UK wakes up to need for global languages

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 February, 2007, 12:00am

Curriculum changes accommodate fresh demand for choices such as Putonghua

Secondary schools in England and Wales will be able to teach Putonghua, Urdu or Arabic in place of French, German or Spanish under proposed curriculum changes.

Instead of being forced to offer one European language for students from the age of 11, they will be allowed to offer a world language instead.

The shake-up is one of an array of proposed changes aimed at modernising the curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds unveiled this week, and are being put to public consultation.

Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, said: 'The curriculum should evolve to meet a rapidly changing world and enable teachers to teach in a way that will continue to interest and enthuse their pupils.'

Proposed new topics include climate change in geography and the slave trade in history.

The school timetable could also be radically revamped to allow for lessons to be divided into different lengths. This might mean having some lasting just five minutes, to drip feed language learning each day for instance, and others lasting two hours to allow two subjects to be studied together, such as anatomy projects combining PE and science.

Mick Waters, curriculum director at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the aim was to develop a modern world-class curriculum that would inspire and challenge all learners and prepare them for the future.

'The skills young people will need in the unfolding world are very different from those that were seen as essential even when a curriculum for the nation was established in the late 1980s,' he said.

The change in languages policy follows a disastrous fall in the number of pupils taking French and German at GCSE, prompted by a decision in 2004 to allow schools to make languages optional from the age of 14.

Fewer than half of 14 to 16-year-olds now study a language. The reform is also a reflection of a rising interest in Chinese, Russian, Polish and Arabic.

The suggested new key concepts in language learning would reflect the need for pupils to adapt to a globalised world and promote intercultural understanding.

In English the list of contemporary authors that can be studied includes satirist Bill Bryson and fantasy fiction writer Phillip Pullman, while Oscar Wilde has belatedly been added to the list of pre-1914 writers.

Mr Waters stressed there would be no attempt to remove some of the key staples of the curriculum, such as the requirement to study Shakespeare's plays and sonnets in English and the Holocaust in history.

He said: 'Anne Boleyn will still be beheaded, Trafalgar Square will still have taken place in 1805, the Pennines will remain the backbone of England, Romeo will still love Juliet.'