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Education News

England's dire record on language learning laid bare in international study

Findings come as former Schools Minister says he believes axing compulsory language lessons was a mistake

English pupils are among the worst performers in Europe when it comes to learning a foreign language, a major study has revealed.

The research, which examined language skills in 14 European countries, shows that even those who continue their language studies until the age of 16 fare worse than their counterparts from almost any other country in the Continent.

The researchers separately tested pupils across the 14 nations in the first and second most commonly taught languages in their respective countries; French and German in the case of England.

A survey of first language test results concluded:  “England and France were amongst the lowest performers overall.”

The report also exposed a significant gap between English pupils from better-off homes and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. “Pupils with higher economic, social and cultural status performed at a higher level in French writing and in German writing and listening,” it added.

The research, carried out for the Department for Education by the National Foundation for Educational Research, comes soon after ministers announced they plan to introduce compulsory language learning in primary schools from the age of seven.

It underlines the dramatic decline in the take-up of languages at GCSE since 2004, when compulsory lessons were scrapped by the previous Labour government. In that year, 295, 970 pupils took French at GCSE in 2004, but by 2011 it had fallen to 141,472.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: We are addressing the chronic lack of attention paid to foreign languages in schools.

“It is vital young people start studying a language at an earlier age.  That is why from next year we are ensuring that children learn a language from age seven.”