We could do much better. Ten years on from the Nuffield Inquiry
Report, chaired by Sir Trevor McDonald, much remains to do in our
education system to increase capability in other languages.
The number of
English primary schools teaching a language has risen from 21% in
2001 to 92% in 2008. French is taught in 90% of primary schools
which provide a language, Spanish by 25% and German by 10%.
are compulsory in early secondary (Key Stage 3) but only 44% of
pupils continue with a language to GCSE. This has declined from 76%
in 2000. The decision to make languages optional post 14 was
announced in 2002. A smaller proportion of 16-18 year olds take an
A level in a foreign language. In 1996, one in 10 A-level
candidates took French; in 2008 the proportion was less than one in
Higher education and
3% of university students take languages
degrees. This is down from 4% in 2002-03. Students taking a
language as an optional extra at university have also declined.
Numbers studying French and German at university have declined,
although Spanish is increasingly popular. Our universities are
producing very small numbers of graduates in the non-Western
European languages that businesses are beginning to demand.
Only 30% of the UK population say they can
understand a conversation in another language. This compares to 50%
on average across 27 European countries.
“Instead of worrying about
whether immigrants can learn English – they’ll learn English – you
need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.” Barack