Monthly Archives: August 2012


This  summer, all the GCSE exam boards in England (AQA, Edexcel and OCR), raised the grade boundaries for the controlled assessment part of their English qualifications compared with the winter exam series. It   would  appear  that those pupils entering GCSE English with AQA did less well than those with other Boards.

So the central allegation appears to be that children sitting the English exam in January will have achieved a higher grade   than if they had sat  it in July or with another Board .For the units causing concern — written controlled assessments — 7 per cent of entries were taken in January and 93 per cent in June.

This is what Ofqual  the regulator is looking at and will report on today.The   Education Select Committee   will look at the issue too   but  clearly doesn’t have the technical nous, or  easy access to information to do as good a job as Ofqual can, or  is certainly equipped to do , and politicians, even  Select Committee members  , although tasked with uncovering the truth, and holding the Department to account ,  have been known to pursue their own political agendas. which can from time to time  serve to  muddy the waters.


Ofqual, in its report released Friday PM,   refused to order exam boards to regrade this summer’s English GCSE .  It stood by the new June grading system but also suggested  that the marking of exams taken earlier in the year was too generous. It  said it will not change the results for either date, so there will be no regrading, but will offer early re-sits in November for students unhappy with their grades. This is unlikely to satisfy all stakeholders, given that  some  pupils  need their results now.

Sir Michael Wilshaw,  who  heads  Ofsted, said on 2 September  “This is a really good opportunity for our system and the secretary of state to look at our examination system and ask whether it is rigorous enough, whether it’s credible enough, whether what’s happened over the last few years in terms of resits, early entries and the modular approach to  examination is actually raising standards”

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, told the BBC on 3 September that  the students who sat the exams – in which  thousands did not achieve their  predicted grades – were not treated in a “fair or appropriate” way and that “injustice” was inherent in the exam system. But he added that it   would be wrong for him to intervene to change the grades, after Ofqual, the regulator, refused to regrade the exams.  He suggested that the uproar over the grades reinforced the need to move away from modular exams and towards a new qualification where it could be certain there was no grade inflation. Gove  has made in clear that he wants fundamental reforms to examinations and caused controversy earlier this year by appearing to suggest  that he wanted a return to the more robust O Level format. He said in the Commons on  3 September  that GCSEs ” are not fit for purpose “.


For profit advocates hit back


The IEA, the right wing think tank that promotes private enterprise, the free market and the profit motive, has a bright young Swedish academic on its staff

Gabriel Sahlgren is busy promoting profitmaking in the state sector. He is something of an expert, unsurprisingly, on the Swedish Free school model. Many Swedes are perplexed about how heated and polarised the debate is here on their school system. They are altogether more sanguine it seems, than we are , about the existence of  profitmaking schools within their  system.

Research on Swedens Free schools can be found to support both both the pro and anti  free school lobbies. Fertile ground, indeed, for cherry picking.

Sahlgren says that the best papers on the Swedish voucher reforms have thus far displayed only short-term gains from these reforms. Until now, that is.  In Sahlgrens view Böhlmark and Lindahl,  are the authors of the most convincing  recent research.

Their results,  according to Sahlgren,  show the impact of free school competition on pupils in both free and municipal schools, indicating that a 10 percentage-point increase in the share of 9th-grade pupils attending free schools in the municipality generates (1) about a 2 percentile rank point better test score in mathematics and English; (2) a 2 percentile rank point better performance in mathematics and English in the first year of upper-secondary school; (3) a 2 percentage point increase in the share who attend university; and (4) four more weeks of schooling on average.

Indeed, this is the first paper that finds long-term positive effects from a national voucher programme, while also presenting results indicating that grade inflation does not bias their findings.

Sahlgen writes ‘Comparing the results in ninth grade with the authors’ earlier results, we see that the impact is about twice as strong. It should also be noted that they only estimate the impact of ninth-grade shares of free schools pupils. In prior papers, they found that using the overall share of free schools as a measure of competition made the coefficient double in size (to about the same effect as in this paper). While it is questionable whether the overall share of free school pupils induces competitive incentives – at least immediately – this indicates that the above-cited estimates are lower bound.’

