The news that a large number of schools – many in the most deprived areas of the country – have abandoned the Government's target of getting 50 per cent of all 14- to 16-year-olds to study a modern foreign language has been quietly received in education circles with little comment. The Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT), which produced the finding as part of its annual survey of provision, called for several measures to boost the take-up of languages.
Notably, it did not call for languages to be made compulsory again. That battle appears to have been lost. There are not enough trained language teachers left in schools to make it a reality. However, the suggestions put forward by the CILT (an additional point score at A-level in recognition of the fact it is considered a difficult subject, or encouraging universities to follow University College London in insisting that all students have a language qualification) merit serious consideration, certainly more consideration than appears to have been given in the aftermath of the survey.
As the CILT observed, a failure to act will serve us ill in the globally competitive market for jobs. School-leavers are already missing out on highly skilled commercial jobs where applicants need an international perspective to flourish. Last but not least, it shows that the Government's hastily thought-out strategy to boost languages in primary schools is not filling the gap created by the decision to make the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds.
There are some encouraging signs of innovative work in primary schools but it may take a generation before the damage caused by government policy is redressed.