The British Academy responds to 2022 GCSE data

25 Aug 2022

The British Academy is encouraged by the recovery in less-taught languages highlighted by this year’s Joint Council for Qualifications’ (JCQ) data on GCSE intake across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, though other trends provide cause for concern.

Entries for ‘other modern languages’, including strategically important languages such as Arabic, Urdu and Mandarin, have increased by 47% since last year. This represents a bounce back from a significant decline in student numbers over the last two years, and they are now 17% higher than in 2019.

However, the trends for the most-taught languages paint a mixed picture. German continues its long-term decline, decreasing by 17% since 2019. The number of pupils studying French remains stable and while student numbers for Spanish have declined for the first time since 2018, meaning it is no longer the GCSE subject with the highest percentage growth, uptake remains 9% above 2019 levels.

The picture across other SHAPE subjects (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) is also mixed. Some subjects, including Business Studies, Economics and Geography, have seen moderate increases in intake. In English studies, English literature entries have remained stable while numbers for English language have fallen.

In Scotland, like the rest of the UK, there are increases for Business Management and Economics. But the picture there for modern languages is also fragmented with positive increases for Spanish and Urdu, while French and German continue long-term patterns of decline.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, says:

“This year’s GCSE data show signs of promise for the health of several SHAPE subjects. As well as notable increases for Business Management and Economics, we are delighted to see a recovery in the number of students taking ‘other modern languages’ like Arabic and Mandarin. We live in an increasingly globalised world in which language skills can be a great advantage and the data suggest young learners are beginning to recognise this.

“However, more work is needed to reverse the overall long-term decline in language learning. The British Academy is a long-standing advocate for the many benefits of language skills and we are working with partners to support the implementation of the recommendations in Towards a National Languages Strategy.

“The British Academy will continue to monitor the health and development of all the humanities and social sciences at system-wide and discipline-specific levels via its SHAPE Observatory function. Now more than ever the UK needs versatile graduates with a broad and balanced portfolio of skills and expertise.”

Contact the press office

Notes to editors

The British Academy is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. We mobilise these disciplines to understand the world and shape a brighter future. We invest in researchers and projects across the UK and overseas, engage the public with fresh thinking and debates, and bring together scholars, government, business and civil society to influence policy for the benefit of everyone. @BritishAcademy_

Sign up to our email newsletters