Foreign language teaching policy in primary schools: Wales


Education and training is largely devolved. The Welsh Ministers regulate almost all areas of education in Wales including the education workforce, the national curriculum, and the apprenticeship framework, the system of qualifications and school examinations and most educational institutions.

There are 1494 state schools in Wales, which include nursery, primary, middle, secondary and special schools. 386 of these are Welsh medium, 948 are English medium (others include dual stream and bilingual schools)( 2019).

Welsh language

Welsh, including Welsh second language, is a statutory subject in the Curriculum for Wales. Following the Education Reform Act of 1988, Welsh became compulsory for every pupil at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 in 1990 and from September 1999, Welsh became compulsory at Key Stage 4. The introduction of the Foundation Phase for 3 to 7 year olds in Wales from 2008 has also meant that children in English-medium settings and schools come into contact with the Welsh language at an earlier age due to the Welsh Language Development Area of Learning, an additional requirement for these specific settings and schools.

Modern Foreign Languages

Since 2000, Wales has had a number of strategies designed to support the provision of modern foreign language (MFL) in schools.

Languages Count, the National Languages Strategy for Wales (April 2002) and Making languages count, Modern foreign languages in secondary schools and Learning Pathways 14–19 (July 2010) set out how Wales would promote the learning of modern foreign languages in schools and  improve take-up in Learning Pathways 14-19 in Wales.

In 2008 a revised curriculum was published. This provided a single coherent framework for curriculum, assessment and qualifications system from age 3-19, designed to help improve attainment and widen educational opportunity.

All 11-14 year olds currently learn at least one MFL and, although a modern foreign language is not a statutory subject at Key Stage 2 (KS2), a non-statutory framework and supporting guidance is available for the delivery of MFL at KS2.

The study of an MFL is not compulsory at Key Stage 4 but all schools offer MFL as an option, usually as a GCSE course. Most learners who continue with a language post 16 take AS / A level qualifications. Learners may also learn a language as part of their Learning Pathways 14-19.

Although the performance of Wales’ learners in MFL is strong at GCSE and A-Level there has been a decrease in the number of learners taking language qualifications. A number of factors have contributed to this decline and although this is not a problem unique to Wales, it is one the Welsh Government is keen to address.

The Welsh Government commissioned Estyn, Her Majesty’s inspectorate in Wales, to produce advice for schools on good practice in the planning and delivery of MFL. Thematic Reports published in 2009 and 2016 provided information on factors affecting MFL provision in schools. The British Council Language Trends Survey (Wales) which was first published in 2015 and also provides recommendations.

In 2014, the Welsh Government published Qualified for life: An education improvement plan for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. This outlined a commitment to building an improved, collaborative education system for Wales, working in partnership to support learning.

In response to the decline in the take up of MFL qualifications, in October 2015 the Welsh Government published Global Futures – a 5 year plan to improve and promote MFL. The programme is overseen by a Steering Group, which comprises of stakeholders from across the education sector in Wales. This includes regional education consortia, language institutes, universities and the British Council. Through Global Futures partners Welsh Government continues to raise the profile of, and provide opportunities for, language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools.

2015 saw the publication of Successful Futures, Professor Graham Donaldson’s independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales. A national consultation on the Successful Futures proposals led to A curriculum for Wales – a curriculum for life (2015) which set out the plan for taking forward the    recommendations for a new curriculum for Wales.

Since 2015 Welsh Government has worked in partnership with regional educational consortia and a network of schools from across Wales supported by other experts to design the curriculum for Wales.

The four purposes of the curriculum for Wales are that all children and young people will be ambitious capable learners, enterprising, creative contributors, healthy, confident individuals and ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world. Languages have a key role play in realising these purposes.

Education in Wales: Our national mission 2017-21 set out plans to move Wales’ education system forward, outlining a commitment that learners become increasingly bilingual with a strong grasp of other languages.

The curriculum for Wales published in January 2020 will be used by schools to develop a curriculum for their learners which will be taught from 2022. It includes Languages, Literacy and Communication as one of six Areas of Learning and Experience. Languages, Literacy and Communication brings together Welsh, English and other international languages, allowing learners to learn across languages, make connections and build on previous learning. The term international languages refers not only to the modern languages such as French and Mandarin traditionally taught in our schools but also to community languages such as Polish and Bengali, classical languages, and British Sign Language (BSL). Learners will learn Welsh and English from age 3-16 and at least one international language from primary school.

The Welsh Government (January 2020)

• Welsh Government (2002) Languages Count, the National Languages Strategy for Wales
• Welsh Government (2010) Making languages count, Modern foreign languages in secondary schools and Learning Pathways 14–19
• Welsh Government (2014) Qualified for life: an education improvement plan for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales
• Welsh Government (2015) Global Futures – a 5 year plan to improve and promote MFL
• Professor Graham Donaldson (2015) Successful Futures – Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales
• Welsh Government (2015) A curriculum for Wales – a curriculum for life
• Welsh Government (2017) Education in Wales: Our national mission 2017-21

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