Foreign language learning in UK secondaries falls dramatically

Uptake of foreign languages in UK secondary schools is at its lowest level in almost 20 years

Foreign language learning at secondary schools is at its lowest level since the year 2000.

According to BBC analysis, French and German have fallen the most in UK schools. Drops of 30% to 50% have been seen since as recently as 2013.

A separate secondary school survey shows that a third have dropped at least one language from GCSE options.

Over half of all the mainstream secondary schools in the UK (2,048) responded to the BBC‘s survey, and most of these said that languages are seen as a difficult subject, meaning that less pupils are studying them.

GCSE language entries fell by 29% in Wales over five years. As part of Wales’s new curriculum, Welsh, English and international languages will be brought together as one area of learning.

In Northern Ireland, A drop of 40% has occurred in pupils taking modern languages.

For Scotland, there has been a 19% decline in languages at National 4 and 5 level (Scotland’s equivalent of GCSEs) since 2014.

The silver lining is that, while German and French have dropped the most, there has been a heightened uptake of Japanese and Mandarin.

9,400 pupils in the UK are now studying a language other than French, German, Spanish or Welsh – in 2001, the figure was 2,500.

Business organisations have expressed concern at the lack of language skills in the UK. Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director for business group the CBI, said: “Employer demand for French, German and Spanish skills have significantly increased over the last few years.

“The decline in language learning in schools must be reversed, or else the UK will be less competitive globally and young people less prepared for the modern world.

“As well as speaking a foreign language, increasing young people’s cultural awareness and their ability to work with people from around the world is just as important.”

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, says the overall picture in England is improving.

“Since 2010, the proportion of children taking a language at GCSE has risen from 40% to 46% in 2018 – and we are determined to see this rise further.

“We are taking a range of measures to do this, such as creating a new network of schools that excel in the teaching of languages to share their expertise and best practice with others and setting up a new mentoring project to encourage pupils’ interest in languages.”

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