primary Languages Policy: Step-change or stumbling block?

Primary Languages Policy: Step-change or stumbling block? news post

RiPL’s first webinar on 2nd July 2019 at 7.00pm was attended by 100+ participants. The webinar saw presentations from research, policy and practice and highlighted the importance of modern foreign language learning at and early stage in a child’s development.

RiPL webinar panellists: Florence Myles (Chair of RiPL), Bernardette Holmes (co-Chair of RiPL), and Clare Seccombe (Representative of ALL). Hosted: Hannah Gibson (University of Essex.

Bernardette Holmes discussed the policy landscape, particularly the extraordinary language paradox, as she called it, of finding ourselves in an increasingly multilingual society that for Anglophones is nevertheless becoming increasingly monolingual. She reminded us that the statutory requirement to teach all children a language from age 7 was about offering every child ‘liberation from insularity’, but that the greater degree of autonomy given to schools and the reduction of central and local government support have meant that provision across the country instead of being equitable has become patchy. Bernardette asked where we should have been after four years of equitable statutory requirement if it had been implemented as intended: What would we have expected to see in terms of local agreements primary-secondary with regard to choice of language and time allocation, what should we have expected to see with regard to children’s progress, and assessment, and what kinds of arrangements should there have been at points of transfer and transition?

Florence Myles spoke to the research position, discussing two aspects of the large body of research that has investigated teaching and learning of languages in primary school children: how younger children learn differently to older children, and the importance of motivation, in particular sustaining motivation across transfer. Florence explained that young children rely primarily on implicit learning mechanisms in middle childhood (ages 6 to 12), especially in the earlier phase, which means that for them to be able to learn effectively they need to have rich and plentiful input and to be able to actively engage with that input. The generally short amount of curriculum time allocated to languages in English primary schools makes it difficult for children to be able to do this. Florence pointed out that young children enjoy learning languages, and find it fun and motivating. In the second part of middle childhood, though, children develop more awareness about what they are learning and the progress they make. They begin to appreciate the intrinsic value of languages and why they might be important – or otherwise – to them as an individual. Ensuring that children remain positively motivated across transition through a continued sense of progress is crucial, as it can have grave implications for uptake at GCSE and beyond.

Clare Seccombe, a primary languages teacher representing ALL, also a language consultant and owner of ‘Light Bulb Languages’ began by explaining how the situation had changed since 2012 when there was much more funding and support available, for example with teacher training and up-skilling. Since 2014 there have been some grants to fund large projects but large-scale funding has not been available either nationally or locally, which has meant, for example, that primary schools who previously employed a specialist language teacher were not able to continue to afford their services. She listed considerations that need to be addressed: regular scheduling of lessons, assistance in choosing schemes of work and in developing progress levels, quality CPD, and improvement in transition arrangements: primaries try to make children secondary ready but are secondaries primary aware? Clare explained the importance of unity, and described the work of ALL and its hubs supporting teachers across all sectors.

There was a fantastic selection of questions from attendees which focussed on transition, CPD provision and training, motivation and time allocation (selected summaries of questions and participant interaction below). Unfortunately, due to time constraints, panellists could only answer a few, and we look forward to discussing many of them during future webinars, events, and on our blog in the coming months.

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