Towards a National Languages Strategy: Education and Skills

by the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Association of School and College Leaders, the British Council and Universities UK

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The British Academy, working with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Association of School and College Leaders, the British Council and Universities UK, presents proposals for the education and skills component of a UK-wide national languages strategy.

Languages are strategically vital for the future of the UK, as we look to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen our relationships across the world. We need urgent, concerted and coordinated action at all levels from primary schools through to university and beyond to address the inadequate, longstanding, and worsening supply of the language skills needed by the UK to meet future needs.

In our proposals we have sought to be creative in identifying new solutions. We have taken a joined-up, holistic approach which is coherent across the education and skills systems and which can, where appropriate, be implemented across the UK, to maximise the return which can be achieved. We have sought to learn lessons from previous languages strategies and recent initiatives, and have recognised that while there is a cost for implementation, this can be modest and the responsibility for meeting those costs does not have to rest solely with government. This strategy seeks to build on existing initiatives and to increase their impact, led wherever possible by the language education community itself.

Short term actions – the next 12 months

  • Awareness raising and information sharing (UK-wide): We recommend that the languages education and skills community work together to establish and promote Languages UK as a recognised brand for a collaborative web-based resource which provides a single authoritative portal for languages provision
  • Grading and setting of GCSE and A level examinations (England, Northern Ireland, Wales): We recommend the adjustment of grade boundaries for language qualifications at both A level and GCSE to ensure a level playing field for students taking these subjects.
  • Advanced Languages Premium (England, Northern Ireland, Wales): We recommend the introduction of an Advanced Languages Premium for study of languages at RQF level 3 (A level and equivalent) as an incentive to schools that have low levels of provision and take-up.
  • Higher education funding (UK-wide): We recommend that funding models for undergraduate education cover the full costs of provision for language degrees and other learning opportunities for languages.
  • Staff and student mobility (UK-wide): We recommend that schemes for outward mobility such as Erasmus+, and those that enable language specialists to come to the UK to teach, are able to continue to at least their present level into the future.

Medium- and long-term actions – 1–5 years

  • Infrastructure and coordination (UK-wide): We recommend the strengthening of existing funded partnerships or centres supporting the primary and secondary sectors (to spread best practice and help all children have access to high quality provision) and the creation of strategic committees for higher education and further education (to facilitate coordination and planning).
  • Ambassador and mentor schemes (UK-wide): We recommend the expansion of existing ambassador and mentor schemes which demonstrate impact through robust evaluation.
  • Recognition of qualifications (UK-wide): We recommend the creation of an accessible cross-sector framework for language competence and qualifications.
  • Primary language curriculum (England, Wales, Northern Ireland): We recommend further work to establish and then implement the best approach for the primary curriculum, and for the transition to secondary.
  • Post-16 languages qualifications (England, Wales, Northern Ireland): We recommend providers of post- 16 education incorporate language elements in existing extension qualifications, and exploration of new types of post-16 qualifications in languages.
  • Languages in initial teacher education (UK-wide): We recommend extension of the amount of time allocated to primary languages subject specialism and stipulation of a statutory minimum amount of time for subject specific pathways.
  • Strategy for teacher retention (England, Wales, Scotland): We recommend a joined-up strategy for retention and recruitment of language teachers, recognising that different teacher education and accreditation arrangements exist across the jurisdictions.
  • Intensive schemes for language learning (England, Wales, Northern Ireland): We recommend building on the success of the Mandarin Excellence Programme by introducing intensive schemes for other languages which are accessible to all learners, with a focus on areas of multiple deprivation in the UK and other areas where language learning uptake is low.
  • Integration of languages in vocational and technical qualifications (UK-wide): We recommend the incorporation of language-learning into vocational and technical qualifications where appropriate.

What will success look like?

The success of a UK languages strategy will take many forms, of which some will be hard to measure. The report proposes a number of measurable outcomes as indicators of success:

  • Primary and Secondary: All children learning one or more languages (other than compulsory languages English and Welsh) from at least age 7 to 14, with the overwhelming majority continuing to at least age 15/16 and entering a GCSE or National 5 qualification.
  • Primary: Achieving a more even quality of experience for pupils (and teachers) at primary level, with clarity around time and accountability, and with support for teachers obtaining appropriate language qualifications and training or professional development.
  • Secondary: Reversing the decline in the number of students continuing with a language to age 18, so that numbers increase annually from 2025 onwards. This will require sustaining and increasing the number of schools and colleges offering languages post-16, including the number offering more than one language at A level or equivalent.
  • Universities: Stopping the decline across the UK as a whole in the numbers of undergraduates studying languages to degree level by 2025, and, following a period of levelling, sustaining an increase in numbers from 2030.
  • Research: Maintaining the current number of high-quality languages applications across the portfolio of funded schemes and doctoral programmes.

Languages in the UK: a call for action

Backed by the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Royal Academy of Engineering, this statement from the British Academy says that the prospect of Brexit ‘makes it even more important for the UK to have the languages needed to forge wider commercial and other links’.

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