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News in Numbers: Which languages are most popular in English schools?

In their new Language Trends 2023 report, the British Council have surveyed 1300 primary, secondary, and independent schools in England to discover which languages are most popular in classrooms, and how schools are coping in a post-pandemic world. Read on to find out how they did in our News in Numbers:

Languages in primary education

Nine in ten primary schools taught languages in 2022-23. 82% of those have taught languages for at least five years, up from 78% in 2021.

However, teachers are reporting a lack of resources and time, with 71.8% saying they have no funding to develop resources. Some students were receiving less than 30 minutes of lessons per week, when the ideal is a minimum of one hour.

French continues to be the most taught language, but Latin has suddenly appeared in the “top four” for the first time.

Key Stage 3

As always, French is the most popular language at Key Stage 3, taught in 87% of state schools and 97% of independent schools. Close behind is Spanish at 75% and 93% respectively.

Behind the “Big 3” of French, Spanish, and German, Mandarin is most popular in state schools, and Latin in independent schools.


This year’s report saw more than 35,000 entries for Other Modern Languages at GCSE – the highest number ever recorded.

For state schools, just one in ten report all pupils are taking a language at GCSE. For independent schools, this rises to three in ten. Though the report shows an increase in pupils taking a Modern Foreign Language, there is still a lot to do to meet the government target of 90% by September 2025.

International engagement

According to BC, more schools are reporting international engagement, but have not yet met pre-pandemic levels.

In 2023, 20% of primary schools reported having partner schools abroad. Though this has increased from 19% in 2020, it has yet to meet 2018 levels of 35%. Involvement in international projects has fallen by over a half since 2018, from 22% to just 10%. On the whole, 62% of primary schools had no international engagement at all in 2023, an unfortunate increase from 46% in 2018.

For state secondary schools, there has only been a small decrease in the amount with partner schools, from 31% in 2018, to 28% in 2023. Comparatively, independent schools went from 41% to 40%, but with a sharp, anomalous decrease from 48% in 2022.

There is also a stark difference in the amount of schools hosting language assistants. In 2023, only 22% of state schools hosted language assistants. Meanwhile, 63% of independent schools hosted language assistants.

Few independent schools had no international engagement, with just 9% reporting so in 2023. On the other hand, 36% of state schools reported the same; a significant increase from 11% in 2018, but an improvement upon 45% in 2022.

A government response

Compared with independent schools, state secondary schools show the numbers of German takers are lower by around 40% for Key Stage 3 and 4.

According to BC, the Department for Education has invested £14.9m in establishing a National Consortium for Languages Education (NCLE). The programme, run by UCL, BC, and the Goethe-Institut wants to increase uptake of language qualifications, with an emphasis on German.

Image courtesy of Waldemar
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