Poor and lower ability pupils are missing out on languages

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Concern has been raised about the growing gaps in access to and the study of foreign languages, with pupils at state schools in disadvantaged areas most likely to be missing out.

Furthermore, the introduction of the new, more rigorous GCSEs mean that lower ability pupils are now less likely to take a language in key stage 4.

The findings have come from the 2018 Language Trends Survey, published last week by the British Council. It reveals that schools with the highest proportion of pupil eligibility for free school meals are more than three times more likely to have low participation at GCSE level with no plans for this to improve. This is when compared to schools with the most affluent pupil cohorts.

The report states: “Schools in more disadvantaged circumstances tend to dedicate a shorter time to languages in key stage 3, allow pupils to drop languages after only two years and have lower participation at GCSE.

“Both state and independent schools report an increasing concentration of high and middle-attaining pupils in GCSE languages, to the exclusion of those of lower ability or with SEN.”

The report also notes that the increase in language take-up sparked by the introduction of the English Baccalaureate league table measure is now in decline.

It adds: “The increase in GCSE numbers delivered by the EBacc policy is now in reverse. There is a widening gap between schools which are moving towards the government’s ambition of 90 per cent of pupils taking a language, and those where languages are not a priority.”

The government has set a target of 75 per cent of pupils taking the EBacc by 2022 and many schools are making progress in line with this.

The number of state schools where at least three-quarters of pupils learn a language at GCSE level increased in the last year from 24 to 29 per cent.

However, the number of state schools where only up to a quarter of pupils study languages at GCSE – and have no plans for this to improve – has risen from 19 to 23 per cent in the last year, and it is these schools that are three times more likely to be in the most disadvantaged circumstances.

The survey also found that schools in the most disadvantaged circumstances are more than twice as likely to dedicate less teaching time to languages at key stage 3.

Elsewhere, the report reveals a perception that languages are less important than other subjects, with 34 per cent of state secondary schools reporting that there has been a “negative impact on student motivation or parental attitudes towards learning languages as a consequence of the decision to leave the European Union”.

The report also reveals that uptake of French and German at GCSE and A level has dramatically fallen over the last two decades while there has been a significant rise for Spanish. These trends have continued this year, with French and German both falling to a new low of 8,300 and 3,300 entries respectively at A level, while Spanish has risen to 7,600 entries. The report predicts that Spanish will overtake French as England’s most widely taught modern language at A level by 2020 and at GCSE by 2025.


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