The Rose Report and language learning at a young age

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Education expert, Mark Stimpfig, discusses Modern Foreign Language (MFL) learning and the affect he believes the Rose Report will have on the curriculum.

The UK education system is set to face a major shake-up under Government adviser Sir Jim Rose’s report, The Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum.  As part of this change, subjects including geography and history will be omitted from the primary school curriculum and amalgamated into a ‘human, social and environmental’ programme of learning. In addition, the plans state that ICT lessons will become equally as important as numeracy and literacy, and English is to be taught in conjunction with (MFL). These changes suggest that the Government has acknowledged that certain areas of learning within the UK curriculum require a greater emphasis in order to help the education system fulfil children’s needs more accordingly.

As stated in reports, the aim of this overhaul is to slim down the curriculum so that younger children can be taught fewer subjects in greater depth. Sir Jim Rose stated that the Government’s aim is to create and establish a curriculum specifically designed for 21st century learning. To meet these requirements, traditional subjects would be refined into six 'learning areas' and practical teaching elements could be combined to facilitate pupils in applying the knowledge acquired. As specified by Sir Jim Rose, areas of learning are divided up in the following way: understanding English, communication and languages; mathematical understanding, scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding physical health and well-being; and understanding arts and design.

But why is this reform, which has been described as the most dramatic change within the sector for 20 years, taking place and what does it signify for the future of education within the UK? And with the issue of MFL so topical in the media at present, how will combining English with language learning affect the standard of education delivered at primary level?

The value of language learning

Learning a new language is vital within primary schools because it creates extensive opportunities for students and enables them to discover other cultures. In my opinion, the teaching of foreign languages should become more standardised and compulsory from an early age. In many European countries citizens have basic knowledge of three or four foreign languages, and this should be a target within England. The learning of languages at a young age hugely supports and assists pupils, providing them with a distinct advantage in an increasingly global community.
Under the Government’s Key Stage 2 Framework for languages, it is expected that language learning will become compulsory at Key Stage 2 from 2009/2010. As part of this, children need to know and understand another language by the time they reach 11 years of age. According to the DCSF the new implementation will “make a contribution to children’s personal development, fostering their interest and understanding in their own culture and that of others.” 

The implementation of the Rose Report 

With regard to the introduction of the Rose Report and the implementation of MFL into the primary school curriculum, schools will be encouraged to teach MFL within a module called Understanding English, Communication and Languages. The main issue which might prove to be problematic is there is a danger that some schools will misinterpret this guideline and decide to teach English rather than a modern language.

Patrick Le Berre, head of Modern Foreign Languages at Highgate School, a leading independent school in North London, revealed his thoughts regarding possible misinterpretations: “My foremost worry in this respect is that the Rose Report does not specify how much time should be dedicated to languages and this is a concern. However, the overall recommendations seem sensible as it insists on the fact that this module has been created to focus on good practice and methods which can be shared between the two subjects, for example, putting the emphasis on spoken communication. In the module Understanding English, Communication and Languages, the links between English and the chosen language or languages should enable teachers to develop the full potential of teaching through role play and drama for primary language learning. This is all very positive as it does not say that teachers should focus on punctuation or the use of prepositions but this does not prevent teachers from doing this type of grammar activities in a MFL lesson or a workshop common to English and MFL.

“In addition, the fact that the recommendations focus on methods which engage younger pupils should also make the learning of languages easier, so long as there is progression and room for all types of activities. It is recognised in existing practice that relying on drama and role play alone can become slightly boring for the higher ability children and neither does it ensure that weaker children have a secure enough understanding of what they have learnt. However, the report also insists that all four aspects of language - speaking, listening, reading and writing - should be taught regularly and systematically and embedded in each area of learning. Moreover, the activities suggested for assessment and progression to Key Stage 3 should also dispel any doubts that the curriculum should only be about role plays and drama; conversing briefly without prompts is as important as writing several sentences from memory or developing a short text using a model. Therefore, I believe the Rose Report is a step in the right direction,” concluded Patrick.

Furthermore, according to the commission Europeans and their Languages, 65 per cent of Europeans stated school as the place they learnt to speak other languages. The commission also revealed that a large proportion of Europeans believe the best age to start to teach a first AND second language is from the age of six. These points significantly highlight the validity of gaining children’s interest for languages from a young age as this is an ideal time to instil an interest and keenness in children to want to learn. However, the most important thing highlighted is that if beginning to teach languages at primary level it must be achieved in an interesting manner.

To achieve the successful delivery of language teaching in primary years, we need to ensure that the teaching is presented in an engaging way to try to enthuse young children about language learning. But most importantly, the process must be made exciting. Now with the growing popularity and capabilities of digital language laboratories, there is massive scope for learning and teaching to become increasingly innovative. For example, a digital language laboratory such as SONY Virtuoso enables real-life and engaging content, like a news bulletin to be downloaded and used in a classroom environment. Other examples of creative and original ways to successfully deliver the teaching of MFL lessons include using learning platforms to help connect children in different countries, as well as possibly using modern films with subtitles to appeal to learners.

Languages in the primary years – a predominantly positive solution

Those who are bilingual or multilingual truly have such a wide variety of opportunities available to them. There are so many justifications as to why learners should be taught a language whilst at primary school, and no reasons as to why this could be perceived as negative. Knowledge of another language boosts work prospects, ensures greater ease when travelling and creates opportunities to develop friendships with others outside of the English speaking world. We should all strive to further ourselves and our knowledge in order to increase the richness of our experiences in life - communication is the perfect way to achieve this. Communication is at the heart of life and having the ability to increase the level of interaction you are capable of naturally helps you become a more interesting and adaptable person. Instigating language learning from a young age is a way of ensuring that languages are an everyday and accepted part of life, rather than something daunting and intimidating. I predict that the implementation of recommendations of the Rose Report and the way it aims to teach MFL in conjunction with English lessons will be a predominantly positive progression towards encouraging a more language-orientated education system within the country.       

Mark Stimpfig is educational expert, and director of ConnectED

Taken from e-Learning Today.



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