This is also the first paper – according to Sahlgren – that separates the general-equilibrium impact of for-profit and non-profit competition on achievement. They find no significant differences. This is strong evidence that both for-profit and non-profit competition is equally good at raising achievement. The key difference is the ability of for-profit actors to mobilise capital as well as scale up – thus providing more competition across the board. Michael Gove ,Sahlgren says, should sit up and pay attention.Gove has  so  far resisted pressure from the IEA, Reform and Policy Exchange think tanks to introduce profitmaking schools into the state sector even though  many believe that it would breathe much needed life into the faltering Free school programme here (faltering mainly  due to a lack of capital and  practical problems in finding sites for new schools)

It is important to note, says Sahlgren, ‘ that about 70-80% of the positive impact does not stem from the fact that free schools are better than municipal schools – but rather that competition forces municipal schools to improve. It also turns out that the effects are not significant until after about one decade after the reform. The authors argue that this is because free schools were a relatively marginal phenomenon until the early 2000s. However, it is also important to point out that the pupil population kept growing until 2003, so whatever competitive incentives increased for municipal schools remained marginal. The pupil population began decreasing in 2003, which coincides with the stronger increase in the free school share and also achievement. It is thus not surprising that it took about ten years before competition effects kicked in.’

This, concludes Sahlgren, ‘clearly demonstrates that it takes time before competitive incentives have an impact – which has implications for how we evaluate other school choice programmes. Moreover, it indicates that competition is the key mechanism behind producing better outcomes, not the fact that some schools are better than others. It also shows that for-profit schools are just as good as non-profit schools when it comes to raising the overall attainment levels in a voucher system.’

Independent Schools and Long-Run Educational  Outcomes: Evidence from Sweden’s Large Scale ; Voucher Reform IZA DP No. 6683

June 2012; Anders Böhlmark  Mikael Lindahl

Acknowledgements to the IEA




Professor Watts gives a qualified welcome to  the new Guide on independent careers guidance


Professor Tony Watts believes that the newly published Practical Guide for Schools on Securing Independent Careers Guidance represents a positive outcome for the work of the Liberal Democrats, and for the lobbying undertaken by Careers England and other members of the Careers Sector Strategic Alliance. The Guide is directed at head teachers, school staff, governing bodies and local authorities. It relates to the duty, under the Education Act 2011, for schools to ‘secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils from September 2012’. It seeks to supplement the Statutory Guidance issued  in March 2012 by ‘offering additional practical information’ on which schools might  wish to draw ‘when interpreting your new responsibilities and deciding on the most  appropriate forms of independent careers guidance for your pupils’.

On the crucial issue of  face-to-face guidance, (as opposed to by phone or web portal) the Guide states: ‘Increased complexity and competition in education and labour markets means  that most, if not all, young people would benefit from individual,  face-to-face  careers guidance to enable them to make informed decisions about future options  based upon consideration of the wealth of information available from a range of  sources and media. As highlighted in the statutory guidance, this is particularly crucial for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs. Face-to-face guidance with a qualified careers adviser will  enable your pupils to review their circumstances, abilities, interests and  aspirations as they make decisions about future education, training and work  options.’

This  goes  some way to  meeting the professions  concerns based on  the statement in the Statutory Guidance, that face-to-face guidance is ‘particularly’ relevant to children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs  which could easily be read as implying that it is only relevant to  just  these  pupils.

Professor Watts says the following  about external support- ‘On the nature of what needs to be commissioned from outside the school, the Guide indicates that schools with an in-house careers adviser can ‘retain’ him or her (again, as previously, blurring the issue of whether schools without one can now appoint one) but that this will need to be supplemented ‘with external sources of careers guidance to meet the new duty’. It extends the list of such sources to include not only ‘an external  careers provider’ but also ‘employer visits, mentoring, website and telephone access’ and  notes that ‘taken together, the external sources must provide information on the full range  of post-16 options and  access to face-to-face support where needed’. This, Professor Watts concludes, ‘would seem designed to encourage use of external face-to-face careers providers without requiring it.’  However, although Ministers have said that ‘Where there is clear evidence of a school failing to meet its statutory duties, we will take action’, it is not clear who will monitor the implementation of these duties. Ofsted says that that it will not inspect against them -so who will?

