Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

'Turbulence' in school languages

primary classroom
Schools are introducing alternatives to GCSEs in languages

The decline in language learning in England's secondary schools has been halted but the situation is "turbulent", a report suggests.

A survey by the the National Centre for Languages (known as Cilt) found only 45% of state secondary schools had half of pupils studying languages to age 16.

This varied greatly between schools and regions. Among private schools, 88% had compulsory languages until 16.

Many state schools had introduced new courses to attract pupils to languages.

There are a variety of courses at various levels.

The report said one in five state secondary schools was using an assessment scheme called Asset Languages, which was suitable for all levels from primary school to university standard.

Other examples were NVQ language units and the Certificate of Business Language Competence.

In the survey, which had responses from about 855 schools out of 2,000, 41% of schools were offering alternatives to GCSE as opposed to 22% in 2006.

Entries for foreign languages at GCSE level have slumped since a peak in 2002.

The biggest falls have been since 2004 - when the Westminster government ended compulsory language learning for pupils over the age of 14.

The declines of the last few years have been halted - although not yet reversed - but the picture is one of turbulence rather than stability
Cilt report

Between 2004 and 2008, total language entries dropped by 30%.

The 2004 change brought England into line with Scotland and Wales.

In Northern Ireland, schools have to teach languages to age 16, but can "opt out" of this requirement.

The Cilt report said: "The declines of the last few years have been halted - although not yet reversed - but the picture is one of turbulence rather than stability.

"There are signs of shifts and upheavals, both positive and negative, as schools adjust to having to 'make the case' for languages to students.

"Some schools are responding well to the challenge... However, others are still seeing decreasing in numbers for German and French, with little prospect of reversing trends.

"Whether languages are compulsory or optional is not now the main question, but rather how prominently languages sit within a curriculum laden with other options and requirements."

The report suggests the introduction of Diplomas was not helping to resuscitate modern languages in state schools.

"Diplomas are also proving a difficult milestone for languages in some schools, with opportunities for languages within the new qualifications not being fully exploited," it said.

'Positive signs'

The researchers linked overall performance of schools to the take-up of languages.

Only 10% of the lowest performing schools provided language learning for more than half of their pupils aged 15 and 16, compared with 77% of the highest performing schools, they said.

The government has told schools half of their pupils in this age group should be studying a modern foreign language.

Overall, Cilt saw positive signs for the future of languages.

Chief executive Kathryn Board said: "We are witnessing a period of rapid transformation in the way that languages are taught, accredited, and chosen as options by pupils.

"Our survey shows that many schools and teachers are making a huge effort to revitalise their language provision."

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