Languages Working Group – Message from Carol Snow (EL Rep of NPFS)

Languages Working Group

As some of you may know, I am sitting on the Languages Working Group, which is providing strategic advice and direction to the Scottish Government to support its manifesto commitment on languages in Scottish schools. The commitment from the SG is a new language model – 2 + 1  languages in Scotland. What this means is your mother tongue plus two more languages.

We had our first meeting in September and the next meeting is coming up on 16 November.  At the first meeting we had general discussion about the Government plans aimed at starting to identify some of the issues, remit and membership of the Group etc.  One of the actions is that group members were invited to offer papers/information/research data to help shape Group discussions at future meetings.  They want to know how the languages commitment can be taken forward from the different perspectives.

I need to send in any contributions next week so it would be fantastic if you ccould share your views with me by Monday 7 November.  I would really appreciate having your views or directing me towards any research data etc that you are aware of.

Foreign Language Assistants (FLAs) Campaign

The British Council manages the programme of Assistants on behalf of the Scottish Government.  They are seeking to raise awareness of the scheme.  They will soon be writing to
local authorities to start to gauge the demand across Scotland for the next school year.  They are planning to launch the campaign on 11 November and have written to the NPFS for their support.

I would like your opinions on the following:

1.    Do you think we should support the campaign?  If yes, why do you think FLAs are an important resource?
2.    Why do you regard language learning as important?
3.    How do you think language assistants can help Scotland to improve language skills in schools?

Some of the information and facts the Council have told us are as follows:

  • The number of FLAs in Scottish schools has fallen from 284 in 2005-6 to just 59 this year; an 80% decline over the past seven years. If trends continue, it is not an exaggeration to say that language assistants in schools could soon be a thing of the past.

This is an alarming drop for those of us who value the importance of language learning for the cultural and economic benefits it brings to pupils as individuals and to Scotland as a country.   And it is of major concern to British Council Scotland, in running programmes to promote cultural relations between Scotland and the rest of the world, where language provides a common platform for shared understanding and the exchange of knowledge, ideas and information.

The British Council believe there are many important reasons why Scotland should be encouraging more FLAs to come here:

  • Pupils’ chances of achieving ffluency in their chosen language increase under the guidance of a native speaker;
  • Speaking foreign languages shows our willingness to engage with the wider world, but it also has potentially huge economic benefits too;·
    Pupils benefit from engaging directly with someone from another culture;
  • Languauge teachers benefit from being able to refresh their language skills by conversing with a native speaker;
  • Employing a language assistant can greatly assist in helping to deliver the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence and the Scottish Government’s desire to see all pupils
    able to speak two languages plus their mother tongue;
  • Assistants can make a very valuable contribution beyond language departments in cross-curricular and interdisciplinary activities e.g Language Baccalaureate projects.
  • FLAs can help local authorities to consolidate existing international links or twinning arrangements, and support individual schools with international projects and
    school partnerships.
  • University languages departments tell us that the English Language Assistant (ELA) programme is crucial to their own ability to provide an international residency
    element to many courses, an element which counts towards the formal professional registration of our future language teachers.
  • There is a danger that other countries may decide not to take Scottish university students as language assistants in the future, if Scotland does not provide opportunities
    for foreign students to come here.
  • Typically, FLAs are employed by local authorities on a nine-month contract from September to May each year. Anecdotal evidence tells us that the decline in the number of FLAs
    has accelerated in recent years as national and local government budgets have been reduced. This is despite a recent reduction in the cost of hosting a language assistant, from £9,000 per school year to less than £8,000. Assistants can work in up to three schools and sharing an assistant with neighbouring schools means the cost per school works out at just over £2,600. A typical assistant works with around 200 pupils over the school year, a cost of only around £40 per learner per year, or around £1 per week.

Again, if I could have your views by Monday, 7 November, that would be great.

Thanks for taking the time to consider these issues and sharing your views with me.

Best wishes

Carol Snow
East Lothian Representative
National Parent Forum of Scotland