The programme’s impact on language teaching has been phenomenal and the new Turing scheme will have big shoes to fill, writes Paul Harrison

Among the responses to the UK opting out of continuing its membership of the Erasmus+ programme, one of the losses to this country has had little coverage. Much of the focus has been on the university sector, but Erasmus+ provided significant benefits for schools.

The programme invested funding in all sectors of education to improve quality and address challenges. Participants submitted proposals to address their specific needs and the Erasmus+ supported them to access expertise in addressing those needs. Over the years, UK schools have benefitted from wide-ranging projects including outdoor learning, inclusion and school leadership. But a recurring priority has been language learning. The loss of the programme will impact on this curriculum area more than most.

It is widely recognised that the UK has long struggled to provide the quality of language learning to match other countries. Successive governments have tried to address provision though curriculum reform. The greatest barrier to progress has been a lack of expertise in the workforce. Erasmus+ enabled schools to address this shortfall in several ways.

The schools programme was structured around two main key actions. Key Action 1 provided funding for teacher mobilities, and Key Action 2 for schools to share best practice and improve their provision at a strategic level.

Key Action 1 projects had three strands focused on professional development. These were opportunities to teach in a partner school in another European country, to participate in structured courses abroad or to work-shadow. Most successful projects were intensive language courses in France or Spain.

The cost was fully funded by the Erasmus+ grant and produced massive returns

This was a priority for both primary and secondary schools and the programme contributed substantially to upskilling teachers. The structured courses provided a week of language immersion, but also incorporated cultural activities, workshops on how to teach languages and opportunities to develop partnerships.

The outcomes illustrated the positive impact they had on teachers’ linguistic skills, the quality of their teaching and the capacity of their schools to improve their language curriculum. Schools had the flexibility to tailor the courses to their needs and to align them to their own developmental priorities. The cost of this provision was fully funded by the Erasmus+ grant. The investment of around €2,000 per individual produced massive returns.

Key Action 2 offered two types of strategic partnerships for schools. School exchange partnerships enabled schools to share best practice by visiting one another and engaging in joint projects. Unlike Key Action 1, these projects could include pupil exchanges. The benefits of these mobilities for language learning were clearly evident. But it was also the work undertaken in schools between the mobilities that had a major impact.

Most projects would continue to work together virtually online, often using the eTwinning platform. This enabled many more pupils to interact with their peers, contributing to both motivation and achievement. Sadly, with the demise of Erasmus+, we have also lost eTwinning. This has brought partnerships with their benefits of peer learning to an abrupt end.

The second set of Key Action 2 partnerships prioritised innovation by developing new resources or new approaches to teaching and learning. This strand also covered initial teacher training and CPD and provided further opportunities for improving language teaching and learning. One current project is a partnership developing sets of serious games for primary language learning in five different languages.

The longer-term impact on language provision of the loss of the Erasmus+ programme will be even more significant. Numbers on language courses at university are already low, and students’ year abroad on these courses has been funded through Erasmus+. Whether these grants will be replaced is not yet clear, and the impact on language teacher recruitment in the longer term is even more uncertain.

Taken with the new immigration and visa requirements for European nationals, on whom we are so dependent for language teaching, the outlook for the language workforce in the UK begins to look bleak. The £100 million Turing scheme the government has hastily concocted to replace Erasmus+ will need to get a lot of bang for its buck to mitigate the effects of this perfect storm.