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Fears that foreign language teaching in Highlands is falling behind

By Staff Reporter

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Highland Council has been told that the region’s schools are falling behind Europe when it comes to the teaching of foreign languages – despite a Scottish Government plan to enable pupils to learn up to two different ones.

The so-called one-plus-two programme was launched in 2011 with aim of getting those in school to learn at least one language with the possibility of adding another between P5 and P7.

However, secondary modern languages entries at Level 4/5/6 have seen a reduction of 1.5 per cent over the last five years, amid competition from science technology, engineering and mathematics.

Councillor Deirdre Mackay said: “Quite frankly we have to acknowledge the fact that modern languages are being decimated and we have got to be much more ambitious and much more purposeful in helping our young be able to achieve and be on the same level with their counterparts in Europe.”

Former teacher and head teacher Cllr Graham Mackenzie, who spent more than three decades in education, worries about realising the programmes’ objectives by the target date of 2021.

He said: “Here is a programme that we have been trying to support and encourage and it doesn’t seem to be working.

“So I have real concerns about the implementation of this by the year 2021.

“I really worry about this programme foundering. I mean that sincerely, I really worry – I really want it to succeed. I am not sure I can see how that is going to happen.”

Cllr Alasdair Christie called for a “seismic change” saying getting parents involved was vital but that needed to be aligned with educational delivery while pupils needed to be immersed in the language following the Dutch practice of teaching subjects in English.

“A lot of other countries embrace learning languages in a different way and that is about the dynamic way that parents get involved,” he said.

“Part of the reason our children don’t embrace languages is because of us – because we are the driving force of what interests children and we need to be more proactive.”

But Esme Leitch, the Highland Council Youth Convener, praised the efforts of the local authority, and said: “The continual progress of the 1+2 language implementation plan in Highland is having positive effects for young people and it’s fantastic to see how highly the council values the importance of the opportunity to learn at least one other language throughout education.

“We ask young people to make hard decisions throughout school about their subject choices and for me, it’s important as much as possible is done to ensure that pupils have the option to learn, and continue learning, the language of their choice if they want to.

“This contributes towards an individual’s employability and supporting them towards a positive destination, and in general making the Highlands the best place to be a young person in Scotland.”

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