SCOTLAND's largest teaching union has launched an investigation to see if controversial Confucius Classrooms are hurting the teaching of other languages.


The EIS made the move after members warned the current fashion for the Communist-funded Chinese classes was diverting attention away from core subjects like French, Spanish and, especially, German.

Championed by the SNP at Holyrood and councils of all political persuasions, such Confucius Classrooms have mushroomed across Scotland in recent years.

Human rights group Free Tibet last month warned that the scheme, with funding and staff from China, was being used as a PR drive for one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet.

Toronto School Board in Canada -along with universities in the US, Canada and Sweden, has pulled out of such deals amid concerns over free speech.

The union, however, stressed its concerns were educational and nothing to do with an international campaign launched last month against Confucius Classrooms and their university equivalents, Confucius Institutes.

The union's general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said: "We want to investigate the scale of the Confucius classrooms and measure the impact that the promotion of Chinese language and culture has had on traditional language provision in secondary schools."

Mr Flanagan said the investigation came after a request from the union's Fife branch. He said: "The motion originated from French and German teachers who felt they were potentially going to be marginalised because Fife was adopting Confucius Classrooms."

Leading language teaching experts in Scotland have questioned the focus on Mandarin in recent years, not least because Chinese teachers are not qualified to deliver Highers or other Scottish qualifications.

Many teachers believe that Confucius Classrooms are acting as a sticking plaster to cover up a dramatic lack of commitment to modern languages from the Scottish Government and councils.

Last year Dan Tierney, a leading expert in language teaching, urged Scotland to focus resources on French, Spanish, German and Italian, the traditional core subjects.

Dr Tierney said: "Although there are a lot of Chinese speakers in the world, it is a difficult language to learn to begin with and there is less chance of Scottish pupils travelling to China or needing it in the future."

Scotland's Confucius Classrooms are co-ordinated through a base at Strathclyde University called the Confucius Institute for Scottish Schools.

Some 20,000 children have been exposed to Chinese teaching, according to Professor Sir Jim McDonald, the principal and vice chancellor at Strathclyde University, an institution which has dropped German as a subject.

Mr Flanagan taught English at Glasgow's Hillhead secondary school before becoming a full-time union rep. It has had a Confucius Classroom since 2009 - and has been teaching Chinese for even longer.

He said: "The Chinese teachers from China are really just language assistants.

"You would have to have Scottish teachers registered with the general teaching council to teach for an SQA qualification.

"I think that means Chinese isn't going to replace the traditional languages."

The Scotland now has more Confucius Institutes per capita than any other country n the world in what critics regard as a remarkable victory for Beijing's soft power.

Business leaders are seriously concerned about the decline in modern-language teaching in Scotland. Earlier this year the governments of Germany, Switzerland and Austria issued a humiliating and unprecedented rebuke to the Scottish Government. They said that current policies - designed to expand language learning - may lead to the "ultimate demise" of German in schools. This came after Russian Ambassador to the UK took Scotland to task after the Russian higher was dropped by the SQA. Germany and Russia are the two biggest economies and countries in Europe.

The British Council has named Chinese among 10 languages most needed in the UK, above German and Russian, but ranked Arabic, which is barely taught at any level, above Chinese.

It also stressed the need for Italian, whose future is in doubt in Scottish schools, and Portuguese, which dropped out of the Scottish curriculum for years. Japanese and Turkish also featured on the list.