Business blamed for slump in foreign language entries

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The Independent Online

Exam boards are blaming British businesses for a further slump in the take-up of modern foreign languages at GCSE.

Figures showed that take-up of French had fallen by a further 6.8 per cent this year to 201,940, which means that only about one in three teenagers is taking the subject. German fell again, too, from 81,061 last year to 76,695 in 2008, a drop of 5.4 per cent.

The slump was only partly offset by a rise of 4.9 per cent in Spanish, to 67,092 this year.

Take-up of maths also went down, by 21,848 (2.9 per cent) – partly due to independent schools ditching GCSEs in favour of the International GCSEs, which are designed along the lines of the traditional O-level and do not use coursework assessments, as well as pupils taking maths early so they can start AS and A-level studies early.

Exam boards said yesterday that each factor accounted for a reduction of about 10,000.

English was also down by 10,716 (1.5 per cent) for the same reasons. Individual science subjects – physics, biology and chemistry – were all up, however, denoting a shift away from the general sciences course.

The drop in modern foreign languages, though, is a crippling blow to the subject, particularly as education experts had predicted the fall-off in languages take-up would "bottom out" this year, following the Government's decision three years ago to make language subjects voluntary for pupils from the age of 14. Last year's cohort was the first to complete their GCSEs following the decision – meaning that it could no longer be blamed for the slump.

Greg Watson, the chief executive of the Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Art exam board, blamed the fall on "signals from the outside world". He said: "Young people are particularly sensitive to the force that qualifications have. I think you hear loudly and clearly from the jobs market it would be good to have maths and good to have some science. I don't think they hear a very loud signal from employers that a language is required ... It is pretty hard to see any reflection of that in job adverts."

Yesterday's slump follows a report earlier this week, revealed by The Independent, which showed a dramatic decline in the take-up of modern foreign languages at degree level – with German, in particular, slumping from 2,288 degree places to 610.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary school headteachers, said languages were considered much harder than most other GCSEs. "The further fall in French and German entries shows that the relative difficulty of modern language GCSE continues to have a damaging effect," he said. "It is urgent that the Government addresses this problem."

Maria Miller, the Conservatives' Families spokeswoman, said: "The fall in the number of children taking foreign languages is of concern, particularly as we know from last year's results that there is a wide regional gap in those taking the exams... It is the most disadvantaged families that are worst affected." The lowest percentage of pupils to enter for a modern foreign language GCSE is in Hartlepool – only 16.3 per cent.

Andrew Adonis, the Schools minister, said there was "more to be done" to encourage language learning. Ministers were earmarking an extra £50m to boost the take-up in primary schools – where it will be made compulsory next year.

Meanwhile, rises were recorded in religious studies (up 4.3 per cent to 86, 224) and media studies (up 5.1 per cent to 69,823).

'Brilliant' recovery after illness

A girl scooped eight GCSEs with A* and A grades today despite being struck down with a rare debilitating illness.

Alice Boardman, 16, had just taken her mock exams at Leeds Girls' High School when she began to feel unwell. She was eventually diagnosed with Lemierre's Syndrome – which results in the inflammation of the jugular vein, leading to septicaemia. Alice spent two weeks in intensive care and a high dependency unit.

On her return to school, two months later, she had to catch up on coursework and was forced to drop her art GCSE because she missed the final exam while she was ill. But her efforts paid off when she opened her results to reveal A* grades in English, English literature, history and science and A grades in maths, German, business studies and science.

Alice said: "I'm really happy, it's brilliant. I wasn't expecting to do so well."