Rutland tops table for teaching languages

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Rutland may be the smallest county in England but it achieved a measure of greatness yesterday, as the area with the greatest love of languages. Figures show that the historic area neighbouring Lincolnshire and Leicestershire produced the most enthusiastic young learners of European tongues.

Rutland may be the smallest county in England but it achieved a measure of greatness yesterday, as the area with the greatest love of languages. Figures show that the historic area neighbouring Lincolnshire and Leicestershire produced the most enthusiastic young learners of European tongues.

Some 89 per cent of 15-year-olds in Rutland took at least one language at GCSE, the Department for Education said. The county also had, at 48 per cent, the highest percentage of pupils learning German. Tower Hamlets in London had the worst performance nationally, with just one third of pupils studying French, German or Spanish.

However, many of the areas with poor results have high immigrant populations. Instead of European languages, many pupils in these boroughs learn languages such as Urdu that are relevant to the community, but were not included in the survey.

Carol Chambers, Rutland's director of education, said the Government's "league table" was a vindication of the priority given by the county to language learning. "Rutland has continued with a traditional approach to teaching and languages remain a high priority within this," she said.

West Berkshire, Poole and Bolton were also language hotspots. The highest proportion of teenagers taking French was in Leicestershire, (72 per cent) and Spanish was most commonly studied at GCSE in Camden, north London, with 35 per cent of pupils learning the language.

Stephen Twigg, an Education minister, called for more students to learn Spanish, saying it was now the most widely spoken European business language behind English. But linguists warned that the Government's policy on languages was likely to produce a steep downturn in the number of language students, with particular falls expected in German and Spanish.

Mr Twigg said: "Last year, people living in the UK made 12.6 million visits to Spain. And only 8 per cent of pupils doing GCSEs in England's maintained schools took Spanish in 2002."

But Terry Lamb, past president of the Association for Language Learning and a lecturer at Sheffield University, said the Government's decision to axe compulsory language learning for pupils aged 14 to 16 would lead to a drop in numbers.

"The irony is that fewer language students means schools are losing their second foreign language, so Spanish and German are losing their staff. If you have fewer students it is just not economically viable to divide them into groups and give them the option of, say, French or German. It will be much cheaper to teach them all French."

Nationally, 74 per cent of all 15-year-olds taking GCSEs last year studied at least one modern foreign language, the figures revealed. The most popular language was French, studied by 51 per cent of last year's GCSE pupils, 21 per cent studied German and 8 per cent Spanish.

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