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The British Academy responds to British Council report on the gender gap in language learning

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The British Academy today welcomes a new report from the British Council on the gender gap in language learning at GCSE level in England.

‘Boys studying modern foreign languages at GCSE in schools in England’ – based on research undertaken by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Alcantara Communications – examines the gender gap in language learning and highlights the methods used by those schools that have managed to close the gap by tackling boys’ underperformance in this area.

The report finds that:

  • Girls are more than twice as likely as boys to enter and achieve at least a Grade 4 in a language GCSE
  • The substantial gender gap (of 10-12%) in EBacc language entry at GCSE contrasts with all four other EBacc subject areas, where gender gaps are negligible.

Responding to the report, Professor Neil Kenny, Languages Lead at the British Academy, said:

‘This timely new report offers valuable insight into the UK’s language learning crisis. It was already known that being socially disadvantaged reduces your chances of learning a language to GCSE. This report shows that being a boy reduces your chances further still. This is a wake-up call to the stark gender gap in language learning in our schools. The report also proposes ways of addressing that gap. We must address it, because not only are many boys missing out on the core educational, cognitive, and cultural benefits that language learning provides, but the UK as a whole is missing out to an alarming extent on the contribution that language skills can make to social cohesion, to the economy, to trade, to productivity, and to soft power.

‘Last year, the British Academy called on Government to implement a UK-wide strategy to revive language learning. The Academy has since been working with a range of partners to determine the detail of what such a strategy could look like, and we will be publishing this in Spring 2020.’