A network of British and French universities is to run a new postgraduate teaching qualification intended to solve the severe foreign language teaching problem in British schools and colleges.
Three universities - Lancaster, Nottingham and Cambridge - are forming a partnership with eight French universities in Lyons, Marseille, Nancy, Paris, Pau and Strasbourg. More than 80 students will begin the fast-track scheme in September, taking both the Postgraduate Certificate in Education and the French maitrice. The one-year course will involve a four-month stay in one of the French universities.
The scheme has been developed at Lancaster University, where French students have already taken the course. Last September, 13 British students joined the course, alongside 35 French students. This is now being extended, with Lancaster expected to admit 50 students, and Nottingham and Cambridge each taking 16 students. The Cambridge course, based at Homerton College, the specialist teaching centre, is still awaiting formal approval.
The idea for the course came after several London boroughs - including Bexley, Sutton and Bromley - decided to train the French students they had been recruiting to make up for the shortage of British-born French teachers in local schools and colleges.
British students will be funded by local mandatory awards, that take account of the fact that the course runs from August to July, longer than the traditional postgraduate course. They will also receive a Pounds 1,000 grant, designed to attract teachers of shortage subjects, as well as a grant from the European Lingua fund, which promotes mobility within the European Union and helps with travelling costs.
The French students, who will outnumber British students, also receive the Pounds 1,000 grant, and are required to make a commitment to teach in England. Lola Davis, course coordinator at Lancaster's PGCE unit in Chislehurst, Kent said that traditionally students experience "a drop-off in their fluency" during the PGCE year. She said: "This course is designed to remedy that, giving them an extra boost to their language acquisition and the chance to become intensively immersed in the culture."
If the scheme proves a success, it is possible that not only will other United Kingdom universities be invited to join the partnership, but other European universities will participate. Dr Coyle, lecturer in Nottingham's School of Education, said: "We are hoping the idea will develop and would like to take Italy on board on a similar system as well."