Schools switch to languages after English Baccalaureate, says report

Whiteboard Spanish is growing in popularity

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Schools in England have been encouraging more teenagers to take up languages since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate league table measure, a report suggests.

At 50% of state-funded secondaries, at least half of older pupils are now taking a foreign language GCSE.

In 2010, this was the case in 38% of schools.

A report for the CfBT education charity says there was a "sudden increase" in 2011 after the measure came in.

However, it says few teenagers are taking languages on to A-level.

Just one in 10 of people taking a GCSE in French went on to take an AS-level in the subject (the first stage of an A-level). That compares with about a third of those taking biology GCSE.

The report says although the overall numbers taking languages after 16 is "stable", both French and German are continuing to decline, with more teenagers choosing to do Spanish.


Entries for A-level French and German fell by more than half between 1996 and 2012, the report's authors said.

It used to be compulsory for secondary school pupils to study foreign languages until 16, but this was dropped in September 2004, and they became optional for students over the age of 14.

In 2001, eight out of 10 teenagers took a language GCSE, but this had dropped to 40% by 2010.

The authors of this study say the schools where pupils are more disadvantaged have changed their language provision most in response to the English Baccalaureate.

The English Baccalaureate is a league table measure for England's schools which ranks schools by the proportion of pupils who achieve good GCSEs (A* to C) in a core of subjects the government believes to be crucial to a good education - maths, English, two sciences, a foreign language and history or geography.

The CfBT report was based on a survey of 1,500 secondary schools in both the state-funded and private sector and on 3,000 state-funded primaries.

Tony McAleavy, director of education at CfBT, said: "A recent international study showed that English pupils were significantly behind their international peers in terms of foreign language learning.

"If we are to turn this situation around, we must capture the opportunity provided by the introduction of foreign languages into the primary curriculum, linked to the aspiration for improved standards in the reformed GCSE and A-levels."

'Anti-European discourse'

Students continue to switch from French and German to Spanish, the report says.

Co-author Teresa Tinsley said "anti-European discourse" was not helping languages to flourish.

"All the information shows that the languages that are most needed in the workplace are French and German and I think there is an erroneous perception that because Spanish is a global language, it is therefore going to be more useful but that doesn't necessarily reflect the structure of our economy and the trading links that we have," she said.

"I think that the rhetoric and the discourse around Europe and the anti-European discourse is not helpful for languages," she added.

From next year, languages will become compulsory for older children in England's primary schools.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "After years of decline the take up of modern foreign languages is on the increase thanks to the introduction of the EBacc.

"We have also made it compulsory for one of seven key foreign languages - French, German, Italian, Mandarin and Spanish, and ancient Greek and Latin - to be taught in primary schools from next year so children develop these crucial skills from an early age. Languages will continue to be compulsory for 11- to 14-year olds, with a more rigorous programme of study."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    to be able to understand and speak a foreign language is a wonderful thing.I wish I had been taught much earlier than age 11 because by that time (1958) I believed most people in the world spoke English so therefore it wasn't worth learning a language - how wrong I was.

    I can be polite - "please" and "thank you" in a few languages but I so wish I had taken the opportunity when I had it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Teaching the rules of grammar and perhaps latin would be useful for coping with Europe. Teaching Chinese would be useful for the modern world.
    Teaching the history of language might enable students to understand why things are the way they are and therefore might help them make sense of the myriads of words around. Certainly such a lesson would help us understand German, Dutch, Danish

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    My family live in three languages on a daily basis, all at native level, with decent access to several others when needed. It isn't difficult, but does need hard work, open-mindedness, and the ability to put shyness away and actually use languages. An early start is essential, preferably from birth, and no later than three years in any case. Oh yes, it costs enormously, in time and cash. Ready?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    The Uk attitude to learning foreign languages has always been ambivalent. Many learned French at school as an exercise and whilst knowing some grammar would be unable to hold a basic conversation in French. Foreign Languages need to be taught as a global skill and focus should be given to Chinese, Spanish and the most popular lanugages rather than lesser ones such as French or German.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Shouldn't the schools concentrate on getting higher pass rates on existing subjects, rather than introducing new challenges?


Comments 5 of 13


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