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EL European Union: UK Language Learning Falls

Teachers and school leaders in the UK have ‘deep concerns’ about the current state of language learning, according to the fourteenth Language Trend Survey report recently released by the British Council and the Education Development Trust, writes Claudia Civinini.

Since the report’s first publication in 2002, entries for A-levels (senior secondary school exams) in French and German have plummeted. Increasing interest in Spanish and other languages is not enough to compensate, and some state schools are even suggesting that A-level languages could become ‘financially unviable’.

GCSE (year 10 exams) numbers have also declined. The highest proportion of students sitting a language GCSE is a mere 64 per cent, found in inner London.

Education professionals blame the exam system itself, with reports of ‘harsh and inconsistent marking’ of papers, and research by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation suggesting that language exams are more difficult than other subjects.

Mark Herbert, head of schools programmes at the British Council, said, ‘The country’s current shortage of language skills is estimated to be costing the economy tens of billions in missed trade and business opportunities every year. Parents, schools and businesses can all play their part in encouraging our young people to study languages at school and to ensure that language learning is given back the respect and prominence that it deserves.’

If there is hope, it lies in primary schools. The study reported some positive trends – all primary schools surveyed provided language teaching for their pupils and 42 per cent had increased the resources available for languages.

However, while more secondary schools are beginning to cater for pupils who have studied languages at primary level, the report states that ‘the quality and consistency of provision is not always seen as providing a worthwhile level of knowledge for pupils to apply to their studies in secondary school’.