‘Difficult climate’ for language learning in schools, says report

Language learning is facing a ‘difficult climate’ in schools as take up at GCSE and A-Level remain low, according to a new report.



The Language Trends Survey 2014/15, from the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council is now in its thirteenth year and says that while the recent introduction of compulsory foreign language lessons in primary schools has had positive effect there are still significant challenges at secondary level.The report finds that, in spite of calls for a greater knowledge of language skills from business leaders, there is a widely held belief that languages are not as important as maths and science subjects.This apparent perception, along with pressures associated with performance measures and assessment systems, is amongst the factors adversely affecting student language numbers, says the report. Attracting enough pupils to study a language post-16 is recognised amongst those surveyed as the ‘most widespread challenge’ currently faced by language teachers across the country.GCSE entries also vary dramatically by region and local authority with Middlesborough in the North East of England seeing just over a quarter of pupils taking a language at GCSE while nearly three quarters do so in Barnet in London. Nine of the ten local authorities with the highest proportions of pupils taking a language at GCSE are in fact in London. The report does highlight some positive developments including the fact that almost half of primary schools are introducing pupils in Key Stage 1 to a language even though this is not a statutory requirement.Spanish continues to be the only language to ‘buck the trend’ in terms of take up with an increase in the number of students at both GCSE and A-Level and there is also a modest rise in the number of schools offering Mandarin Chinese – the language of the world’s second biggest economy and one recognised as crucial to the UK’s long-term competitiveness.Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at the British Council, commented on the findings of the report, “Languages matter to the UK’s future prosperity. With our current lack of language skills said to be holding back the UK’s international trade performance at a cost of almost £50 billion a year, it’s not enough to rely on English alone. We need far more of our young people to learn languages in order to boost their own job prospects and to ensure the UK stays competitive on the world stage.”

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