Alarm over decline in pupils studying languages


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The Independent Online

A further dramatic slump in the number of pupils taking modern-languages GCSEs is alarming exam boards and teachers' leaders.

Figures show that the take-up of French and German has fallen by 13.2 per cent in the past year to 154,221 and 60,887 respectively. It means fewer than one in four 16-year-olds now take French and one in 10 take German.

Even Spanish, which has been the only bright spot on the horizon with rising numbers in the past few years, has fallen by 2.5 per cent to 66,021. "Today's students are at risk of failing to to meet the needs of our universities, economy and society," said Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 20 of the country's top research universities.

The decline started after Labour made the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds in 2004. However, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that GCSE language courses were too "pedestrian" and involved too much rote learning.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Oxford and Cambridge and RSA exam board, said there was a need for a debate over course content. Asset languages that – like music – allow pupils to progress a grade at a time from the moment they start to learn the subject – have proved popular.

Yesterday's results showed that even interest in languages such as Chinese and Arabic – encouraged by the former education secretary Ed Balls as vital to the UK's economic interests – is tailing off, too. Ministers hope the introduction of the English baccalaureate – under which a pupil will have to obtain an A* to C grade pass in a language to qualify for a certificate – will halt the slide.