Keep languages courses optional, urges head of national centre

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Compulsory language lessons for teenagers are counterproductive and should not be brought back, the new head of Britain's national languages centre says today.

In an interview with The Independent, her first since taking office, Kate Broad said 14- to 16-year-olds should only learn languages if they are interested in the subject. "I don't think we can go back," said Ms Broad, chief executive of Cilt – the body tasked with promoting foreign languages in Britain. "At the end of the day, when it was compulsory, were they learning or were they just sitting in the classroom? If you stick everybody in the classroom, are they really learning French or are they just sitting in there, getting bored and disruptive?"

The Government's decision to end compulsory language lessons for 14- to 16-year-olds, taken five years ago, caused outrage at the time and is widely blamed for a dramatic slump in the take-up of languages at GCSE in recent years. In particular, Sir Trevor McDonald, the ITN newscaster, called for languages to be a compulsory element up to degree level in a report for the Nuffield Foundation.