Professor Watts, who has been highly critical of the government’s approach to Careers Advice, Guidance and Education in schools, is much more positive about this Guide. He says in a recent Commentary for Careers England (July): ‘.. within the framework of the Coalition Government’s policies, it (the Guide) constitutes a stronger statement of Government expectations from schools than has been available previously. It should help schools to meet their new responsibilities, vague as these still are, in a more positive and thoughtful way. It merits strong promotion to schools from the Government, from Careers England and its members, and from other careers organisations.’

Commentary for Careers England


Vietnams education system

Private tutoring-76% of upper secondary pupils are tutored privately


We have touched on the issue of private tutoring in Korea, Japan and Singapore. It is also common in Vietnam.

Vietnam moved from 1986 onwards from a centrally planned economy to a market driven economy. This saw the rapid expansion of private education and personal tuition. Parents and children became increasingly aspirational. The system relies heavily on examinations and in order to progress students need access to good qualifications to ease their pathway into higher education, where there are limited places. Most experts agree that the curriculum reforms in Vietnam mean that the demands on students are greater now than they were  say 20 years ago.

Private tuition is  seen  as a useful way  for teachers to supplement their meagre incomes . There are other factors at play too. The school day in Vietnam is surprisingly short   3.5 hours (USA has six hours) and   there are on average 34 school weeks a year for primary and secondary schools, so some parents perceive that their children are not being educated fully during the school day. They have a point.

Vietnam of course is also heavily influenced by Confucian thinking-a good education, self-discipline and hard work   are respected and seen as a prerequisite for success in the world.  And private tutoring is also regarded as a form of day-care by some parents, especially if both parents work ,which is not uncommon. What about the scale of private tutoring? A recent survey suggests that 31% of students at primary level use private tutors, 56% at lower secondary and 76% at upper secondary. About 34% of Vietnamese households pay for private tuition- spending between 1-5% of household income on tuition.

Self-evidently there are structural weaknesses in any education system that requires  hard pressed parents   to dip into their pockets to enable their children to reach the required standards. Meanwhile private tutors (including many state teachers, remember)  see their incomes grow and see no advantage to them in backing  any  system reform. So there are grounds for concern as to where the incentives  are to drive  the changes necessary  to propel Vietnam into the top league.

Source- The Determinants and Impact of Private Tutoring Classes in Vietnam-By Hai-Anh Hoang Dang-2011


Controversy over allowing unqualified teachers’ into Academies

But there are already teachers in the state system who are not fully qualified

A couple of weeks ago the government confirmed plans to permit academies – which make up nearly 9 per cent of state schools in England – to employ staff who do not have Qualified Teacher Status.

New Funding agreements between new academies and the Education Secretary will now say that it’s up to schools to judge whether teaching staff are “properly qualified”.  The reaction was largely hostile, with many teachers at best unconvinced.  However, this change, in fact, brings academies into line with the new free schools, which are already free to employ people without QTS.

One charge made by some   is that this was intended as a ‘back door way of saving money and dumbing down the profession.’ Some suspect that this is about taking on the unions and creating a greater body of teachers who potentially have not come through traditional forms of training. They point out that the Governments own White Paper said “The most successful countries, from the Far East to Scandinavia, are those where teaching has the highest status as a profession”. But, they argue, this move looks, if anything, to be de-professionalising the profession and reducing its status.  The DfE statement, though, said that it expected “the vast majority” of teachers to have the qualification.

The idea behind the change is in line with  making schools more autonomous, which  central to the governments reforms. The change will allow head teachers to bring in  outside professionals with “great knowledge and new skills”.  Some  in education are supportive and like the idea of getting people who have high level degrees in important subjects, or relevant life skills,   being fast tracked  help to engage pupils, particularly those threatened with exclusion.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has in the past  talked about the need for teachers to have Masters degree level qualifications, and now we have an announcement allowing degree graduates to enter the profession, without any professional training.  This might appear to be a watering down of  his initial position. . Sam Freedman, a special adviser to Gove used (on Twitter) Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, as an example  of how qualifications are not essential to do a good job . Ferguson  doesn’t  hold  the UEFA coaching qualifications held by most top football managers and coaches yet is still  regarded as world class and brings home the silverware.

