Leading article: A lesson learned?

Related Topics

In an interview yesterday, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, expressed concern at the sharp decline in the number of students taking exams in foreign languages. Mr Gove also said that his department's forthcoming White Paper will include a new "English Baccalaureate" qualification, which will be awarded to all pupils who pass at least five GCSEs, including one foreign language.

Mr Gove's recognition of the problem is welcome. This newspaper has long argued that the decline in the study of foreign languages in our schools is deplorable. And it is children at state schools who are being let down the most. Private schools still tend to make foreign languages compulsory for their pupils up to GCSE level. But will Mr Gove's idea of a Baccalaureate help rectify matters?

The idea seems to be to nudge schools and students towards placing a higher value on foreign languages. If employers and universities come to regard the Baccalaureate as an indication of educational quality, that should provide an incentive for children to study languages and for schools to channel resources in that direction.

It is certainly worth a try. But the proof of this pudding will be in the eating. If the downward trend for languages is not reversed in the coming years, Mr Gove needs to consider more direct action: re-introducing the requirement for all pupils to study at least one language at GCSE, which the previous Government foolishly removed. The decline in languages started at the beginning of the decade, but accelerated when Labour made the subject voluntary in 2004.

Languages are not for everyone. Some teachers argue that, for some hard-to-reach pupils, language lessons are inappropriate and a waste of time. But the solution for the minority of children who would not benefit from such lessons is to allow them to opt out at GCSE level. The presumption that the majority of children will reap rewards from being exposed to at least one foreign language at school is surely the right one.

Mr Gove needs to focus his energy on boosting languages at primary school level too. Although the previous government made a colossal blunder in making foreign languages optional at GCSE, its proposal to require all children to learn a foreign language from age 7 was laudable. The problem was that this half of the Labour administration's reform never made it into law. If Mr Gove is serious about reversing the decline in the study of foreign languages in Britain's schools, he needs to complete what his predecessor started.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, unveiled her new name on Monday  

'I'm the happiest I've been for a long time and I finally know where I fit': Here's why role models matter for trans kids

Susie Green
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific