Foreign languages in early schooling : policy, pupils and processes.
This study explores the professional values which underpin choices made
on behalf of young children (three to seven year olds) for learning a
foreign language in English nursery, infant and primary schools. Since the
Education Reform Act of 1988, young children in maintained early years
settings have been excluded from the modern foreign languages
curriculum in England.
The aim of this inquiry is to expose the belief systems of individuals in
institutions with the power to influence the quality of the early learning
experience and notions of status and control with regard to the
conceptualisation of both 'childhood' and 'foreign language education'. A
value position is unavoidable: any interest on the part of the researcher
has been set aside to eliminate traces of attachment and to ensure, as far
as possible, an unbiased inquiry.
The research questions which lead the investigation are as follows:
• Why are modern foreign languages omitted from Government policies
for nursery settings and from the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1?
• To what extent, if at all, have local education authorities in England
already established foreign language initiatives for young learners?
• What are the challenges facing schools in the current context for the
implementation of a national policy?
• What is the underpinning structure that supports the policy making
framework for this area of the early years curriculum?
For the purpose of this study, the term 'policy maker' is used to
encompass headteachers (micro level), local education authority advisers
(meso level) and national authorities (macro level). Research methods
include case study, postal questionnaire and indepth interviews.
Outcomes are presented as an analysis of innovation in one English
county, perceptions of early language learning in local education
authorities and discussions with policy makers at the national level. A
research study which links education policy making, constructions of
childhood and theories about modern foreign language acquisition has
not yet been conducted in England.
It is anticipated that this investigation will contribute to the debate on
curriculum and values at the turn of the millennium based on new
paradigms for the sociology of childhood and the perceived needs of
young children in an increasingly multicultural, multilingual society. The
notion of 'bilingualism' will be deconstructed and reconstructed within an
inclusive spectrum: the bilingual continuum. The outcomes of the study
are likely to have implications for future education policy and practice.