Report available here
Gael Linn welcomes publication of ETI’s review of Modern Languages at Key Stage 3.
Gael Linn believes that this important report clearly highlights the sentiments of both teachers and students regarding Modern Languages. It is evident from the report that students thoroughly enjoy learning languages, and that the standard of teaching is consistently excellent. However, it is further clear that teachers and students are restricted to learning and teaching within an educational system that neither recognises nor celebrates the value of language learning adequately.
Gael Linn believes that it is a welcome step forward that ETI identifies the barriers and obstacles that the teaching of languages face in our education system. The report recognises that for the study of languages at GCSE it is extremely challenging to obtain the highest grades, that language learning is often inhibited by rigid option blocks, and that it is often the case that GCSE language specifications are often oversaturated; something Gael Linn recognises clearly in the study of GCSE Irish.
The report clearly highlights the concerns that currently exist regarding the teaching of languages, and it is long overdue to rectify the inequalities in our education system for languages. This report should act as a catalyst for all educational stakeholders (The Department of Education and CCEA, in particular) to act upon the conclusions drawn by ETI in the report without delay.
Language learning has been left in a state of decline in our education system here in the North, particularly since the removal of languages as a required GCSE choice in 2004. Gael Linn opposed vociferously that decision. Simply put, a culture has been allowed to develop in which our educational system in no way celebrates the value of bilingualism or the cognitive skills developed while acquiring an additional language.
The development of Irish as a school subject has been particularly impeded by the Department of Education NI. There is a systemic failure regarding language provision in the jurisdiction which has one of the shortest periods of recommended language learning in Europe. Our approach to languages in general and the ineffective policy for the teaching of languages at primary and post-primary levels does not follow best international practice. Sadly, students are missing out year-in-year-out.
Some students are even being asked to choose one language over another before entering Year 8 in secondary school. Gael Linn believes that each student should have the opportunity to learn more than one language and then identify their favourite based on actual contact with the languages. Furthermore, with Irish, and other languages, being in direct competition with popular practical subjects in rigid option blocks, students are often forced to choose between two of their favourite subjects. Eliminating the study of languages in this manner is having a detrimental impact on Irish, in particular, and is leading to its status being further minoritised.
This report clearly highlights the over-challenging nature of the study of Irish, particularly at GCSE level, a concern that has been articulated by An Gréasán (the subject network for the teachers of Irish) for several years now. Consequently, it is imperative that the results of the review, began by CCEA in 2019, into whether GCSE and A-level languages were marked too severely are published again without delay.
The Draft Northern Ireland Languages Strategy, which sets out recommendations for language learning in schools and was launched in 2012, is clearly highlighted in the report. Gael Linn echoes the recommendations that it is ‘timely to test the efficacy and relevance of these recommendations’ and calls for this to be the first point of action from the report.
The all too limited access our children have to languages at primary level in many schools needs to be addressed to ensure that Irish is not minoritised further. The learning of languages at the primary-level must be encouraged to allow our pupils to flourish: unfortunately, this is not occurring at present.
Gael Linn calls on the Department of Education to raise awareness on the importance and value of bilingualism and calls on the Department of Education to mirror the good practice shown by our neighbours in Wales. Gael Linn also calls for all stakeholders to have a shared vision that the learning of Irish will be ‘meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all’ as concluded by the ETI report.