True, but  this omits  the fact that Ferguson has always appointed under him  the best (qualified) professional  coaches to train the team.  Freedman  reiterates that this   is all part  the governments autonomy drive and gives heads and governors greater flexibility.But, he added that nothing will happen unless education professionals decide to use this new freedom. So, why not trust their judgement? Pupils could get  access to great teachers who they otherwise might not have had.

Of course , while it is easy to see how allowing children access to professionals with ‘greater knowledge’  and experience of the real world  might benefit them   there is a pretty fundamental purpose to qualifications. ITT aims to provide   potential teachers  with a formal set of skills and qualities required to be an effective classroom teacher. Arguably without this ability and the skills set that is taught, you won’t make much impact in educating young people.

Professor Husbands of the IOE puts it as follows “The importance of unpacking subject knowledge in ways which support pupil learning; of understanding how young minds develop; of the ability to plan for the learning of all, including the most gifted and the most challenging; of being able to assess and use assessment to improve teaching; of being able to deploy a range of behaviour management strategies. Teaching is a complex, higher order skill and it depends on high quality training.  None of these things matter any less because a school is an academy or free school rather than a community of voluntary aided school.”

However, set against this is the argument, made by some,  that initial teacher training is   of such variable quality and is  so  patchy that   in practice the QTS doesn’t  really mean an awful lot. In any case you can actually train teachers  once they are in the school, and learn by doing.   The Teach First  programme shows  us the impact that can be achieved by bright, motivated individuals who have very limited initial training as teachers, but who are  then supported and have access to best practice and CPD once teaching in their schools.  Teach First is regarded as a big success.  The Government had quietly, already decided, in 2010, to allow school workers without QTS to become fully-fledged members of the teaching profession, making the non-QTS route open to state schools.

And  it is also the case that some schools  have members of staff who are not qualified teachers on their senior leadership teams.  Indeed, an NCSL study found ‘that schools valued the contribution senior non-QTS staff were making to school life.’

And what about the independent sector, which has always had a very different approach and seems no worse for it, indeed quite the opposite? A sizeable chunk of career changers enter independent schools without teaching qualifications. While maintained school teachers must gain qualified teacher status (QTS), for independent schools no training is required. Although the Independent Schools Council (ISC) says the majority of new teachers enter the independent sector with QTS, as recently trained newly qualified teachers (NQTs), some schools employ up to five non-QTS teachers at a time, and even have positions open only to untrained graduates.(most independent schools have training systems of their own to guide non- QTS teachers through their first year)  For new teachers, particularly graduates lumbered with student debt who are reluctant to embark on another course, independent schools can offer the immediate entry to a paid, full-time job that a PGCE cannot.  So as we can see the fuller picture is not so simple. This will not stop unions vigorously campaigning against the move.


New regime next year

Some concerns over no-notice inspections

Ofsted has published an evaluation report that summarises the responses to Ofsted’s consultation on its proposals for the revision to the framework for inspecting non-association independent schools from 1 January 2013.  The consultation proposed that, in future, key inspection judgements in independent school inspections will be made about: pupils’ achievement; pupils’ behaviour and safety; quality of teaching; quality of curriculum; spiritual, moral, social and cultural development; welfare, health and safety; and leadership and management. Other proposals included inspecting schools without prior notice; amending the inspection judgement ‘satisfactory’ to ‘adequate’; and introducing a different way of inspecting the education provided by children’s homes which are part of a group.  The following inspection proposals will be implemented from 1 January 2013. Ofsted will:

‘Revise the key inspection judgements

There was very strong support for the proposals for the revised key inspection judgements. We plan to implement these, with some minor revisions to those proposed for pupils’ behaviour and safety, and pupils’ moral, social and cultural development following feedback from trial inspections.

 Introduce a leadership and management judgement

There was very strong support for this proposal. We will implement this from January 2013.

