David Blunkett letter on languages

The Rt Hon David Blunkett
MP for Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough

2nd Floor, MidCity House
17-21 Furnival Gate
SHEFFIELD S1 4QR
Telephone 0114 2735987
Our Ref DB/TB
26 February 2013

Ms Eva Lamb
Language College Director
King Edward VII School

Dear Ms Lamb

Thank you for being in contact.

I have no objection at all to you using my letter in relation to your campaign.

I do not believe that any of us can take great pleasure in the political arena from our legacy in relation to language tuition and the way in which we have approached this.

I was, of course, responsible for developing language specialisms in schools (including King Edward VII) and I am proud of this. However, we were not as committed and enthusiastic as we should have been about developing primary provision or the use of the Internet, which we always used to talk about but did not manage to promote in the way that I had hoped (by getting us linked up to countries across the world).

I am pleased that the Secretary of State has recognised the importance of language in primary schools but, as you rightly point out, without the support and advice (and the networks), and given the run-down of teachers available to teach such languages, this is actually going to be one of those challenges which is in danger of failing (and the schools will be blamed).

I particularly take on board the point you made about non-European languages. Downgrading these not only disadvantages pupils (and it is a quarter of Sheffield’s school population) who have a second language outside the “modern-European” designation, but also the opportunities this brings in relation to our economic and business links across the world. I think we are genuinely missing a trick.

I hope that your campaign will be successful. We have shown, in relation to the campaign against the EBac, that it is possible to get even the present Secretary of State to change his mind.

Who knows?

With best wishes

Yours sincerely

DAVID BLUNKETT

—–Original Message—–
From: eva lamb >
To: dbconstituency >
Sent: Sat, 9 Feb 2013 21:13
Subject: Query from Sheffield teacher

Dear Mr Blunkett

My name is Eva Lamb. I live in Sheffield and work at King Edward VII School, where I hold the post of Language College Director. I have been teaching Modern Languages for more than 20 years and also run the Yorkshire Branch of the Association for Language Learning, the professional association of language teachers in England.
I am keen to hear your views on the importance of language learning and the policies that should be adopted by your party to reverse the recent decline in the numbers of students learning languages in our schools, colleges and universities.

I believe that too many young people are leaving the UK education system without the language skills needed for success in their future working and personal lives and to meet the needs of the UK as a global economy and multilingual society.

Whilst in my own school languages still have a high profile and are thriving, I know of many other schools in the city where the situation is desperate, with fewer than 10% of students taking languages at GCSE. These young people are allowed to opt out of life chances before they even realise who important languages are going to be. At King Edward VII we see many of these return to language learning in our evening classes long after they have left school, saying how bitterly they regret not having developed their language skills at school.
The current government, whilst paying lip-service to the importance of language learning, is overseeing a situation where there soon will be no accreditation available for the many languages spoken by our ethnic minority communities. The Asset Language scheme, which accredited 25 languages at various levels and is run by OCR, has announced that it will cut the majority of their languages, leaving many of our young bilingual learners without a qualification in their home language. It is a scandal that in the middle of a recession, this country is about to decimate a rich resource. Locked in some of our poorest communities, this resource is completely sustainable and promises to boost export growth. Over one million young people in state schools speak another language at home – Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Somalie and Urdu to name but a few. But instead of investing in this talent, the government allows this resource to go to waste.

Mr Gove has announced his intention to make modern languages statutory in primary schools from 2014. Only two years ago Sheffield LA was forced to dismantle all the infra-structure that supported primary languages: we lost our Languages Adviser who had worked tirelessly to build up languages across the city, alongside the two primary language consultants who guided and supported primary schools with the introduction of language teaching. Now that all this expertise and support has been destroyed the government decides to make languages statutory, leaving primary schools out in the cold to sort themselves out!

I and many of my colleagues in the language teaching community would be very interested to know whether you and your party are aware of our concerns and if there have been any thoughts or discussions as to how to address these concerns.

With your permission I should like to post this message and your response on the Speak to the Future website (www.speaktothefuture.org) which will publish the views of MPs on this subject.

With best regards

Eva Lamb

Language College Director, King Edward VII School
www.kes.sheffield.sch.uk/
Chair, ALL Yorkshire
www.all-languages.org.uk/

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