Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Deutsch, Francais, Espanol, Portugues, Italiano?

The greatest gift a child can have is that of communication, which enables them to understand and interact with those around the. Communication is either verbal or visual, which would include the written word.

In 2002 government decided to remove the requirement to learn a foreign language up to age 16 - which meant that no child in a state school was being forced to take a GCSE in any language other than English. In 2006 schools were worried that take-up of language learning had reached the point of no return.

In 2007 it was announced by then Education Minister Alan Johnson that
all children should learn a language from the age of seven.
This should happen by 2010, as part of the next curriculum overhaul.
Later that year £50million was poured into language teaching for Primary Schools but only a year later, in 2008, researchers discovered that oral tests were too stressful for teenagers - so testing was diluted and in February 2009 Estelle Morris said the decision to take the  'compulsory' out of language learning had been because it helped get truants back into schools

In September 2009 and despite the £millions spent and the 2007 announcement.
The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) points to a worrying decline in the take-up of modern languages (and wanted) languages to be treated as strategically significant subjects in the same way that science and maths have been championed.
The government said a review of modern languages was currently under way.
"Underway" - two years after being announced they were still talking about it! Alan Johnson's "by 2010" seems to have been ignored, resulting in the latest announcement in the Mail that 60% of GCSE pupils are not learning a foreign language.

It says so on the BBC too, which maintains a consistency of sources, because all but the last reference were taken from the there. Their headline is "Fewer schools hit language target" and they say
Ministers want schools to have "between 50% and 90%" of pupils taking a modern foreign language at GCSE.

But a survey for The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) suggests only 40% of state schools meet this target - and that the trend is downwards.
Reassuringly, according to BBC :-
The government says the proportion of pupils taking languages has stabilised.
It seems somewhat complacent, with the numbers appearing to stabilise at below the set target, and it doesn't exactly need rocket science qualifications to work out why the 'popularity' of foreign languages has declined so rapidly.

The curriculum is designed to make sure everybody is a winner - which means that more and more children are going through the state system without ever having to challenge themselves to do something difficult - they don't even have to learn to tie a tie, the excuse being that they might strangle themselves. They don't really have to learn to spell English - in case it represses their sense of self-expression - so learning to read, write, spell and speak a foreign language would be impossibly difficult especially as it might mean sitting still for a few minutes, which we were told only a few days ago hindered boys' learning.

So schoolchildren are, currently, left with a mere three years - between the ages of 11 and 13 - in which to learn a foreign language, which is when the hormones tend to be doing their worst.

Educational provision in Britain seems to be based on the idea that if children don't want to do something they shouldn't have to - nothing should be absolutely compulsory, not really, or the children might be unhappy.

Once a child has passed the age of asking 'why' questions it can be too late to inspire or challenge them, so when they enter their tumultuous, rebellious, sleepy, teenage years they've never faced a challenge, never managed to do more than they could-without-trying, never taken a risk (because it's too dangerous and somebody might sue) and, unfortunately, probably never achieved anything much either.

It's terribly sad to think we have a generation of children locked into a education system that gives them very little more than the basics. That, in turn, leads to a disillusioned adult population who can honestly tell their offspring that there's no point in bothering to work too hard at school, and there's no need either because there's no need to go to work in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. So a circular pattern is developing resulting in a high proportion of school leavers being functionally illiterate and innumerate - and it's not easy to learn anything if you can't read.

There's no reasonable explanation for this other than apathy and lethargy. Ability levels aren't likely to have gone down in such a short time, but aspiration and the 'need' to learn seems to be disappearing from the national psyche with the result that too many youngsters don't see the need to learn - they don't see the need to learn anything other than what suits their immediate needs, and are able to roll out a list of excuses for failure that would do social or probation workers proud.

Let's wind back the years a bit.

In the past everybody in secondary school, whether it was the secondary modern, grammar or comprehensive, learned French. If it was hard to learn to write the language then teachers at least tried to make sure children could make themselves understood. Statistically this doesn't seem to make sense because French is way down the list of the 'most widely spoken' first languages, but this was for historical reasons dating back to the Conquest when the Court spoke French and because, geographically, France is our closest European neighbour. French is, also thanks to history, closest to English in pronunciation and spelling, while Breton, Cornish and Welsh are themselves very similar.

German is often the next choice - where there is a choice - and for historical reasons too, but
For the most popular foreign languages at GCSE, French and German, take-up declined in England by 45% and 46% respectively between 1997 and 2008.
Even accounting for USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand there are fewer people worldwide who speak English as a first language than those who speak Spanish, which is the 'second' language of USA. Next, after English, is Portuguese which is also widely spoken in South America - don't forget that Brazilians speak Portuguese.

This ties in quite neatly with UK foreign holiday statistics for 2009, and travel stats from 2008, which give Spain the top slot. So we have most British people choosing to take holidays in a country where the language is not one they will have learned at school, but that in itself isn't a problem, not for holidaymakers.

