Committee calls for local authorities to teach one foreign language from primary through to secondary school


Local authorities should ensure one language is taught across primary schools and into secondary schools according to a report published today (Friday 21 June) by the European and External Relations Committee.

The report endorses the goal of teaching primary school children two languages in addition to their mother tongue. However, the Committee has highlighted the need for a locally relevant language selected for continuity from primary to secondary school. The Committee also calls for children with Additional Support Needs to be adequately provided for.

During the past six months, the Committee has been investigating the Scottish Government’s policy that children should start to learn a second language from Primary 1 and a third language no later than Primary 5, the so-called ‘1+2 approach’.

Committee Convener Christina McKelvie MSP explained:

“The Government has taken a long term and ambitious approach to tackling the current shortage of language skills and its impact on the economy. Our Committee supports them in this and applauds that funding has been provided to support this at pilot stage. But what we have found hard to assess is whether this funding is adequate as it is still not known what the current levels of skills and resources for language learning in schools are.”

During the inquiry, the Committee went out to schools to see language teaching in action and meet with parents, teachers and pupils. In May the Committee hosted a conference to bring together policy makers, academics and education practitioners to explore the issues raised during the inquiry.

Christina McKelvie MSP continued:

“We have uncovered areas that the Government should reflect upon as it begins to roll out this policy from pilot to Scotland wide. In particular, whilst the Committee believes local authorities require flexibility on how they deliver the policy locally, there does need to be more continuity. Therefore, we are recommending that local authorities ensure one language is taught continuously from primary to secondary schools. This will help develop competency and can feed into the local job market more productively.

“This inquiry has been a real journey for the Committee. We began looking for areas where action can be taken to improve competency of those studying language. Yet meeting our evidence has also shown that acquiring the skills to be able to learn languages is as important as the language learned. It is with this in mind that we have recommended the Government ensures that children with Additional Support Needs are adequately provided for.”

The Committee’s report also:

  1. Calls for the Scottish Government and its implementation group to transmit the results of the forthcoming audit of resources and skills for language learning. This should enable an assessment of what funding, resources and skills are required at the national implementation stage. The Committee looks forward to an indication of whether the Scottish Government intends to adjust the funding for future years in response to the audit and further information on how local authorities intend to maximise the funding to deliver the languages agenda. (Paragraph 27)
  2. Calls for the Scottish Government to report back on the best practise in language teaching from its pilot schools for the period 2012-2013 and report back on how a more cohesive approach to including community languages could feed into any new or existing models of teaching. (Paragraph 77)
  3. Asks the Scottish Government how it will promote the benefits of learning languages to both schools and the wider community to encourage the necessary cultural shift to make the 1 + 2 initiative work. In particular, the Committee calls on the Scottish Government to explain how it will promote the benefits of language learning for brain development and underline the limitations of only speaking English. (Paragraph 84)
  4. Promotes the value in developing greater networks between businesses, higher education institutes and schools. The Committee therefore asks the Scottish Government and its agencies what support it would be able to provide to promote improved cooperation between business and education providers and support the EU mobility agenda for young people; a possible example being the recently launched Modern Apprenticeship Ambassador initiative by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) in which language skills could be integral. (Paragraph 95)
  5. Fully supports the call for greater links in the school curriculum between languages and other subjects, such as STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), recognises the Scottish Government’s actions in this area and asks the Scottish Government how it intends to develop this work in association with educational institutions. (Paragraph 110)


The Scottish Government proposes to enable all young people to learn 2 languages (as well as their mother tongue) whilst at primary school. This follows the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Languages Working Group report, ‘Language Learning in Scotland: A 1 + 2 Approach’ ( The Working Group recommended that children should learn a second language from Primary 1 and that learning of a third language should start no later than Primary 5.

A Scottish Government debate was held in the Parliament on 24 May 2012 where support for the concept was recorded although concerns were noted regarding possible barriers including resources issues, skills deficits and cultural attitudes.

The Committee held an event at Holyrood on 10 May 2013 examining the key themes of the evidence the Committee had gathered to date from visiting schools and hearing from witnesses. A record of this event can be seen:

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