I have been thinking long and hard about the current state of affairs in education in this country and more specifically in languages education. I have had the privilege to be invited to a Ministerial meeting along with some esteemed languages colleagues to talk to Nick Gibb about the state of languages in this country. I was disappointed. Let me put it this way, watch out Matt Smith, because Nick Gibb is chasing at your heels to be the next time travelling Doctor, although he only goes one way; back.
Nick Gibb wants rows of children who repeat verb paradigms of by heart (preferably Latin or Biblical Hebrew) and he really wants us to live education in black and white. His adage "it's not the skills you have, it's what you know." The scary thing is that I thought I lived in a democratic society but in fact I do not. After three hours of intense debate, some of the best thinkers in languages education (amongst whom I do not count myself, I was there by the default of "we'd best get a northern comprehensive type in") had thrashed out some fantastic ideas and in some ways started along the path of developing a truly blended languages curriculum with a focus on grammar at times, creative use of the language, developing through partial immersion through to CLIL. A curriculum where languages education is , at times, done to students, most often done with students and gives learners opportunities for independence so their languages education is done by them. I was delighted to see the CLIL enthusiasts acknowledging the need for learning about language as well as learning through the language and some (smaller) concessions made by the one-word-at-a-time grammarians who, I think started to see some point in immersion in the target language. So was the democratic seed of a curriculum where different view points were synthesised from which a blended, purposeful pedagogy could be allowed to germinate? No. Nick Gibb closed the meeting with the same retro 1950s grammar school remarks he started it with. He had listened, but he had not heard. (As an aside, the best question Nick Gibb asked was "So when do you teach them the pluperfect?" I answered "When they are ready.")
So where does this leave us now? In despair? No. With no other choice but to accept the crushingly directive curriculum based on "how we were taught which did us terribly well" from this government? No. It occurred to me that democracy is not everyone having a say in the way they think languages education should be, it is, in fact, everyone doing what they believe is the right thing. I will continue to teach my children languages in the best way I know how, developing their language skills and their learning skills and giving them as much fun, excitement and intercultural understanding as I can. We are many, they are few and although it would be (slight) exaggeration to compare Mr Gibb and Mr Gove to despotic tyrants, look what happened in Egypt.