Britain: Languages policy reversed

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Dec 16 13:53:19 UTC 2005

>>From  The Times December 16, 2005

Languages policy reversed
By Tony Halpin, Education Editor

A YEAR after abolishing a requirement for secondary school pupils to take
a foreign language at GCSE, the Government announced yesterday that
schools will have to set targets to boost the number of examination
entries. In an embarrassing U-turn, Jacqui Smith, the School Standards
Minister, said that every school in England would have to get at least 50
per cent of students to take a foreign language at GCSE from next
September. Many would be told to set a target of 90 per cent

The about-turn comes after repeated warnings from schools and curriculum
advisers about a catastrophic decline in GCSE entries since ministers
ditched the requirement for language study. The requirement ended formally
in September 2004, but in practice schools were allowed to end it a year
early. This summer there was a fall of 14.4 per cent in entries for French
and 13.7 per cent for German. Head teachers leaders issued a warning of a
further collapse next summer as the full impact of the new policy was

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Governments exams
watchdog, also said in March that language study at A level was in chronic
decline. Schools feared that it was becoming increasingly uneconomic to
offer courses. The Government replaced the requirement to take a foreign
language at GCSE with an entitlement for schools to make courses available
to those who wanted them. Ms Smith said yesterday that schools would now
have to ensure that as many pupils as possible took up this entitlement.

It is imperative that every young person be given the right support to
make an informed choice, she said. Schools must articulate the arguments
in favour of language study and to do all that they can to encourage
take-up so that pupils dont miss out. The Department for Education and
Skills (DfES) said that schools would be told that the expectation for
most young people must be that they continued to take a language at GCSE.
Teachers would have to show Ofsted inspectors what they were doing to
raise the level of language study.

A DfES official said that the about-turn was prompted by a desire to
clarify the entitlement to languages in schools. She added: We are trying
to give schools a bit more guidance about what the entitlement to
languages means. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National
Association of Head Teachers, said it was astonishing that ministers had
abandoned compulsory foreign language study at GCSE while making it
obligatory for junior pupils in primary schools by 2010.

Government does find it difficult to say that they have got things wrong,
but perhaps now they are saying they didnt get it right, he said. Nick
Gibb, shadow minister for schools, said that in this global age it was
important for pupils to learn foreign languages, particularly Spanish,
Chinese and Arabic. He said the removal of the requirement to take
languages had been regrettable, and the Government was having to remedy
it. Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrats education spokesman, said: This
Governments answer to every problem is to set targets. Imposing quotas
will not tackle the underlying weaknesses of the curriculum and the lack
of qualified teachers.,,2-1933985,00.html

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