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 64.

    If you listen to many of the kids on TV interviews you'd be forgiven for thinking that English isn't their first language, never mind learning a 2nd.

    So many kids these days fill their sentences with "like" and "y'know" and "innit" every other word that it's getting as though parents don't educate their children at all in how to speak English properly.

    Teach English first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Paul M

    "I'd rather all schools promote the language that will be of most benefit to children in the coming decades. That isn't French, German or Spanish, it's Mandarin Chinese"

    That may be true today but you need only to look at the dramatic changes of the past 20 years , the eurocrisis , banking collapse etc to know that things may dramatically change for China in the next 20 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Why do we need foreign languages in the UK, within the next 10 years English will be a foreigh language in its own country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    54. Ackerley

    My second home was in Florida. By numbers, Spanish maybe the most common primary language of residents in Florida, however I doubt very much it is the most commonly used language; completely two different things. Even in Miami, where most Spanish speaking immigrants/residents live, they had a vote and kept English as the primary language. Radio 4 programme is nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    First of all, employ teachers who have a proper command of English. Then, start to teach foreign languages to children in Primary School. When I left school in 1965, all my classmates and I had a good grounding in both Greek and Latin, together with A level French, German and Spanish. What is the problem with teaching languages in schools these days, anyway? Why wait until they are teenagers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Romanian and Bulgarian?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    53 David Butterfield
    Why,one or the other?,why not both?
    How about better English Language & Literature lessons,& French,Italian,Spanish etc as well!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    36. Matthew
    37. annieavatar

    Matthew is absolutely right, although I would disagree with him about Canton. It is not about whether you love Wales or not, it is about the best interests of The Welsh. I lived in Wales for four years. Never heard anyone speak Welsh. It has absolutely no use in today's Wales. If Welsh was dropped, perhaps your English annieavatar would be much better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I do not hate the Welsh language, is know it, but I refuse to speak it due to the fact that the nationalists nutters are in charge, the amount of money spent on the Welsh language is ridiculous, they need to get real fast, to secure the future for our children, the time has come to have a mature debate, not one spawned out of Ancient hatred for the English, it is just wrong!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.


    You might disagree with me but there is a gradual shift towards speaking Spanish in the U.S. In Florida the main language is Spanish, likewise California there are parts where no English is spoken. There was a programme on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago saying that within 100 years America will be a Spanish speaking country. I don't like it but I don't have any reason to deny it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    A huge proportion of schoolchildren do not even speak English at home, for them English is a foreign language. Without it, how can they learn a further language? The future in Britain for our mother tongue is increasingly pidgin, enhanced by the appalling speech & English used by too many BBC personnel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Better start learning Mandarin!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Teaching them good English and basic maths would be a great start!
    Then perhaps a little geography, a smidgeon of history; some science would not go amiss. How about cooking and dietary awareness, a few basic craft skills might come in handy. You could try instilling a little discipline, maybe behavioral and communications skills?

    That way, they would find employment - easily.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Why ?
    Cant we just shout at foreigners ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    More childrens programmes in european languages(Not BBC) and childrens films that can be played in a european language would be very useful. My grandchild was several times discovered to have a film on that was not in English- She seems to have an ear for foreign languages now and whether she understood the story ?? But a series of poorly qualified language supply teachers has done her no good

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    There is some hogwash here. Moderm foreign languages ceased to be compulsory in secondary schoolds about 4 years ago so why should there be any surprise that the take up has fallen? Also we are still at the stage where students chose their GCSEs before the EBacc was introduced so the current success rate is more to do with previous choices than present proficiency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    My daughter (now Y11) really wanted to take German, a language she loves, but had to settle for French as nobody else wanted to do it. She's still not doing an 'EBacc' as she couldn't squeeze both music and history into her options if she wanted to take a language. Perils of a small secondary school...

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Although of obvious importance,why do some people only view a linguist in correlation to employment,an educated person derives benefit and pleasure not only at the coal-face
    & if you are fortunate enough to be employed or indeed succeed in obtaining a job,a full life away from work is a major benefit to your quality of life and health,and will make you more attractive to other people & employers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I know a student in the local acadamy/free school and the only lessons he does is science, english and maths (not his choice), he spends a whole day doing each subject and 2 days doing all 3. When I went to school I studies several different subject through-out the day. I bet he wishes he could do a language just to break up the day.


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