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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 March 2008, 00:47 GMT
Cambridge drops language demand
Language lesson
A language GCSE stopped being compulsory in 2004
Cambridge University has dropped its requirement for applicants to have a language GCSE because too few pupils now take them.

Independent schools still tend to offer languages, despite the fact they are no longer compulsory beyond the age of 14.

However, only 17% of state schools offer them at GCSE and less than half of GCSE pupils take them.

Cambridge is constantly under pressure to increase the share of students it takes from state schools.

Currently, it takes 57% of students from state schools, but has a target to reach between 60% and 63% by 2011.

Experts have argued that at the present rate, Cambridge is likely to miss this benchmark by a year.

This change would remove something which has, unfortunately, become a significant barrier impeding access to Cambridge
Dr Geoff Parks
Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges

The university said one of the factors that has led to the review was the fact that from 2004 children were no longer required to take a foreign language after the age of 14.

It said having a formal entry requirement that at least half of all GCSE students are unable to meet "was not acceptable in the context of Cambridge's commitment to widening participation and access".

Experts argue that many schools draw back from offering languages at GCSE because they are perceived as difficult subjects.

Cambridge said discussions had been underway for some time about what the consequences will be for the university's efforts to attract bright applicants who, through lack of opportunity or encouragement, have no language qualification.

Cambridge experts have also been discussing what the effect might be on the take-up of languages in schools.


Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges Dr Geoff Parks said: "This change would remove something which has, unfortunately, become a significant barrier impeding access to Cambridge.

"We would still encourage all young people to learn a foreign language, and highlight the fact that students at Cambridge are able to study no fewer than 140 different languages through the provision at our excellent Language Centre."

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said forcing children to study languages does not motivate pupils.

"This is a position strongly supported by Lord Dearing in his review of languages in schools, and by teachers and employers.

"We are providing a more diverse range of qualifications - like Language Ladders, which work in a similar way to musical grades - and better teacher training, to motivate and enthuse students.

"There is now over 50 million a year being invested in language learning, and from 2010 every primary school pupil will learn a foreign tongue - which will help instil a love of languages at an earlier age."

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