30,000 fewer entries in French and German

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The dramatic decline in the number of teenagers learning foreign languages was revealed in yesterday's GCSE results. Nearly 30,000 fewer students sat GCSEs in French or German.

The popularity of GCSE foreign languages has plummeted since the Government scrapped the subjects' compulsory status for pupils aged 14 to 16 in 2004.

In German, the number of candidates fell by a further 9,250 to just 81,061. This decline of 10.2 per cent was the largest percentage drop of any subject this year.

French plummeted by 19,471 or 8.2 per cent down from 236,180 in 2006 to 216,718. Spanish enjoyed a modest revival, with entries rising by 1,835 or 3 per cent.

But despite the continuing decline, Lord Dearing, who conducted a review this year into modern language teaching, said bringing back compulsory study for the post-14 age group was not the answer. "We need to engage from an early age and spark an enthusiasm in languages," he said. "A return to mandatory language teaching at age 14 will not motivate those who find languages difficult or produce quality linguists."

Jim Knight, the Schools minister, said: "Our long-term, radical measures will increase the number of people studying languages at GCSE, A-level and beyond."

But exam bosses blamed employers for young people's determination to drop languages if they were no longer compulsory. They said failure to offer higher salaries for language skills meant young people did not see the point of language-learning.

They added that teenagers' own experience of holidays in Europe was that they could get by without knowing a foreign language because so many foreigners spoke such good English.

Dr Mike Creswell, director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance - Britain's biggest exam board - said French and German had showed "significant decline", adding: "Languages have a bit of a reputation for being difficult. I also do not think there is the message from employers that having a language qualification is valued. I don't think there is anything to encourage someone at the age of 14 to do a language."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed employers must bear "a substantial responsibility" for the fall in language numbers. He said grading of languages "must be brought into line with other subjects", he said, and they were too difficult.

Mathematics and science enjoyed a surge, with 6,511 more entries in maths (198 per cent). Additional maths entries rose by 6,511 or 198 per cent.

Performances in science also improved with the double award reporting an improvement of 0.3 percentage points at A* to C.

Religious studies and media studies had the biggest increases in popularity, RE with 171,123 entries, up 11,442 or 7.2 per cent, and media, film and television studies had 15.48 per cent more, a total of almost 9,000 additional candidates.

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