Leading article: Time to end our insular outlook

Share

If any aspect of our school system can be regarded as a disaster area, it is surely the study of foreign languages. And the Government's decision three years ago to make learning a foreign language voluntary from the age of 14 only made matters worse. The figures speak for themselves. The number of pupils taking French and German at GCSE has fallen by one third since 2001. Even if the dominance of these two foreign languages in our school curriculum can be criticised; these are the languages spoken by our near neighbours.

So it is with some impatience that we await the interim findings later this week of the government inquiry into language teaching, which is being conducted by Lord Dearing. Some advance reports suggested that an early recommendation would simply be to reinstate compulsory study of a foreign language up to GCSE, as a large constituency of academics and professional linguists would like. As we report today, however, Lord Dearing may stop short of proposing a complete about-face. One reason is the increase in the number of primary schools that teach a foreign language. The Government called for languages to be taught at primary level when it abolished compulsory languages from 14. A second is the view of some teachers that pupils should not be forced to continue with subjects for which they have little aptitude and even less interest. They argue that compulsion fosters disruptive behaviour and thus hinders those who want to learn.

Lord Dearing was asked to suggest ways of encouraging the take-up of languages in schools. One way - encouraging more schools to offer the International Baccalaureate - has already been announced by the Prime Minister. Another would be to introduce a compulsory language component for some of the specialist diplomas that are to be introduced. Such a requirement would be weighted towards the acquisition of a useable skill, rather than towards literary or other knowledge. The idea, already gaining acceptance, would be to stress the importance of language ability in travel and gaining employment.

Unfortunately, none of these gentler solutions is likely to have the desired effect of increasing the linguistic competence of young Britons. It is sad, but true, that there are times when nothing succeeds like compulsion, supplemented by force of example. If at least one foreign language is not to be compulsory up to age 16, perhaps a foreign language should once again become a requirement for university entrance, regardless of the proposed field of study. After all, unless the brightest are encouraged to see a foreign language as an asset, why should anyone else think it worth the effort?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Charge Accountant

£20,000 - £22,000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Property Management Grou...

Head of Sales, London

£70 - 95K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Milton Keynes

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin  

How to deal with Putin without crossing moral red lines

Dominic Raab
Prostitutes face a high risk of contracting HIV, yet they are offered little help from the Government  

Want to rid the world of HIV? Then you can start by decriminalising prostitution

Pamela Das
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game