Introduce a judgement for behaviour and personal development

This will include the school’s provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and its impact on pupils.

Retain the judgement on provision for pupils’ welfare, health and safety

There was strong support for retaining this judgement from the current framework.

 Introduce a judgement on pupils’ achievement

There was strong support for a judgement that enables inspectors to report both on the standards achieved by pupils in the school alongside the amount of progress pupils make relative to their starting points. This will be implemented from January 2013.

Change satisfactory to adequate

In maintained schools the grade ‘satisfactory’ is to become ‘requires improvement’. In the independent sector we will replace ‘satisfactory’ with ‘adequate’. This reflects the regulatory requirements for independent schools. The judgement of ‘adequate’ will apply to a school that is meeting minimum standards, but that is not good enough to be judged good. Inspection reports will be clear about why these schools are not yet good, what these schools need to do to improve, but will also reflect their strengths. This proposal was supported by consultation responses and will be implemented from January 2013.

Shorten the notice we give of an inspection

We will reduce the notice period to half a day in order to see schools as they really are, while ensuring that schools can make the necessary practical arrangements. We reserve the right to inspect without notice when required.

Improve the way we inspect children’s homes which provide education for a small number of looked after children, particularlythose which are part of a group .Although we received a number of neutral responses to this proposal, therewas strong support from providers to which it applies. We have recentlycarried out the first pilot inspection of education in a group of children’shomes and we will continue to work with the Department for Education(DfE) and with group providers to implement this change from January2013.  The responses to the consultation were strongly in favour of most of Ofsted’s proposals. However, responses varied considerably by respondent type in relation to no-notice inspections. The majority of parents agreed with proposals, but teachers and head teachers were against its introduction for practical reasons. The majority of those who replied – 47% – rejected no-notice inspections, 12% neither agreed nor disagreed and 40% supported the proposal. While most parents and carers – 64% – agreed with the idea, many teachers and ,head teachers – 59% – disagreed.


Crisis looms due to funding shortage

A Freedom of Information request revealed that from May 2007, government projections showed a rapidly increasing primary school population in each year from 2009 to 2015.

Despite this, in 2007, Ed Balls then Education Secretary  told councils to remove surplus primary places or risk losing capital funding. Mr Balls issued guidance telling them: ‘The Department has made clear its view that maintaining surplus places represents a poor use of resources – resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards’. The guidance went on: ‘The Department expects local authorities to make the removal of surplus places a priority’. Local authorities were told they would not receive capital funding if they failed to cut surplus primary school places. ‘Strategies that fail to commit to addressing surplus capacity at local authority or individual school level will not be approved’. The big problem is the baby boom. In 2010, there were four million children in English primary schools; by 2018, there’ll be 4.5 million.  So if Ed Balls blundered, has the Coalition got this covered? No, not really. Although some elements of the education budget were protected, which produced encouraging headlines, there have been swingeing cuts to the capital available for new schools-new schools will be needed to cope with the demand as expanding existing schools is often not possible. And indeed some of the new Free schools are proving to be relatively expensive which also means that this initiative will not have the funding to expand in the way the government would wish (ie there is not enough capital available to fund the demand for Free schools-so bids are being rejected not because they fail to satisfy the criteria-the official stance-  but because there is no money available).  As Jonn Elledge has pointed out in the Guardian the biggest story in education won’t be about academies, or grade inflation, or international league tables: it’ll be about parents petrified they can’t find a school place for their child. The Department for Education’s core resources budget had, of course,  been protected, although there have been allegations that perceived funding shortfalls mean that Heads and governors are dipping in to the Pupil Premium to make up shortfalls . (funding that is supposed to go to disadvantaged pupils).  But its capital budget – the bit that pays for buildings and so forth –  is to fall by 60% over four years. Gove squeezed another £1.2bn out of the Treasury last autumn but nobody thinks that this will be enough to cover the additional Primary places that will be required over the medium term.  The Government may be forced to turn to the private sector for capital , but that is the more expensive option.


