Response to the British Council Language Trends Survey

27 Jun 2018

The British Academy has today responded to the publication of the British Council’s Language Trends Survey 2018.

The Survey is an annual research exercise charting the health of language teaching and learning in state and independent schools in England. Approximately 1470 primary and secondary schools across the country completed the online survey this year.

The report reveals a widening gap in young people’s access to foreign languages provision at school according to their socio-economic background.

The survey found that schools with higher proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals were three times more likely to have low participation in GCSE languages than schools located in more privileged areas.

In addition, the number of students studying French and German continues to decline. The British Academy reiterated its warning that despite a rise in the take up of Spanish and of smaller-entry languages, the English Baccalaureate has not yet contributed to halting the worrying overall trend, with only one pupil in two sitting a modern language at GCSE.

Uptake of French and German at GCSE and A level has continued to fall this year, reaching new lows of 8,300 and 3,300 entries respectively at A level.

Professor Neil Kenny FBA, Lead Fellow for languages at the British Academy, said:

“It is clearly alarming that over the past two decades, fewer and fewer students have chosen to learn a modern language at GCSE and A Level.

“The results published today demonstrate once more that the Government’s decision to make languages optional at Key Stage 4 from 2004 was unfortunate.

“The English Baccalaureate was intended to get almost everyone to do at least one language other than English at GCSE, but it is clearly not having that effect, with many schools prioritizing other accountability measures instead (Progress 8).  

“While the recent incorporation of language-learning into primary education (from age 7) is welcome, the report also shows that the transition from primary to secondary is in many cases not yet working well.

“The study of languages, which is more important than ever with Brexit, is the gateway through which young people can develop the communication skills and the cultural understanding that they will need in the future.

“Employer surveys regularly find that young people will need not only to be able to speak other languages in the future, but also will need a mindset of cultural agility, enabling them to be flexible, adaptable, mobile, and sensitive to difference in an increasingly interconnected world.

“Every young person in this country should have the opportunity to access a high-quality learning experience of modern languages, regardless of the type of school he or she goes to.

“The report shows a growing divide between the linguistic haves and have-nots. Academic high-achievers and those from affluent backgrounds are much more likely to be studying languages at school. Modern languages should be for everyone. We must do more to help schools prioritise them.”



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