UK: WorldCloseBusiness blamed for slide in languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Aug 24 14:41:22 UTC 2007

Financial Times

WorldCloseBusiness blamed for slide in languages

By Jon Boone

Published: August 23 2007 20:05 | Last updated: August 23 2007 20:05

Teenagers are abandoning modern languages at GCSE level because
business is not convincing people the qualifications are valued by
employers, exam board heads said on Thursday. Responding to results
showing a further collapse in the number of 16-year-olds sitting exams
in French and German, Greg Watson, chief executive of OCR exam board,
accused business of sending out mixed messages. "There does seem to be
a mismatch between what I hear when I talk to employers about this,"
he said. "They say: 'We are desperate for language skills, we are
doing more business abroad.'

"When I ask if they are putting it in job adverts or a salary premium
the answer tends to be No."Mr Watson was echoing the views of Mike
Creswell, head of the AQA board, who said the subjects were also
unpopular because "young people go abroad and find they can manage
with English". Both were trying to explain the difficulty of
popularising subjects that suffered big falls after being made
voluntary in 2004.

The number of students who took GCSE French dropped by almost 20,000
this year, or 8.2 per cent, while German had the biggest percentage
decrease of all subjects, down 10.2 per cent on last year. The decline
in numbers contributed, however, to a rise in the proportion of
candidates getting top grades as those pupils who study languages tend
to be more able. The only major modern language that saw an increase
in take-up was Spanish. Just under 2,000 more candidates qualified in
the subject this year – in part because of the growing number of
adults taking the language qualification.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and
College Leaders, agreed that "employers must bear a substantial
responsibility for the fall in modern language numbers", but also
called for it to be made easier to achieve higher grades.
Susan Anderson, director of human resources policy at the CBI, said
that for many companies languages skills were "nice to have" rather
than "must have". Lord Dearing, who conducted a review into modern
language teaching in schools this year, said languages should be
become compulsory in primary schools and be made "radically more
interesting for learners".

Jim Knight, the schools' minister, said alternative language
qualifications would help stimulate demand for the subjects. He
welcomed improvements in subjects that the government had singled out
as being of crucial importance, including English, where the A* to C
pass rate rose by 0.6 percentage points to 62.2 per cent, and maths,
which was up 0.9 percentage points to 55.2 per cent. Sciences, another
area of concern for both government and business, which regard them as
vital to future economic competitiveness, were also all up, with the
exception of double science, which includes elements of different
science disciplines. Mr Knight also welcomed the overall gender gap
closing, with 1.2 per cent more male entrants achieving A* to C passes
than last year, compared with 0.6 per cent more female entrants.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
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