New language qualifications help put 10,000 students on 'ladder of learning'

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The Independent Online

Ten thousand students - including children as young as eight - have taken innovative new courses which aim to reverse the decline in language learning.

The qualifications - called Asset Languages and run by the Oxford and Cambridge exam board OCR - aim to make language learning accessible by offering a "ladder" of bite-sized courses similar to music grades.

This summer's GCSE results showed a big decline in the number of pupils studying modern foreign languages. French and German suffered the biggest falls in candidates of any subject, with declines of 13.2 per cent and 14.2 per cent. The Government was blamed for these falls because of its decision to make language learning voluntary for 14- to 16-year-olds.

The Asset Language qualifications - offered at six levels from beginner to masters - are intended to encourage learners to improve their skills whatever their starting point.

More than one in four secondary schools, 700 institutions, has signed up to deliver the qualifications from September in a move that the exam board hopes will signal an increase in the popularity of language learning in schools. In addition 120 primary schools, 60 private schools and 30 further education colleges have registered to take part.

Durham University has also used the scheme forundergraduates who hope to boost their employability by learning Mandarin.

The aim is for the youngest pupils to gain a love of language learning at primary school as well as a feeling of achievement by gaining the officially accredited qualifications. But the qualifications have also been widely used by secondary schools over the past year - particularly with 14-year-olds in the run-up to their decision on whether to continue languages to GCSE or to drop them.

"It can boost students' confidence in their own ability and persuade them that they can carry on," said Barrie Hunt, director of Asset Languages. "Even if students are going to opt out of languages this gives them a qualification which rewards what they have achieved so far."

Eddie Moore, director of languages at Impington Village College, Cambridge, who has entered students for Asset courses in French, German and Italian, said: "One of the exciting things is the step-by-step nature of the qualifications. Students can really relate to the idea of studying languages in the same way as for music grades."

Aldjia Touati, head of languages at Swanlea School, in Whitechapel, east London, said taking the Asset French qualification encouraged more pupils to take language GCSEs. "This has undoubtedly contributed to an increase in the numbers of students taking languages at Key Stage 4 [GCSE]. It is a great way of motivating pupils who are struggling."

Last year, the first full year of the scheme, 26,000 qualifications were taken by around 10,000 students from 131 schools and colleges in eight languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Urdu, Punjabi, Mandarin and Japanese.

French was the most popular, with nearly 57 per cent of entries ,followed by Spanish with 21.5 per cent.

This year the qualifications will be offered in a further 13 languages, including Arabic, Swedish, Turkish and Yoruba.