Kensington House leading the way for early years in foreign language education
A recent report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute [HEPI] paints a worrying picture for foreign language education in the UK, but one London-based nursery school is very much ahead of the curve in an effort to combat the issue.
The HEPI report cites an EU-wide survey which revealed that a mere 32 per cent of young people in the UK said that they could read or write in more than one language. This total is dwarfed by the 79 per cent in France and 90 per cent in Germany who reported that they could.
The report calls for compulsory language learning to return after it was abolished at key stage four back in 2004, culminating in a fall in the number of students going on to study language subjects at colleges and universities.
Indeed, even at GCSE level the number of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking a foreign language exam has fallen to under 50 per cent, down from three in four in 2002.
The report also recommends that the government subsidise language learning at degree level for strategic and cultural purposes.
Megan Bowler, who authored the report, called the decision to end compulsory foreign languages at GCSE level a “big mistake”, urging the government to safeguard higher education language courses and extra-curricular language learning opportunities.
These concerns also line up with the British Academy's worries. Its chief of languages Neil Kenny pointed out that in the aftermath of Brexit, the need for language skills in diplomatic and trade affairs will be crucial for the UK to prosper.
Yet, in the face of this negative outlook for language learning, one nursery school in the London borough of Kensington is championing language learning at early years level in an effort to encourage children to persist with such subjects through school and into their latter years of education.
Kensington House Nursery School describes itself as going “beyond the traditional early years provision” and looking to provide its pupils with “both the requisite theoretical knowledge and the skills that are easily transferable into their everyday lives and their future education”.
Speaking to The Parliamentary Review about the school’s work, founder and headmistress Dorota Kierzkowska said: "To show our pupils that they are learning a foreign language to be able to communicate, we combined our French class with art.
“They might be talking about healthy eating and decorating paper plates with fruit and veg while describing them, asking questions and sharing resources, all in French.
"Young children tend to understand things better when they are familiar and specific to them. For that reason, we organise multicultural tea parties every Friday. Every party focuses on one specific country. Parents get involved and bring some food for the children to try, some traditional costumes, flags, music and money."
Even if foreign language learning is once again made compulsory at GCSE level, if one is to truly ensure that British pupils are well-placed to excel in such subjects, following the Kensington House example and engaging youngsters with foreign languages in the early stages of education will play an important role.
To best turn the fortunes of foreign language education in the UK around, therefore, the Department for Education will need to engage the problem on two fronts.