Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative

Author(s): Tanya Flanagan
Institution/Organisation: Kildare Education Centre / Department of Education and Science (IE)


1.1 Scope of the Initiative

The Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI) is a national project organised by the Department of Education and Science in Ireland. It aims to support the teaching and learning of modern languages in primary schools in Ireland. Presently pupils in the final two years of primary school are being offered the opportunity to learn a modern language as part of the Initiative. It is a voluntary programme as modern languages are, as yet, not a mandatory subject in the Irish primary curriculum. There are currently over 500 schools participating in the MLPSI.

1.2  Range of languages studied

Schools participating in the MLPSI choose one of the following target languages – Italian, Spanish, German or French. Choice is largely predicated by the availability of suitably qualified staff to teach the language, the possibility to continue this language at post-primary level and the language choice of the wider school community, including parents.

1.3 Learning outcomes

On completion of two years of modern language learning, it is hoped that pupils will have attained, in terms of partial competencies or in its totality, level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference. As the modern language curriculum also includes the strands of Cultural Awareness and Language Awareness, an enhanced appreciation of other cultures and other languages is also expected.

1.4 Practical realisation



2.1    Context

The Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative has been in operation in many Irish primary schools since September 1998. It aims to introduce modern languages at primary level. The Initiative involves the introduction of Italian, Spanish, German and French into 5th and 6th classes.
Initially set up by the Department of Education and Science as a Pilot Project scheduled to run for two years, it was designated a Modern Languages Initiative in June 2001.
Over 500 schools are currently participating in the MLPSI. This figure has risen in recent years and all schools admitted to the project of late have capacity within their staff to teach their modern language of choice. The current cohort of schools involved in the MLPSI mirrors the entire primary school profile from two teacher rural schools to large inner city schools. Also included are Gaelscoileanna (Irish-medium schools), multi-denominational schools and disadvantaged schools.
English and Irish are compulsory subjects at primary level in Ireland. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is currently compiling a feasibility report on the introduction of modern languages to the primary curriculum.
There is considerable interest in the work of the MLPSI and there have been many calls from external agencies for the national expansion of the project (See recent Forfás, IBEC and Council of Europe reports).
The MLPSI operates in a policy vacuum as there is currently no national language policy in place in Ireland. The Council of Europe’s recent Language Education Policy Profile for Ireland asserts the need to establish a national policy and furthermore states that the primary sector should be the keystone for language learning in the education system.

2.2 Strategic goals of the Initiative








5.1    Lessons to be learned at institutional level

Lessons to be learned at institutional level

5.2 Broader implications

As recommended by the European Council of Ministers in their Barcelona Agreement, if Ireland is to pursue its desire to become a knowledge-based economy and a more inclusive and plurilingual society, it is essential that its recommendation to teach mother tongue plus two languages at primary level be actively progressed by the Department of Education and Science as not to do so will deprive our children of a most valuable and enjoyable learning experience.