More take-up of languages in schools since the  Ebacc introduced 

Language teaching a reality in high proportion of Primary schools

But wide spectrum of practice and inconsistency and discontinuity between Primary and Secondary schools


CfBT Education Trust, on 20 March, published the results of national surveys of primary and secondary schools, revealing the multiple challenges for languages within the new English National Curriculum.

The ‘Language Trends’ report shows that while foreign language teaching is already a reality in most primary schools, there is a very wide spectrum of practice and a lack of consistency in both approach and outcomes. Teachers need further training and support as the subject becomes statutory in September 2014, particularly in those schools where provision is currently least developed.  However, on a positive note, schools in England have been encouraging more teenagers to take up languages since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate league table measure, the report suggests.

The report reveals a disconnect between the primary and secondary systems which means that the vast majority of pupils do not experience continuity and progression as they move from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. Secondary schools cannot cope with the diversity of pupils’ language learning experiences in Key Stage 2, and it is not on their agendas to do so.

Teachers of languages in both independent and state schools would welcome reforms to GCSE and A level examinations which would encourage steady progression in the acquisition of language skills and improve pupil motivation. They would like to see wider recognition of the value of language learning as an essential tool for success in the modern workplace. On the evidence here, teachers would welcome a return to externally assessed final exams at both GCSE and A level. They would like to see changes which measure and encourage steady progression in the development of linguistic skills and their practical use in a range of contexts.

At 50% of state-funded secondaries, at least half of older pupils are now taking a foreign language GCSE.  In 2010, this was the case in 38% of schools. However ,  it might be the case that  anti-European sentiment may be turning teenagers off modern foreign languages.

There is  some  evidence an “erroneous” view that languages such as French and German are no longer useful when, in fact, they are still needed in the workplace, according to the language specialist Teresa Tinsley, who co-authored the report.

Tinsley acknowledged that current “anti-European discourse” is not helping the issue, She said that entries for A-level French and German fell by more than half between 1996 and 2012. There has also been a decline in students taking these subjects at GCSE.  “Entries for GCSE in Spanish and other foreign languages continue to rise, but not in sufficient number to compensate for the decline in French and German.”  Tinsley added that the falls in French may be more obvious because it is a widely studied language.  “It is possible that because French is the most commonly taken language, when you get a drop-off it affects these languages in the frontline more.”  Tinsley said she understood the popularity of Spanish.  “I think there’s a perception that French and German are not useful in the global economy, which is a totally erroneous perception.  “All the information shows that the languages that are most needed in the workplace are French and German and I think there is an erroneous perception that because Spanish is a global language, it is therefore going to be more useful – but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the structure of our economy and the trading links that we have.  “I think that the rhetoric and the discourse around Europe and the anti-European discourse is not helpful for languages.”

The report’s co-author, Kathryn Board, added: “I would say, from a perception point of view, that when you look at society in general in this country and you see that pupils are not motivated to learn languages, parents are not motivating their children to learn languages and generally, we’ve got a society that doesn’t recognise the value of languages, when you get a rhetoric in the media on a daily basis that feels anti-European, anti-eurozone, one might assume, over time, that it underlines an already unfavourable feeling about languages.”

Tony McAleavy, Director of Education at CfBT, said:

“A recent international study showed that English pupils were significantly behind their international peers in terms of foreign language learning. If we are to turn this situation around, we must capture the opportunity provided by the introduction of foreign languages into the primary curriculum, linked to the aspiration for improved standards in the reformed GCSE and A levels’.”

The report concluded that ‘This survey provides the first nationwide evidence on the situation of languages in primary schools since 2008 and shows that, despite anecdotal reports of a reduction in provision during the period of this government’s national curriculum review, language teaching is now a reality in a very high proportion of primary schools. Although 97% of respondents reported that they are teaching a language, this may be an overestimation of the national picture, in that primary schools not teaching a language may have been less inclined to reply. Nonetheless, the survey achieved a high volume of responses and clearly shows that languages are firmly on the agenda in primary schools. However, the report provides evidence of a very wide spectrum of practice and a lack of consistency between schools both in their approach to language teaching and in the outcomes they achieve. There is a strongly expressed need – as well as evidence of an implicit need – for further training and support, particularly for those schools without expertise or commitment to the notion of language teaching in primary schools’.

The report states ‘Following the introduction of the EBacc ,as a performance measure, an increasing number of schools report that the number of students taking languages at KS4 has risen. Among the changes made, many schools have made languages compulsory or highly recommended for some pupils. The figures suggest that most able pupils are now engaging – willingly or not – in language learning. However, there is a dearth of provision for less ‘academic’ pupils and no incentive for schools to provide this.’

Only 11% of state secondary schools have arrangements which allow all pupils to continue with the same language learnt in primary school. Secondary schools cannot cope with the diversity of pupils’ language learning experiences in KS2, and it is not on their agendas to do so. A perception of excessive disparity and diversity in language provision in primary schools – and, indeed, the reality in many cases – is leading secondary schools to dismiss the value of what has been learnt and to ‘start at the beginning again’.

Language learning in primary and secondary schools in England-Findings from the 2012 Language Trends survey – Teresa Tinley and Kathryn Board-CFBT Education Trust-March 2013




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