The following is my piece in Today’s Argus column: Following the major shift in 10 out of the 13 District and Borough Councils across Sussex and the impact here in Brighton and Hove last Thursday it is hard to fully understand what sort of change has taken place in our communities. No doubt things will be clearer in the future. However let us hope that all 16 MPs will learn from this shift as we move closer to a General Election. At the beginning of last week before his Party nearly lost control of his Council, Nicholas Soames started a debate about foreign language teaching. He asked one of his neighbouring MPs “What steps his Department is taking to increase language teaching in schools”. His neighbour is Nick Gibb, the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and Minister of State for Education. Nick has now moved from having a Tory run council to one that has a Lib Dem majority! Although they are members of the same party, Nick is very passionate about us leaving the EU, whilst Nicholas appears to support his Grandfathers view that the EU is far from perfect but it is best to not avoid it. Yet despite this, one response from Nick Gibb was “As we enter a new global economy, we want to be able to trade with our European partners and need to speak European languages, as well as languages throughout the world” So someone who claims we should leave the EU is perhaps more aware of the value of our European Union membership than he will admit in public! This view was pulled out a bit more when another fellow Conservative MP asked “According to Business Insider, the No. 1 language for getting a good job is German—going by the number of job ads and the quality and pay of the jobs—yet only 3,000 pupils sat German A-level last year… Can we do more to encourage language learning at A-level?” The response from Nick seemed to indicate his understanding that our involvement in the EU is vital “My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Germany is the fourth largest economy and not far away—a few hundred miles—from this country, and we need more young people studying German GCSE, which is why we have the target of having 75% taking a modern language by 2022.”
Now to be fair this debate was not focused on the EU and because it relates to educational activity and the extent to which students are participating in modern language GCSE’s and A Levels one hopes that Nick and Nicholas would take the time and trouble to speak to teachers and students to identify the barriers. However the debate seemed to focus on blaming the previous Labour Government for the lack of modern language A Levels. Nick stated “It was Labour’s decision in 2004 to make languages at key stage 4 non-compulsory that led to the dramatic drop in the numbers taking GCSE foreign languages” There are of course many examples where incoming Governments force a U turn on their predecessors policies. I have a couple of friends who each worked for public sector bodies that were forced to throw significant amounts of resources into skips and cancel Hotel and flight bookings for conferences in the days following the 2010 election. Indeed one worked for an educational body. So on that basis one assumes that if the Labour Government introduced laws in 2004 that are the problem, that this Government or the coalition would have reversed those laws soon after 2010 if they were as problematic as Nick suggests. He was the shadow Schools Minister from 2005 and became the Schools Minister after the election. Of course he is not alone in blaming Labour, Nicholas stated “Given that catastrophic mistake by the Labour party, I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the proportion of pupils taking a language GCSE increasing from 40% to 47% since 2010” Apparently the current proportion is actually 46% but the reason claimed for this modest increase in modern language GCSE’s by Nick is due to “our introduction of the EBacc” but he then went on to claim “Our target is 75% studying a foreign language GCSE by 2022 and 90% by 2025”. To achieve a 15% increase over 9 years is not significant, but to claim that a 87% increase can be achieved over 12 years and 135% over 15 years is crazy which places his target in the same category as his Governments target for Apprenticeships. They appear to set out major targets and make modest changes to the arrangements and then sit down and wait for everyone to do things their way!