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Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I want to say a few words in support of the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill. I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, who has done so much in this House to harry the Government about this lamentable subject.
I should declare an interest, although not a financial one, as I am president of the Franco-British Society and a former member of the Franco-British Council. The result of the picture painted by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord is most evident if one travels in France. It is unusual to see British tourists able to book a hotel room or order a meal in a restaurant in any language other than English. Many British people now go to France to live and many of them are unable to speak the language. That is not good from Franco-British relations as it causes misunderstanding.
The cultural side has not been touched on today. I think in particular of French literature, which suffers badly in translation, especially in poetry which is virtually untranslatable. An example of the decline would be in publishing. Only 40 years ago in English biographies of French authors all the quotations were given in French. At present, I suppose at the insistence of the publishers with an eye to sales, all quotations have to be given in English translationand very flat they sound in the case of poetry. One sometimes begins to wonder what all the fuss is about.
Why cannot we provide in our schools the kind of modern language teaching which our European partners provide? Why does it have to be left to the private sector? Would it not be better to spend a little more money as they do in Europe? Why cannot we make more effort to encourage more modern language teachers from abroad to come and work here? There was a French teacher in my school and I have always been grateful to him. Why cannot we encourage retired teachers to return to teaching part-time, especially qualified language teachers?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I never want to see anyone who taught me French coming out of retirement! I loathed learning French and have always been bad at languages. That is ridiculous because in countries where people have to learn more than two languages everyone does so without any trouble at all. It is ridiculous that we find ourselves in this situation and there is much that we could and should be doing about it and I very much hope that the noble Baroness will tell us many of the things we are intending to do about it. In particular, we should begin learning languages in primary schoolit should be second nature to all of us.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may give him the following example. An airport in the North East is recruiting ground staff in Spain and Scandinavia because no local school leavers have the elementary language skills needed to make announcements. Language learning is not irrelevant to the employment of people who are not going on to higher education. That is one of countless examples.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, yes, but in that case perhaps we should look at the curriculum to see whether what we are including for GCSE languages has any relevance to that kind of career. From what I have seen of what my children are doing, I see nothing of relevance. From the position of those pupils, I can imagine wanting to drop languages because what I was being asked to learn was entirely boring. At age 14, you do not focus on the idea of your career as being part of a local airport ground staff.
It is necessary that effort is made in other directions, particularly by the careers departments and services at an early stage to make pupils aware of the difference it will make to have a foreign language. If we are to move to a baccalaureate system, which I would like to see, a language ought to be part of that. It should be recognised by those considering going on to higher education that they must take a language with them; that that would be part of what they were expected to bring as a portfolio into the future.
There is much that we can do other than what is proposed in the amendment. My wishes would be to go in exactly the opposite direction; to take mathematics and science out of level A because if you are not going into a career which needs mathematics or science, you have studied almost everything you need by the age of 14. Apart from in my degree, I have not in ordinary life used any mathematics that I had not learnt by the age of 14. I enjoy science, but the science knowledge that I need in everyday life I had probably learnt by the time I was 12.
The point of slimming down the core curriculum is to give us the opportunity to broaden and diversify, and to ensure that what is in the middle is the stuff that needs to be there. I believe that these subjects belong where they are going to bethat is, at the second levelbut that is against the background of us as a nation needing to be 10 times better at languages. However, I do not believe that the amendment is the way to achieve that.
I understand that foundation subjects must be part of the curriculum. In terms of key stage 4, Clause 81 provides that modern foreign languages shall be a compulsory part of the curriculum. The issue which the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, rightly raised is that under Clause 82 we are moving forward to the 14-19 proposals and the consultation paper raises the possibility of people dropping modern foreign languages more easily than they can under the current disapplication procedures, which are limited. Those schools which are jumping the gun should not be doing so. I hope that they will be duly reprimanded.
I endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, about the teaching of modern foreign languages. The Minister has been leading up to the task force. I hope that she will speak positively about the teaching of languages. The example of Ireland puts us totally to shame. It is appalling that a country with only 2.5 million people is putting more people through French than this country with almost 60 million people. It is vitally important that we do something to regenerate and revive the teaching of modern foreign languages in this country.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 117 and 118 which would put a modern foreign language back into the core curriculum. Sadly, I follow the view of my noble friend Lady O'Neill and others that the present situation as regards language teaching is deeply worrying. The Cambridge Language Centre points to the Government's own Green Paper and sets out the sorry state about which we have already heard: the shortage of modern language teachers; A-level entries down from 199192 and so on. The clear urgency for dramatic improvements is there for all to see.
Does the DfES's own paper on language learning provide an answer to this problem? I am sorry to say that in my judgment it does so hardly at all. As is so often the caseone finds this at its worst in election manifestosit is strong on rhetoric, ambitions, aspirations, challenges, "we wants" and "will be" as though defining a need or expressing a desire is the equivalent of providing a solution.
Frankly, the situation calls for drastic and immediate measures if it is not to deteriorate. It is already deteriorating fast. I must emphasise again that in language learning it will be 10 years on, 2012, before long-term plans are fully operational for primary school pupils, rightly identified by a number of people as the key time at which to start language learning. Noble Lords will note that at that stage, they will be entitled to learn a foreign language, not automatically taught one.
In reply, can the Minister give your Lordships some idea of government thinking and a real action plan for the long and short term. For example, are the Government likely to follow up some of the helpful
Of even more significancean important example was given by my noble friend Lady O'Neillhe points to the statistics. One in 10 companies is currently losing contracts because of their workers' inability to speak a language. It is not alarmist to say that by continuing along this complaisant path we put our own citizens at a considerable disadvantage in today's increasingly global job market. And, alas, government policies do nothing to correct that sharp downward trend. On the contraryit is the nub of the amendmentthe Cambridge Language Centre puts it this way:
There is already in existence a system of so-called "disapplication" which enables children who are unsuited to be exited from the language programme. So why is there need for that system to be extended and accelerated, particularly when it is clear that virtually every independent school will continue to teach foreign languages as part of the basic curriculum? Not simply Ireland, but all European countries will be doing the same. That is hardly the best way to encourage "inclusiveness" in this country which is one of the Government's major objectives. It is in order to prevent those consequences that I fully support the two amendments.
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