A new English Baccalaureate exam is being planned by ministers to fight the decline in the number of young people studying languages and science at GCSE. The new qualification will be awarded to any student who gains A* to C grade GCSE passes in five named subjects – English, maths, modern foreign languages, science and a humanity.
The plan, to be unveiled in a White Paper this autumn, is designed to broaden the school curriculum and reverse the catastrophic decline in the take-up of languages since the subject was made voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds by Labour in 2004.
Last month The Independent reported on how the take-up of French and German at GCSE has halved in the past decade. This year's results showed that French had fallen by 5.9 per cent to 177,618 students, knocking it out of the top 10 subjects studied by pupils for the first time.
In a speech today, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, will say: "I am deeply concerned that fewer and fewer students are studying languages. It not only breeds insularity, it means an integral part of the brain's learning capacity rusts unused. I am determined we step up the number of students studying proper science subjects – Asian countries massively outstrip us in the growth of scientific learning and they are already reaping the cultural and economic benefits.
"And I am passionately concerned that we introduce more and more young people to the best that has been thought and written – which is why I lament the retreat from history teaching in some of our schools."
Mr Gove made it clear the Baccalaureate would not replace the GCSE – but students who passed the five subjects would be awarded a special certificate which would carry more weight with employers and universities. "Most other countries do something like this," he said on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday.
The White Paper will also outline reforms to the A-level system, with universities given a bigger role in devising questions, he said. "I have asked universities to help me see if we can reform the A-level structure in order to encourage both deep thought and also broadening of the mind."
Mr Gove also announced that the first batch of independent "free" schools – 16 of them – would be opening next September, to be run by parents, teachers and faith and charity groups. The first batch includes one set up by the science teacher son of a Bradford bus driver, Sajid Hussein. The Oxford graduate, who has won the backing of the former Tory party treasurer Alan Lewis, said he hoped the school would rescue his home city from the blight of poor education.
Mr Gove said there had been 700 "expressions of interest" in running "free" schools, 100 of which had put in applications. In an email exchange with The Independent during the election campaign, Mr Gove said the Conservatives had budgeted for 20,000 new places a year for the scheme, with between 50 and 100 opening a year depending on their size.
The fall in study of foreign languages is deplorable
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