A huge majority of young people who go abroad for holidays will be taken to easy to reach, low-budget, resorts. The reality is that only the wealthiest can afford to travel to distant countries, and package holidays, whether by air or sea, are the cheapest way to travel. But, package holidays reps for British-based companies are usually English, and all resort staff can speak English - because almost all European countries teach English to age 16, it's compulsory. So, with most people choosing beach holidays and rarely doing more than relaxing in the sun for a few days, it's hardly surprising that, although 'foreign travel' may be more common than it was only a few decades ago, the need to communicate with those speaking a different language has diminished.

Communicating in a foreign language doesn't include asking for "payella" in a loud voice, and "pizza" no longer counts as a foreign word.

Let's go back to the the September 2009 report
The University of the West of England is to stop courses in French, Spanish and Chinese this year because they received only 39 applicants.
And Queen's University Belfast is planning to close its German department.
The UK will be held back as it seeks to emerge from recession unless it boosts the number of language graduates, campaigners say.
There is a link, and it is a link to future employability that seems to have escaped our policymakers - who have the responsibility of ensuring that our workforce is suitably qualified.

Mr Brown got it wrong when he said, "British jobs for British workers." He didn't ever exactly backtrack, he never does that, but it was quickly pointed out that no employer is allowed to choose only British personnel or those whose first language is English, in the same way that no other EU employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of nationality or first language.

But employers can, and do, select their workforce on grounds of suitability and employability - which is where British people are beginning to realise that they fail the test. Increasing numbers of British employers are based outside UK - just look at our power suppliers. It doesn't matter too much for those on the ground, but it means that moving up the ladder is impossible because managers need to be "European".

Within the EU - Commission and Agencies - it is now a precondition that employees must speak a second European language fluently, and in fact part of the oral interview will be carried out in the language chosen by the interviewee. This applies to clerical staff as well as administrators, experts and specialists.
  • Which languages will I need to speak to apply?
You will need to know at least two of the 23 official languages of the European Union:

• You should have at least a thorough knowledge of your main language, which must be one of these 23 official EU languages.

• You should have at least a satisfactory knowledge of your second language, which must be different from your main language and will usually have to be chosen from English, French or German (some competitions (interviews), in particular for linguists, may specify different language requirements). In present cases, you will be required to tackle the competition (interview) in your second language.
So, thanks to a series of failures and disjointed policies, 60% of British school leavers, no matter how bright or clever they might be, will find themselves unemployable within the EU organisation - and that includes the Agencies based here in Britain.

This means that EU policies will, increasingly, be made by those who have no natural interest in Britain because it is not their country of birth. That's quite a sweeping statement, but it's human nature - if there isn't anybody truly capable of speaking up for Britain then we will not have a voice and this, in turn, will lead to ever more disenchantment with the EU and distrust of policy decisions.

So what can be done about it? Not much if government is allowed to continue making one-size-fits-all policies, and not much if children are allowed to take the easy route through the education system. It should be a case of the grown-ups knowing what's best, but the grown-ups in charge of decision making have proven themselves to be abject failures - all talk, excuses, empty policies and empty promises, and no action - a fine example to follow.

Schools, that in many cases are struggling to maintain some semblance of order and discipline, aren't going to encourage their students to choose something 'difficult' because it'll affect their league table score, and they won't let children try in case they don't do very well. Compulsion is a rude word in the state sector - because it upsets the children.

If a recalcitrant teenager is given the opportunity to avoid something they either don't understand or don't want to understand they'll take that option - and so won't learn something as apparently unnecessary and incomprehensible as Spanish, German, Portuguese or French. They simply won't bother, there's no need, not ever - they know, because in today's Britain it's the children who have been 'empowered' to make their own decisions.

The downward spiral will continue - if few schoolchildren are learning a foreign language then few adults will be able to speak foreign languages, and few of those will want to be teachers, there's better money and less stress in other sectors of employment.

It's interesting to work out the logic behind this disastrous chain of events - but this government has done it all on it's own - they can no longer lay the blame at the door of the Tories.

Children (students) in state schools who will be taking their GCSEs in 2010 will be the seventh successive year group whose secondary education has been dictated by the current government's curriculum policies, although it's unlikely that they will be in power when the results are published.

New rules forcing them to remain in full time education until age 18 (even though they can marry at age 16) will not hide the decline in standards and outcomes - but no doubt a Labour Opposition spokesperson will point out the differences, pointing at the 'elite toffs' of the private sector who have been educated by those who job is to make children learn and make them achieve.

Disjointed policies appear to have ensured that British (and specifically English) adults are incapable of working outside this country because they seem to have ignored the facts of nature  and failed to understand that child-centred learning can often fail the adult the child will become.

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