The results of the latest Language Trends
survey show that the number of students choosing to take a language
at 14 is still in decline.
The findings, based on a survey sent to 2000
schools in England, revealed that the proportion of schools
where more than 50 per cent of pupils study a language in year 10
has dropped from 45% in 2008-9 to 40% in the current school
year. Interestingly, the survey shows that it is not due to
disaffection from students but from the structure of post-14
education and its link to performance tables.
Schools are taking part in a wide range of new
initiatives to improve take up, and they are already starting to
show an impact on pupils’ attitudes. However, their effectiveness
in increasing numbers is limited by the wide choice of subjects
available; pressure on schools and pupils to achieve higher grades
and narrowly focused advice from parents, tutors and others.
Responses also show that it is school policies which are the
biggest determinant of an increase in take up, highlighting the
crucial role of school leadership.
The survey shows that the national benchmark
of 50-90% of pupils expected to continue with a language - which
has been government policy since 2006 - is being abandoned as
unrealistic in a context of ever-widening choices for
Kathryn Board, Chief Executive of CILT,
said: “As we go into a new decade it is time to consider new
objectives for the National Languages Strategy. The need for
our young people to learn languages has never been greater, with
language skills becoming increasingly important when competing for
jobs in the global marketplace. We have to work with the
government, school leaders and local authorities to tackle the
challenges outlined in this report. It shows that young people are
enthusiastic about learning languages but the system can be an
French, Spanish and German are still the most
commonly taught languages and the number of schools offering
Spanish has overtaken German for the first time in state schools.
French saw an overall decrease at Key Stage 4 but 30% of schools
have increased the numbers for French post-16 and 10% of schools
have introduced Spanish as a new subject in the 6th
form. At Key stage 3 a third of schools have introduced
a new language in the last 3 years.
Lesser taught languages are continuing to grow
in state schools although not so noticeably in the maintained
sector as in the independent sector where there has been a sharp
rise in the offer of Mandarin. Overall there is a conspicuous
gap in access to language teaching between the state and
Linda Parker, Director of Association for Language Learning,
said: “This year’s survey highlights once again the enormous
efforts being made by teachers of languages to encourage and
support language learning in our schools, at times in the face of
policies and practices in state schools which create barriers to
take-up and success”.
Mike Kelly, Director of the Routes into
Languages programme, at the University of Southampton, said:
“The information in Language Trends is
enormously useful. It is disappointing that state schools seem to
be slipping further behind the independent schools in this
area. But it is very encouraging that schools are working so
hard to attract students to languages, and getting such a lot of
effective support from national initiatives, including the Routes
Other initiatives include CILT’s Languages
Work website which is being re-launched today; the Business
Language Champions programme linking schools and businesses, and
MYLO, an innovative new online language learning resource funded by
the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) which is
being launched in the spring.
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