Languages not compulsory in two-thirds of state schools

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two-thirds of state secondary schools no longer make foreign language lessons compulsory. A massive decline in take-up by 14- to 16-year-olds is revealed in a study published today by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT), the national resource centre for language teachers.

Two-thirds of state secondary schools no longer make foreign language lessons compulsory. A massive decline in take-up by 14- to 16-year-olds is revealed in a study published today by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT), the national resource centre for language teachers.

The study shows a stark divide between state and independent schools, with only 30 per cent of the state sector now offering compulsory language lessons compared with 97 per cent of independent schools, which means around 2,000 schools have abandoned the compulsory provision.

The figure has declined from 71 per cent two years ago - the first year after ministers announced the subject could become voluntary for the age group - and 55 per cent last year. Officially, the subject only became voluntary this September, but a number of schools jumped the gun and dropped the provision earlier.

The figures are worst for the first year of GCSE study where only 41 per cent of students in schools which have made the subject voluntary now study a language. If the findings, based on returns from 800 of the 3,000 state secondary schools in England and 60 independent schools, are mirrored throughout the country, it would mean about 280,000 fewer 14- and 15-year-olds studying languages than four years ago.

Language experts are alarmed that take-up of the subject is increasingly becoming confined to a middle-class elite. The research, carried out in conjunction with the Association for Language Learning (ALL), the body which represents language teachers, and the Independent Schools' Modern Languages Association, shows it is still compulsory in most independent schools.

In addition, only 7 per cent of selective grammar schools had made languages optional - compared with 74 per cent of comprehensive schools.

The stark divide is shown in the return by one independent school, Dulwich College, which said 50 per cent of its students continue with languages into the sixth form, and one local education authority which has phased out German in eight of its secondary schools, one of which still has three German teachers but no pupils. Schools responding to the survey said even their brightest pupils had given up the subject.

Isabella Moore, director of CILT, said: "I think schools perceive languages as being hard. If they're thinking about their league table position, they perceive results can be achieved more easily with other subjects."

Many schools were abandoning them in favour of vocational subjects such as business studies, and leisure and tourism.

Linda Parker, director of the ALL, said: "Teachers do feel their subject has been downgraded as a result of the Government's decision."

The survey showed the take-up of German and French is declining - 72 per cent of state schools reported a fall in the take-up of French and 70 per cent a fall in German. However, 44 per cent reported an increase in take-up of Spanish.

"The drop is greater in schools with a high proportion of pupils with free school meals, those with lower GCSE scores and more marked in the north of England than the south," the survey concluded. However, it did show schools were beginning to experiment with a wider range of languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

Ministers plan to increase the teaching of languages in primary schools and say every seven-year-old will be able to learn a language by 2010.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "This will lead to increasing numbers of children learning languages throughout their school careers and beyond."

Comments