Don’t be misled by the rhetoric

The arguments over the use of the private sector to deliver public services were rehearsed again in the wake of GS 4 very public failure to provide adequate security staff for the Olympics. The fact is this coalition government has,   from the outset, sent out contradictory messages about the private sector and the profit motive . Ministers appear more comfortable  waxing eloquent about the merits of the third sector, social enterprises and community based organisations than the private sector. Their ideal model for the private sector appears to be some form of John Lewis styled partnership.

A couple of weeks ago, Sir Merrick Cockell, the head of the Local Government Association, made some interesting comments about how the government provides public services. In an interview with the FT, he warned ministers not to assume that the private sector was necessarily best. He said there had been a period when “public bad, private good” had “almost been a mantra”, accompanied by a belief that “the right way for local authorities to do things was to outsource everything”. He added: I hope we’ve moved beyond that, because there are very good cases for outsourcing. There are even stronger cases for testing a service properly to see whether it’s the right service to outsource, to see whether there’s a mature market out there that may be suitable to tender against it and then properly to reach a conclusion that there is, or there isn’t. It seems a similar strain of thinking is going on at the top of government too. Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, gave a very frank interview to the Independent recently in which he said: ‘I came into the MoD with a prejudice that we have to look at the way the private sector does things to know how we should do things in Government. But the story of G4S and the military rescue is quite informative. I’m learning that the application of the lean commercial model does have relevance in areas of the MoD but, equally, you can’t look at a warship and say, ‘How can I bring a lean management model to this?’ – because it’s doing different things with different levels of resilience that are not generally required in the private sector. It is somewhat ironic, given these comments, that Hammond heads a department of state widely regarded as the most inefficient and dysfunctional ,in an area where competition is keen.

Three weeks ago, Bernard Gray, the senior civil servant in charge of defence procurement, wrote a plea for change entitled “The MoD badly needs some private expertise”. He warned that the department simply does not have the specialist and commercial skills common in the private sector. Do these ministers really mean that they can do without the private sector and might stop buying from the private sector? Almost certainly not. Indeed investors don’t believe it either. The share prices of three of the government’s largest suppliers (G4S, Serco and Capita) remain in rude health (though Mouchels recent  demise reminds us that  success in   public service contracting  is by no means guaranteed). Ministers, nonetheless, never knowingly let a bandwagon pass by  without jumping on it,   and clearly  believe that there is some political mileage to be had in knocking the private sector, while relying heavily on the private sector to continue to  deliver a range of public services. This is likely to continue.




Teaching children to pay attention and persevere is more important than  reading ability  for  future achievement, according to US  research


Professor Megan McCelland of Oregon  State University says that evidence demonstrates that   self-regulation  in children is important for academic success from  pre-school through college (Blair & Razza, 2007; Duncan et al.,  2007; McClelland et al., 2007; Vitaro et al., 2005).

In a recent study, children with strong attention at age 4 had 51% greater odds of completing college by age 25 (McClelland, Piccinin, & Stallings, under review). Similar relations have also been found cross-culturally with young children from Asian (Wanless et al.,) and European countries . Accumulating research suggests that self-regulation is an important compensatory factor for children experiencing early risk. Risk factors such as poverty and ethnic minority status are related to lower self-regulation and achievement in  young children.

The key finding is that ‘Regardless of the presence of a risk factor, children with stronger self-regulation had stronger achievement than children with  weaker self-regulation.’  So strengthening self-regulation is likely to be an effective way to  help at-risk children to  be successful in school.

So, what exactly is self-regulation, you may ask? Its about self-discipline, paying attention, perseverance and sticking to tasks.

This research suggests that introducing a young child to maths or classical music actually has much less bearing on their future educational achievements than instilling the values of attention and perseverance.

The research finds that children who were better at listening, following instructions and completing a task at the age of four were 50 per cent more likely to have complete an undergraduate university degree by the age of 25. In short, rather than paying for expensive private lessons, parents would be better off teaching their offspring skills like concentration and persistence. Contrary to researchers’ expectations they found that maths and reading ability did not have a significant effect on whether or not students gained a bachelor’s degree from university.

