Save the British Council Language Assistants Programme
We, the undersigned, call on the Department for Education to end immediately its suspension of the British Council English-language assistants programme for candidates in England and Wales. This programme provides an invaluable learning experience for some 2,500 UK students per year who, taking modern languages at university, choose to spend their year abroad as teaching assistants in schools. The programme offers these students a great opportunity in terms of language acquisition and personal as well as professional development; it also provides vital financial means for the year abroad for all students. A suspension of the programme would make it very difficult for a large number of students to have a year abroad, not least as any substitute option would necessarily be much more expensive for them. This programme has a very significant impact on the education of pupils in primary and secondary education both in the UK and across Europe. For many school pupils, the assistantships represent the only opportunity to meet and learn from a native speaker of the foreign language they are studying. Language assistants – often quite close in age to the pupils they teach – become vital role models and a source of inspiration. At a time when languages are more strategically important than ever for the UK, the consequences of ending this programme are very grave. How can we expect student to compete for jobs in the EU and international bodies if we do not support them in their wish, as part of their studies, to live and work abroad? This programme is invaluable in enabling students to emerge better placed for professional mobility and success in an increasingly competitive international economy. Moreover, this programme is part of a reciprocal exchange scheme; its suspension therefore jeopardises bilateral agreements with many countries, agreements that have been in place and have brought considerable mutual benefit over many years. There is a clear need for urgent action to prevent short- and long-term damage to our students' education and prospects, as well as to our relations with our EU partners. The total cost of this programme in 2009-2010 was £747,409. This represents a small but vital investment in a life-changing experience for, and the future careers of, thousands of students. Schools, universities, students and their families, not to mention our partners in collaboration abroad, are keen to hear that this suspension is being urgently re-evaluated.