Britain's top pupils are shunning language GCSEs

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The Independent Online

Britain's brightest pupils are shunning languages at GCSE, according to a report published today.

Figures show the number of high attaining 16-year-olds taking at least one language GCSE has slumped in the past two decades - since the introduction of the national curriculum.

In 1984, 94 per cent of pupils who were amongst the highest performing pupils were studying a modern foreign language. This figure has gradually fallen over the years to 80 per cent in 2000 and 75 per cent in 2008.

The research, by Cambridge Assessment - europe's largest assessment agency, divides pupils into three performance groups - low, medium and high.

It shows for the first time that the acknowledged slump in the take-up of languages is not only amongst pupils in more disadvantaged schools,

"Such a big drop in the uptake of languages by high attainers was a surprise but not totally unforeseen," said Carmen L.Vidal Rodeiro, senior research officer at Cambridge Assessment.

"If students are not exposed to and have no prior knowledge of languages at key stage three (for 11 to 14-year-olds), how can we expect them to make an informed choice at GCSE?"

The research shows that French and German still remain the most popular language options at GCSE - although both show a significant decline in uptake. Spanish, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly popular amongst students and is set to overtake German as the second most popular option.

It also shows that - despite the reduction in high attainers taking the subject - the majority of grammar schools (89 per cent) and independents schools (72 per cent) have more than three quarters of their pupils taking the subject at GCSE. By contrast, 88 per cent of the lowest performing schools have fewer than half their pupils studying the subject. "Students are less likely to be studying a modern foreign language if they go to school in a deprived area," it adds.

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