Dr Megan McClelland, who led the study, said: “The important factor was being able to focus and persist. Someone can be brilliant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can focus when they need to and finish a task or job. “Academic ability carries you a long way, but these other skills are also important … the ability to listen, pay attention and complete important tasks is crucial for success later in life.”

So what can be done? Among other things we should develop tools that accurately screen children for early interventions.



What is the point in learning a language?

Moves to make languages compulsory at KS 2


There is an almost unique resistance among the British to learning a foreign language. Why? The perception is that  it is better to focus on literacy, numeracy  the sciences and ICT (where we still lag internationally) and get those right  because they have greater utility in the work place. And ,besides,  one can get by using English  pretty much anywhere in the world.  It’s the international language of business,  after all.. etc.

However there is growing evidence that we are losing out by being so poor at languages and its a growing concern to employers,

A 2005 report found UK firms had lower foreign language capabilities than those in 28 other EU countries, with only 34 per cent of firms saying they were competent in any foreign languages, compared to 65 per cent in France and 74 per cent in Germany.  A 2009 CBI survey found that lack of language skills was the skills gap employers were most concerned about.   According to the survey, most employers (65%) are looking for conversational ability, rather than fluency, to help break the ice with customers or suppliers and to assist wider cultural understanding In the global economy our young people find themselves competing for jobs and opportunities with peers from across the world, many of whom speak English and often one or more other major languages.  In short  better language skills are beneficial for the economy and are demanded by UK firms but  are in short supply. But there is also evidence that learning a language helps other cognitive skills.

A DFE impact assessment finds that research shows that foreign language teaching improves spoken language and literacy in English and that it has all-round cognitive benefits, resulting in pupils being more receptive to teaching in all subjects. There is also evidence around cognitive development that suggests that children are better able to learn languages, and particularly the sounds of different languages, when they are younger.  In the high-performing jurisdictions DFE have considered, compulsory foreign language teaching is consistently introduced within the equivalent of our primary  phase.

Indeed, England is out of step with other jurisdictions in not introducing compulsory languages earlier than at Key Stage 3. Most tend to introduce compulsory languages teaching towards the end of our Key Stage 2; for example, Finland and Hungary introduce it at age nine and Victoria (Australia) and Ontario at age 10. Some start at around the beginning of our Key Stage 2; for example France at age seven and South Korea at age eight. New Zealand and Singapore introduce languages teaching at age six, and the Netherlands at age four or five.  In addition, head teachers have said that learning a foreign language plays an important part in community coherence.

The  DFE assessment states ‘The teaching of languages also has social benefits: it has a part to play in community coherence and a better understanding of different communities within our own society. It leads to an appreciation of cultural diversity and identity and thus to greater tolerance’. Given that schools with higher proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals, with English as an additional language, and those with lower results in statutory assessment at Key Stage 2 are the least likely to be teaching a foreign language at Key Stage 2, there is an important benefit in making the subject compulsory in terms of equality of opportunity.

In the existing National Curriculum teaching a modern foreign language is only statutory in Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). A system of non-statutory incentives has met with some success in increasing the number of children in primary schools being taught a foreign language, but problems remain. However primary language teaching is not yet sustainable in many schools, due in large part to the non-statutory status of the subject. This means that we are not capitalising on the benefits that could be gained from making the subject compulsory at this key stage.  The Expert Panel advising the National Curriculum Review has set out their recommendation that language teaching should be introduced in the National Curriculum earlier than currently, based on international evidence of when other countries introduce language teaching, advice  from key stakeholders and responses to the National Curriculum review Call for Evidence.


A study published in the International Journal of Bilingualism found that schoolchildren who are fluent in a foreign language are better at problem-solving and creative thinking than their classmates. The author Fraser Lauchlan, an honorary lecturer at the University of Strathclyde school of psychological sciences and health, said: “Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them. “Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem-solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils. “We also found they had an aptitude for selective attention — the ability to identify and focus on information that is important, while filtering out what is not — which could come from the ‘code-switching’ of thinking in two different languages.”


Note 2

The latest A level  results  revealed a continuing fall in the numbers of pupils taking modern languages – with French, Spanish and German in decline.