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 124.

    To some kids I've heard while out and about these days,I think English is probably a foreign language.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The British don't embrace foreign languages because there's no imperative - everybody speaks English, so why bother? Cue some facile remark about life's rich tapestry.

  • 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 121.

    I don't quite understand all of those people who do think that learning another language is pointless. It is not only the language you are learning...problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and communication with others: all skills you would need in any decent job. In a recession companies are looking abroad for business opportunities, and German is currently the language most in demand.

  • 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 119.

    'To possess another language is to possess another soul' - it's great fun to be able to chatter in different languages & leads to memorable moments like a conversation in French with a Russian army officer in 1990, in the Central Museum of the Soviet Armed Forces in Moscow! His English was even worse than my Russian :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Perhaps language teaching in schools should be more relevant to life. I have yet to find a use for 'what's in my pencil case;' but could well have done with knowing how to explain that my car has broken down. If students can see a relevance they are more likely to excel at the topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Recently I walked past two young men who were chatting to each other in Arabic. At first I thought they were reciting poetry: their dicton was clear and measured; I was impressed! It was wonderful to hear two young men speaking so beautifully. Farther on down the road I passed by a group of English youths. What a contrast! Just a string of grunts and "Yeah", "like", "innit", "well good".

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    While I agree that children learn languages more easily, it's never too late. Look for videos by 'Benny the Irish Polyglot' on YouTube for a great example of someone who became fluent in several languages despite only speaking English until he was 21.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    French neighbours constantly complain about standards of English teaching, lack of oral skills. Their kids speak a different version of French from the parents. We're on Swiss border, and different dialect of French is spoken there, but English is important because needed for working in Geneve, CERN, etc. one hour away. Factory in my village has UK branch and UK staff who visit need French.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Now come on, guys.
    If we'd all learnt French at school we'd be able to talk nonsense in two languages. Surely that's 100% increase in freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    This, again...

    It won't happen, mainly because there is an ingrained prejudice in this country about anything foreign. Especially if it's hard work.

    Lucky for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    No English-speaker really understands English unless they also know at least one other language. You can't understand the concept of daytime if you've never seen the night. Learning a foreign language is a great help in understanding how your own language functions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    The arrival of more foreign-language programmes has been instructive. First, the best stuff on the BBC tends to be subtitled...says a lot about the BBC...Second, I've noticed people who watch the likes of Borgen, The Bridge, Spiral etc do tend to pick up elements of the languages used pretty quickly.

    This is at least as effective as language teaching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    At my school French was compulsory right through to GCSE. In year 9 we had to study one of either Spanish or German with the option to take further to GCSE/A-Level as well.

    I think I was the better for it.

    However I agree with comment 100 - JamesStGeorge - what is the point of learning a foreign language if you're not competent with English, as seems to be the case with many children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Passed O Level French at school 20 yrs before I needed to use it, and 40 yrs before I moved to live in France. Glad my sons both got GCSE French as they have friends in France who don't speak much English. BUT we all speak English rather better than many UK residents do. Look how many UK kids only speak Eng as second language now - how can they learn German as a 3rd unless also v clever?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    The primary junior school near me does not teach foreign languages at all. Schools in culturally more advanced and financially more affluent neighbourhoods get this free, important foreign language tuition, while children in slightly less cultured or rich neighbourhoods do not. Shame that KS2 foreign language tuition was not made compulsory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    The report has a mixture of BBC Brit-bashing and educationalist cluelessness.

    The stupid comment that Brits are crap at languages as though that's news, overlooks that English is the world's international language.

    And the moronic idea that 'antiEurope discourse' is an issue...nonsense.

    Put more foreign language broadcasting on the BBC, things would soon change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    What a shame that the Baccalaureate didn't include something along the lines of engineering or computer programming. It really was a missed opportunity.

    Learning a foreign language is always beneficial but if we want the next generation to help sort out the mess the previous few have made then having the skills and passion to design and build innovative, saleable products is what we need!

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    lets all learn other languages and fail at English why don't we? hahahaha


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