Modern foreign languages in English schools are in a ‘vicious circle’ of decline that will only be broken by political intervention, an exams expert has warned.
Ofqual adviser Professor Robert Coe said Your that MFL subjects were struggling as this year’s numbers show that the number of students studying French, German and Spanish all dropped this year.
Data from this year’s GCSEs shows that the number of entries for Spanish has risen from 108,982 last year to 107,488 in 2022. French has risen from 124,739 to 122,746 and German has risen from 36,933 to 34,966.
FFT Education Datalab also highlighted the decline in these subjects despite an increase in the student population.
In its analysis, the FFT also highlighted the discrepancy between Ofqual’s provisional data for summer 2022 entries, which indicated that there were 116,355 Spanish entries by students of all ages in England in 2022. , and the JCQ data yesterday, which indicated there were 107,488.
GCSE: call to action to boost enrollment in modern foreign languages
Professor Coe’s call for national intervention on MFL matters comes after warnings ahead of GCSE results day that declining MFL attendance meant the government’s EBacc targets were ‘over’.
The professor, who is director of research and development at Evidence Based Education, said: “The MFL, in general, is in trouble. I think part of the challenge is that languages are perceived to be – and probably are, in my opinion – more difficult than some other GCSEs.
“The pressure of the grading table responsibility is to maximize grades and that means you have to really want to believe in the principle of language study in order to make that sacrifice in the overall grades you’re going to get, because the chances are you could get higher grades by enrolling students for other subjects instead.
“It’s a political question. Do we think it is important that young people have this opportunity and are encouraged or pushed to take this opportunity?
“Unless we do something like that it will fall apart and it will all become a bit self-fulfilling because if we don’t have the teachers who follow the language training pathways, even if you wanted to increase the rate participation, you can’t because you don’t have people who can teach it.
“Then if people think there’s no demand, then people don’t follow the training pathways, so it’s all really a vicious circle.
“It takes strong political guidance, I think, to turn the tide, which could happen, but I wouldn’t bet on that, personally.”
The British Council has been particularly concerned about the drop in the number of German entries to the GCSE this year.
He said: “It is disappointing that the number of GCSE languages has fallen this year. Spanish fell 1.7% after a period of rapid growth since 2018, while French remains the most popular language subject despite a 1.9% drop in enrolments. The continued decline in the number of people taking German (5.1% this year) is of particular concern.
“As noted in our 2022 Language Trends Survey, as schools continue to recover from the pandemic, it is essential that they prioritize language learning for all and seek to rebuild opportunities and connections. international ones that have been lost.
“Languages allow us to work together on global challenges, as well as opening doors for students to discover new people, new places and new cultures. It is vital for the future of the UK that all students have access to high quality language learning.”