You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

Over the summer we had the usual hand wringing about poor exam results and the decline in entries for Modern Languages. As always some of this handwringing came from the very people who have taken away – some would say have wantonly destroyed, I cannot possibly comment –  a huge raft of support for language teachers across both primary and secondary education. I toyed with the idea of an open letter to Nicky Morgan and a number of people told me what a good idea this was.  But would she take any notice? A bit of me feels there has to be a better way. A way that will have clout and not just seem grumpy.

Last week I was intrigued to see that suddenly, in a time of austerity and in the face of vast cuts to schools’ budgets, our Chancellor found £10m to support the teaching of Mandarin. Now I have nothing against the teaching of Mandarin. Some months ago I wrote this piece for School Week in which I make my views clear.

£10m is actually a drop in the ocean to do a really good, replicable and sustainable job on the teaching of Mandarin. Or would be if we were not in a time of austerity and Heads were not having to make teachers redundant, no longer fund Foreign Language Assistants and make choices that may well impact negatively on the life chances of their pupils. And it is far, far more than is going into supporting MFL teaching.

What I really want to do is just to remind readers of what has been lost to the world of language teaching. Lost because it would appear that certain Ministers and others close to Ministers had a personal dislike of what thousands of languages professionals across primary, secondary, FE and HE saw as sensible, well researched and practical support. Support for teachers that had a positive impact on Languages Teaching, research, pedagogy and most importantly engagement, motivation, take-up and exam results. None of the work was politically biasied and had been produced under both Labour and Conservative administrations over 5 decades.

All of this work was funded with public monies – £millions – carried out by teachers for teachers. It seems to me scandalous that the present government has adopted a scorched earth policy. That it has taken away from teachers and learners well crafted and internationally recognized support systems. The DFE is continuing to support 9 regional projects but the sums are small and the time frame short. There may even be some totally unnecessary reinventing of the wheel going on? This is not about CILT. Life moves on and times and need change but it is about the destruction of what was good and the idea that just because a previous government created “things” that these “things” must at all costs be destroyed! Scary! Some of these resources may have need culling or updating but actually not that many as we had got rid of the less usable stuff on a regular basis in ensuring that everything in the public domain was of exceptional quality.

So what has been lost?

A National Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research – Yes, CILT the National Centre for Languages (also known as the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research) was ahead of ResearchEd (and I love these people!) in making the links between academic research, action research done by teachers in schools and classroom practice

The national resource library with precious thousands of precious texts – though rumour has it that it lurks somewhere in the depths of a Cambridge Library..maybe we could be told the answer?

The secondary websites full of thousands of resources to support MFL teaching in secondary schools and Post 16

The Primary Languages Training Zone – thousands of film clips and CPD materials to support primary language teachers. Many of whom are not specialist linguists and were using these resources to merge their excellent understanding of primary pedagogy with sound language teaching

Hundreds of well researched, well crafted and easily usable materials designed by teachers for teachers to support transition in languages

Language Improvement materials in French, German and Spanish to support primary teachers foreign language skills

A fantastic phonology module to teach non-specialist teachers and thus their pupils accurate pronunciation in French, German and Spanish

A virtual home for all language teachers, state and independent

Real links to and between ITE, HE and languages

A comprehensive national and regional “training trainers” programme so that schools would not need to spend money on Consultants! Good financial sense this one just in case anyone is worried about money.

And the above were just the tip of the iceberg!

Many people have made various efforts to salvage some of these materials but it is an impenetrable task.

Of course there is much good work still going on. ALL does what it can with limited funding but so much depends on goodwill and time given freely.

Brilliant individuals such as Janet Lloyd

and Clare Seccombe

are remarkable and share everything they do via their websites.

The Ensemble Languages project funded until April 2016 by DFE is doing great work as are other funder projects but this is short term!

So new money for Mandarin looks to me a little suspect. And isn’t it interesting that those quoted in the national press about how marvellous this is have never had to teach languages on a tight budget, lose a Foreign Language Assistant, advertise and re-advertise for a Head of Languages or make staff redundant in a choice of what their school can offer in the way of languages.

As one of my Twitter friends @nicscho  put it – and she is not a language teacher – “seems to me like the educational curriculum is now a bargaining tool in trade & business deals. Whatever next?”

I have just one question for Nicky Morgan.

Can you at least consider finding a way of language teachers having easy access to all of those materials which are free of political bias and would help teachers to help children and young adults to love language learning? It would cost little or nothing. Certainly not even the tiniest fraction of £10m.



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