Supporting languages education in Scotland

Written by: Petra McLay | Published:
Photo: iStock

Scotland’s National Centre for Languages works to develop and improve the learning and teaching of languages. Petra McLay describes some of the support on offer to languages teachers in Scotland

In the light of recent initiatives it is more important than ever to ensure teachers have access to high-quality professional learning opportunities.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland's (GTCS) Professional Update supports the idea of career-long professional learning as do its Professional Standards. Self-evaluation and self-monitoring of teachers' learning are important features that SCILT – Scotland's National Centre for Languages – is also championing through a menu of workshops and other learning events for languages teachers across the country.

The 1+2 approach

The Scottish government's 1+2 approach to language learning is aimed at ensuring that every child has the opportunity to learn a first modern language from P1 onwards and a second from P5 onwards.

The policy is being implemented across all local authorities with a variety of approaches supported by Education Scotland and SCILT.

It should be fully implemented across the country by 2020 and it is important to highlight that the 1+2 approach has implications for both primary and secondary schools, across broad general education and into the senior phase.

SCILT has recently gained recognition from the GTCS for its course "Train the Trainer". Participants attend a week-long journey that equips them with skills and knowledge to enable them to support their local authority in making the 1+2 approach a success, and facilitates them to deliver a high-quality programme of language learning for their colleagues.

This course gives teachers, who for the most part hold a leadership role or remit for languages, the option of gaining Professional Recognition in Leading Learning awarded by the GTCS.

Languages research and resources

With teacher learning across sectors in mind, SCILT is in the process of carrying out research with a firm focus on learning and teacher practice. In collaboration with academic researchers, teachers, parents and learners, SCILT will generate data to further inform language acquisition in Scottish education.

SCILT aims to promote language learning as a key skill for learning, life and work and we are well aware of the challenges that teachers are facing.

We have a variety of presentations and workshops to support teachers and school leaders in their efforts to make the new qualifications a success for our learners. Our team is made up of experienced teachers and curriculum leaders who draw on their own experience as well as keeping abreast of new research and policy developments.

Business partnerships

Partnership working is a key element of our work and this encompasses businesses in Scotland. We know that many businesses value at least a basic level of competence in communicating in a language other than English among their employees. SCILT has developed our Business Language Champions programme and informative series of Business Breakfasts in order to link businesses to learning communities and champion the value of language skills among learners. If educational establishments are interested in these initiatives, do get in touch.

ASN learners

We recognise and celebrate the fact that Scotland is a multilingual nation and we are looking at ways of promoting the sustainability and growth of indigenous languages alongside the languages more traditionally taught in our schools. Inclusion lies at the heart of this work.

SCILT has recently started to look at how we can support learners with additional support needs (ASN) more directly. We will shortly publish a case study focusing on learners with complex health, education, movement and communication needs, looking at an establishment where language learning is an integral part of the curriculum, disproving the notion that learners with ASN are not able to achieve progress and increase their communicative competences in additional languages.


Transition has become even more important with the implementation of the 1+2 approach and the three to 18 curriculum under the principles of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). At SCILT, we are aware of many successful initiatives which see secondary and primary schools working closely together to make the move from one sector to the other as smooth as possible for learners.

These successes have inspired SCILT to expand our professional learning to include a workshop for language lecturers in higher education. Informing lecturers about the principles of CfE regarding language learning and providing an insight into the new qualifications has been very well received. Initial feedback from higher education staff has suggested that there is a need to continue the work to bridge the gap between the senior phase and languages departments at universities.


In a more globalised world, young Scots are no longer just competing in a local market for jobs or access to further and higher education – they are competing with young people from Europe and further afield. The majority of these youngsters are multilingual, having a high level of fluency in at least one other language.

SCILT supports all stakeholders involved in language learning and teaching to ensure that learners are equipped to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities that life in our increasingly globalised society will bring. 

  • Petra McLay is depute director of SCILT. To find out how they can support languages in your school or local authority, visit

Further information

For more on the 1+2 approach to primary languages in Scotland, visit

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.