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 164.

    Never mind foreign languages: bring back Latin. Latin teaches children the important concepts of syntax and grammar - two aspects of today's English usage that have long since vanished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    both French and German are continuing to decline, with more teenagers choosing to do Spanish


    Not so sure that teenagers are "choosing" ... often German is no longer available as an option.

    Which is not very forward thinking the way the EU is heading we will all need to speak German before too long or we won't be able to access our bank accounts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Funding cuts at my daughter's State Secondary has resulted in German no longer being a possibility at A-level. She had to change schools to maintain her choice of foreign language."

    Your daughter is luckier than mine. In my city, there is not a single school German teacher!

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    "my personal favourite 'your' instead of 'you are'."

    Abusus non tollit usum.

    But "Ziggurat" instead of "cigarette" irritates me though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Learning a foreign language is difficult. It is not for everyone. It should not be compulsory.
    For many young people learning English is more than sufficiently demanding.
    More useful to learn some maths, acquire skills both vocational and social, and how to speak and write properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    152. "How about cooking and dietary awareness...." How about parents actually functioned as parents and stopped abdicating this responsibility to schools. Schools may then be able to teach children something useful as opposed to acting as a glorified, tax payer funded, babysitting service! Try teaching kids discipline, cooking etc at home, you might throw in some reading, spelling, writing too

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    156 Gerald
    Apologies,"Harry Mount".

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Schools should start Spanish at 7 or 8, it is the only other useful world language, it is reasonably straight forward and I believe you pronunce every letter.
    The main problem is the fact that English is not taught PROPERLY, children do not encounter grammar until they as studying a foreign language, how pathetic is that !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    152 cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine
    Sad reflection on our country that "cooking,dietary awareness,basic c(g)raft skills,discipline,behavior,and communication skills",and their respective torch have been given by default to our schools,thereby extinguishing the flame of languages!
    Harry Hunt summed up the Status Quo in today's Telegraph,page 27 "Children can't think if they don't learn facts"

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Agree with you, cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (@152).

    We should teach English English rather than American English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    What is important is the common plug of understanding you will acheive at this age with other nations.It is not until they pass into there teens that language is used learnt or understood.Remember language training should start at 14 years old to be successful.Before that more important is that the small amount of money and time available should be targeted on English Maths Science and computers

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Another relic of Empire that needs to be dumped - that it's Johnny Foreigner's duty to learn English. The attitude still remains to a much greater degree than it should, and it will cost us more and more if we let it remain. Trouble is, that to judge by a lot of British people's use of their own language (and sadly it's rife in the BBC too) it's no longer English, but US American.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Many children do not know how to speak English, let alone a foreign language.
    Teaching them good English and basic maths would be a great start!
    Then 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. Perhaps instilling a little discipline, maybe behavioral and communications skills?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    149 waldo
    In order to order in a restaurant etc. you still need to know the basics of the language or you won't understand the reply properly. You have to have a reasonable vocabulary as well or you might find yourself eating cheval instead of cuisses de grenouille!

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    It's surprising how quickly even a basic knowledge of a language comes back (and improves) when you hear it spoken all around you. At first it sounds like gobbledegook, then you realise you can understand but not answer then suddenly you can. All you need is a little confidence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    It would be better if students were taught more useful things like ordering in restaurants and complaining. I remember being taught very stupid things like what do I spend my pocket money on and writing postcards. I never talked to anyone in English about the latter.Plus when I write postcards, I write them in English as they will be read by people that don't understand foreign languages!

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    "....concentrate on getting higher pass rates on existing subjects, .."

    Haven't you realised yet? The exam boards decide the percentage pass rates first, THEN, decide the grade boundaries. It is impossible to improve pass rates overall, just one school v another.

    I speak a little French, merci m'ecole, and would like to speak Spanish, but who could I speak with?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Funding cuts at my daughter's State Secondary has resulted in German no longer being a possibility at A-level. She had to change schools to maintain her choice of foreign language.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    "The sometimes derided study of Latin comes to mind,for a far greater understanding of our language and it's origins!?"

    Shame English has absolutely no connection to Latin, other than for lexical borrowings. The belief that this is the case is due to 18th Century grammarians attempting to overlay Latin grammar onto English as Latin had a greater status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    144 mayfield
    140 mayfield
    Agreed,again,try the Bett (British Education & Training Technology exhibition) @ ExCel London for ideas!


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