Schools abandon foreign language targets

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The Independent Online

Growing numbers of schools are abandoning a government target to get 50 per cent of their pupils to learn a language at 14, it was revealed today.

Even some of the Government’s specialist language colleges have failed to reach the benchmark, according to research y the Centre for Information on Language Teaching.

As a result schools are producing a generation of youngsters ill-equipped to take up the top jobs in the international market, the organisation said.

Figures show the percentage of schools reaching the Government’s benchmark has dipped from 45 per cent to 40 per cent this year. Around 20 schools specialising in languages also fail to reach it.

CILT revealed yesterday that the requirement that all children in language colleges should study a language to GCSE has been quietly dropped to only 80 per cent.

A survey showed many schools are dropping languages because pupils have less chance of getting an A* or A grade pass at GCSE because the subject is considered too difficult.

In particular, schools facing closure because they are failing to reach the Government’s minimum target of 30 per cent A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English are ditching languages.

“The lowest performing schools are those most likely to have low participation in language learning,” said CILT’s survey.

“However, high performing schools in more privileged areas are also increasingly affected by low take-up.”

Language experts had believed the slide in take-up ever since ministers made the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds had been halted last year. However, this year’s figures have proved a disappointment.

“It saddens me for a very simple reason that I think in the long term we are disadvantaging are young people for the world of employment once they’ve finished their formal education,” said Kathryn Board, chief executive of CILT.

“Without languages we can’t support them in a life of employment in an increasingly international market.”

She added that she was”concerned about the growing elitism of languages” which were still flourishing in independent and selective state grammar schools..

One struggling state school told CILT researchers it could only offer languages as a “twilight” option – studied out of school time. As a result, only four pupils were studying the subject.

The school day had to be taken up coping with the pressure of pushing the top grade pass rate up to 30 per cent with maths and English by focussing on the core subjects and getting all pupils to take a vocational qualification – worth more than just an ordinary GCSE pass.

“Languages are still considered by many pupils to be ‘difficult’ and many parents see them as non essential due to the dominance of English in the world, unfortunately,” said another.

“Languages are too hard even though very worthwhile.”

The report called for “incentives” to persuade students to opt fior languages – such as a higher A-level point score for the subject or more universities to follow in the footsteps of University College London in insisting all students have a languages qualification.

Yesterday’s report also showed that Spanish had overtaken German in take-up in state schools for the first time ever. Figures showed 96 per cent of state schools offer French, 62 per cent Spanish and 55 per cent German.

Teresa Tinsley, CILT’s Director of Communications, said Spanish was an “attractive culture” to youngsters with more modern role models – such as Spanish-speaking Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira.

“Spain is probably people’s number one holiday destination,” she said. “More kids have contact with Spanish culture than German.

“They (the Spaniards) are not elite.” There were “attractive” people working as hairdressers and plumbers with whom youngsters could identify.