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Confusion over English class

Confusion abounds over the teaching of English as a foreign language in public primary schools in Portugal as the Minister of Education has been accused of inconsistency when deciding whether to make the subject compulsory.

After announcing that primary schools were free to choose whether to include English as a curricular or extracurricular subject, the Minister of Education decided this week that English should, in fact, become compulsory in primary education and has called for a review of the law.

Nuno Crato has called on the National Education Council (CNE) to help the government review the law and draft a proposal. “We must introduce English as a compulsory school subject from primary education through to the ninth grade,” he told CNE on Monday.

Nuno Crato has since come under attack by both the opposition and parents’ associations which criticise his lack of consistency over the issue.

The background

It all started in 2005, when the José Sócrates government introduced English as a compulsory foreign language subject in primary extracurricular activities.

Then, a ruling introduced in July this year by the current Ministry of Education determined that English was no longer compulsory and that each school was free to decide whether to include it as part of the curriculum or as an extracurricular activity.

Last week, before taking a U-turn on his decision, Minister Nuno Crato had said: “The bottom line is, English was never really compulsory in primary education as the enrolment into extracurricular activities was optional.”

Under the July ruling, which is still in place, the teaching of the English language in public primary schools is not compulsory and should take up a maximum of 60 minutes of the weekly class schedule.

The ruling also determines that extracurricular classes should include activities related to citizenship, IT and communication, but it is up to the school to decide whether English is one of the subjects.

According to Nuno Crato, the “good news” is that whilst English was previously offered as a complementary after-school class and thus not attended by all pupils, now schools can include the subject in the school curriculum and make it available to all children.

But this could all change again if English becomes a compulsory subject, a move that will likely be introduced in the next school year.