UK: education secretary to reconsider GCSE languages policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Sep 15 12:29:19 UTC 2006

Johnson to reconsider GCSE languages policy

Debbie Andalo
Thursday September 14, 2006

The education secretary, Alan Johnson, has announced that the government
is rethinking its decision to scrap compulsory language classes for 14 to
16-year-olds. Mr Johnson admitted the government was "wondering" whether
it had made the right decision and admitted: "We are having another
rethink about that." His comments, made after his speech at the Social
Market Foundation yesterday, have delighted the National Union of Teachers
(NUT) and the National Centre for Languages (Cilt). The director of Cilt,
Isabella Moore, said: "We would support any move to strengthen the status
of language learning in the post-14 curriculum."

"As this year's GCSE results show, the numbers of students enjoying the
various benefits of language learning is falling. The secretary of state
for education is therefore quite rightly concerned about the linguistic
capability of our young people, who will need language skills to compete
in the global jobs market." The general secretary of the NUT, Steve
Sinnott, said modern language teachers would welcome the secretary of
state's views. He said: "It was inevitable that ending the compulsory
nature of modern languages post-14 [years old] would lead to a decline in
the number of young people taking a language at GCSE and subsequently at
A-level and university. "Languages are hugely important to the future
economic prosperity of this country and add an extra cultural dimension to
a young person's understanding of the world."

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) confirmed Mr Johnson's
comments and said: "Clearly we need to ensure that students continue to
choose languages in the future. Already from this September schools will
be required to set a benchmark for the number of their pupils studying
languages leading to a GCSE or other recognised qualification, with an
expectation that between 50-90% of pupils will do so and we will be
looking at how we can further strengthen the position of languages in
schools." "By 2010, all seven to 11-year-olds will have the opportunity to
study a modern foreign language in class time. Getting children excited
about languages at an early age and finding new and inspiring ways of
teaching languages will make the difference - that is exactly what we are
doing and we are confident that this will boost entries in the coming
years." Modern languages was dropped by the government as a compulsory
subject for 14 to 16-year-olds in 2002, despite protests from teachers and
other organisations with an interest in promoting language.

This year's GCSE results reflected a fall in the number of teenagers
choosing to study a modern language. The number of candidates studying
French fell by 13.2% . compared to last year while those teenagers opting
for German fell by 14.2%. There was also a small fall in students choosing
GCSE Spanish. Young people are still studying languages and those that are
taking them are doing very well, with an 11 percentage point rise in those
achieving A*-C at GCSE in just two years.

Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006,,329576749-110251,00.html


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