Damage to language teaching 'irreparable'

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The Independent Online

The damage to language teaching in secondary schools may be irreparable, the leader of the country's secondary school headteachers said yesterday.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said some schools no longer had staff teaching the subject to their 14- to 16-year-olds.

He was speaking after this year's GCSE results confirmed a further drop in the take-up of French and German – pushing French out of the list of the top 10 most popular subjects at GCSE for the first time.

The number of pupils taking both languages has halved in the past decade.

Dr Dunford said many language teachers were now having to teach other subjects. "The fall may be a cumulative effect of losing good staff.

"You would have expected the decline to have tailed off two years ago if it was just down to the decision to stop making the subject compulsory, but it has continued," he said.

Ministers decided to make languages voluntary for 14- to 16-year-olds in September 2004.

The first cohort to sit GCSEs as a result of the new circumstances was in 2007, and any effect from the decision should have passed through the system by 2008.

However, this year saw a further 5.9 per cent decline in the take-up of French. "Without good staff, children are less likely to choose the subject as an option," said Dr Dunford.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry has revealed that some businesses have lost contracts due to a lack of language skills among staff. Most employers wanted their staff to have conversational ability in a foreign language "to help break the ice with customers or suppliers and as part of wider cultural understanding".

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