“The inspirational role of a talented, dedicated and committed teacher can never be understated and is the one constant that all of us can remember from our time at school.” – Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

The words from the UK Education Secretary will no doubt resonate amongst teachers in the UK. When you think back to your time in school, it was always the fun and engaging teachers that you learn from. They’re usually the teachers who also make extra effort to know about you and your goals. As Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is pointing out – this can never be understated.

As we near the end of 2019, there have been many reports showing the lack of modern foreign language teachers in schools. With Brexit just around the corner alongside other economic factors, the government had no choice but to take action. 

The Department for Education figures published recently, show the shortage of qualified staff in key subjects across the UK, including modern foreign languages. The facts have been clear over recent years – the UK has continually failed to attract enough trainee teachers to the education sector since 2013. So what is the government’s solution?

The UK government is offering funds up to £35,000 for aspiring maths, chemistry, physics, and modern foreign language teachers. This will go towards training, early careers and in addition to what teachers are already earning. The government has also committed approximately £250million to encourage talented university graduates to enter teaching. 

The bursary was formed as a type of incentive, to eventually make teaching the most competitive in the graduate job market. Due to slow recruitment for teachers in these subject areas, the hope is to incentivize teaching for graduates who might be tempted into applying for higher-paid roles in law, accountancy or consultancy. 

Other reports covering recent years show that teacher retention has become a problem. With this new government initiative, the aim is to encourage these teachers to remain on at that school. 

There have been some examples of schools looking to push languages by any means, even without government funding. For example, as reported in The Guardian, a school in Berkshire are providing pupils with one-hour of Italian lessons a week and this is not being funded by the UK government – it’s being funded by the Italian government. The Italian government’s aims are clear: promote the Italian language across the UK by providing Italian teachers for free. Could this be the solution? Does the UK government need to do more in terms of addressing other nations to further boost foreign languages in UK schools? 

In 2014 it was made compulsory for schools to teach a modern foreign language to pupils aged 7-11 years of age. There’s been no hiding statistically that this hasn’t gone to plan.

Primary schools are often finding it challenging to deliver on subjects such as languages due to other demands. Therefore, learning a new language remains a “marginal subject” which often gets overlooked when sports day, a school trip or other compulsory subjects take priority. The first subject to be thrown out usually is languages. 

The government funding is a good move in the right direction, but there is more that needs to be done for things to change in the future. 

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