I.1. Modern Foreign Languages within the curriculum: 1900 – 1988
I.1.a. A curriculum?
Between the1880s and 1904, many pupils had the opportunity of learning a Modern Foreign Language. The main language taught was French; however, German was also taught occasionally. This was the case in most schools existing at the time, although schooling was less compulsory, with compulsory education targeting only a range of students from six to twelve.
In 1904, the Board of Education suppressed Modern Foreign Languages from the curriculum. This lasted for almost 60 years. This had an impact on generations of British pupils, in so far that languages did not appear to be important; and therefore, for years, the British have argued that they were no good at learning them.
The 1944 Education Act was a turning point for the United Kingdom’s educational system. It made school compulsory between the ages of 5 and 15. The Ministry of Education, which had become the Department for Education and Science, introduced the “tripartite system”. Secondary schools were converted into ‘Grammar schools’ for the most able students, the senior schools turned into ‘Secondary Modern Schools’ and had the majority of the students on their roll, and ‘Secondary Technical Schools’ for those with a technical/scientific aptitude were created. The age at which the transition between primary and secondary schools was to be made became more definite in the 1980s, when the different age groups were divided into five Key Stages. Students had to start secondary school at the end of Key Stage 2.
In 1944, the Local Education Authorities provided the facilities and equipment for schools. They also acquired the resources needed and paid teachers. They were to make sure that there was enough space to accommodate all the students between the age of 5 and 15 within the catchment area. They also determined the length of the school day. They had an overview of the curriculum, but no control as such. Over time, the way Local Education Authorities administered their area was very different and the emphasis placed on certain types of school had a tremendous impact on the wider community.
The Secretary of State did not have the legal right to determine the contents of the curriculum. The Department for Education and Sciences’ requests, as far as the curriculum was concerned, were extremely limited except for Religious Studies (daily worship and religious education became statutory). The subjects taught, and the methods and contents, were left to the teaching profession and head teachers. This was the case until the 1980s, though Her Majesty’s Inspectorate and the Office for Standards in Education were inspecting and reporting about schools. No major change happened until 1988.
Therefore between 1904 and 1964, the teaching of languages as we perceive it in 2005 was very limited, in the few schools that offered this option. These were mainly grammar schools or public schools. Indeed, often students were taught only Greek or Latin. Where Modern Foreign Languages were made available, the main skills developed were reading …