Schools

Just 5% of schools to get £15m languages hub help

Ministers reveal programmes aimed at turning around ailing take-up of modern foreign languages - here's what you need to know

Ministers reveal programmes aimed at turning around ailing take-up of modern foreign languages - here's what you need to know

3 Mar 2023, 10:59

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The Department for Education has launched a “flagship language programme” aimed at boosting languages takeup and lesson quality in primary and secondary schools.

Multiple initiatives were unveiled today amid alarm over the decline of languages in schools.

A parliamentary report last year dubbed language learning “consistently poor” versus other countries, and found the proportion of pupils studying modern language GCSEs plummeted from 86 per cent to 46 per cent between the late 1990s and 2020-21.

But the DfE wants 90 per cent of Years 10s studying the EBacc by 2025, which includes a language.

1. £15m languages hub will help just 175 schools

University College London’s Faculty of Education and Society was confirmed today as the lead provider for a £14.9 million, three-year contract running the Language Hubs programme.

The DfE said secondaries could sign up to get support from up to 25 lead schools specialising in languages – which need to be recruited to work alongside UCL first. Together the providers will be known as the National Consortium for Languages Education.

Lead schools will be ” modelling best practice and evidence-based training for language teachers”, with a focus on improving the transition between key stages two and three.

UCL said lead hub schools would be recruited “in phases”, and each would work with up to seven partner schools.

But only “up to 105” secondaries will be able to sign up for support from lead hub schools in its first year – amounting to just 3 per cent of all secondaries in England.

The DfE did not provide target figures beyond the first year, but UCL has said each hub can support up to seven schools, meaning a maximum of 175 schools. This still amounts to only 5 per cent of all secondaries nationally.

2. Hubs also aim to revive German take-up

The House of Commons Library research last year noted declining GCSE language takeup was driven by fewer entries in German and French, only partially offset by increased Spanish takeup.

Another part of the Language Hubs programme will focus on reviving German, aiming to “promote German language learning and culture”. Trained German specialist teachers will help “widen the participation of German language learning” in both primaries and secondaries.

UCL’s Institute of Education will partner with the Goethe-Institut on the German Promotion Project.

Miguel Berger, German ambassador to the UK, called it an “important and welcome step”, and he was hopeful the scheme would reverse the “dramatic” decline in German study.

3. Minority group language scheme to boost ‘community cohesion’

The NCLE will also support schools to develop a “structured and inclusive approach” to teaching languages increasingly spoken in the UK such as Bengali and Polish.

This will be through a new Home, Heritage and Community Languages initiative, according to a UCL press release – though the initiative went unmentioned in the DfE’s own press release.

“The initiative is a positive step towards recognising the multilingual skills of minoritised groups across the UK and enhancing community cohesion by broadening the language curriculum beyond traditional ‘modern foreign languages,” UCL said.

UCL president Dr Michael Spence said programmes would “be a not insignificant action for racial equality, by fostering more recognition for the diverse ethnic backgrounds in our communities”.

The Guardian reports only up to five schools will benefit, however – just 0.02 per cent of all state schools in England.

4. Mandarin scheme extended, Chinese A-Level overhaul

Meanwhile the Mandarin Excellence Programme, which has supported almost 10,000 pupils since 2016, will be expanded, the DfE said.

The department said pupils on the programme previously were “more likely to get a higher grade” in Mandarin at GCSE than those not on it. A further 21 schools will be recruited over the next two years, with 100 schools expected to be participating by September next year.

UCL staff will continue to work with the British Council on the programme.

The DfE also plans a consultation on changing Chinese A Level subject content. The aim is to make the qualification “more appropriate for students without a Chinese speaking background”.

5. ‘Opportunities for generations to come’

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “Our economy needs people who can communicate across the globe and trade with overseas businesses.

“Language teachers will benefit from rigorous training and knowledge, working with experts, to improve language lessons in both primary and secondary schools, opening up these global opportunities for generations to come.”

The Languages Hub will be rolled out “in line with Sir Ian Bauckham’s 2016 Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review”. The DfE noted this had recommended the need for systematic knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar, and phonics of the language being studied.

It also follows other hubs in maths, English, music and computing.

Bauckham welcomed the fact his review’s work was “being taken forward”, and said it was important to “invest in high-quality, evidence-based professional development” for teachers, as well as provide good-qality teaching materials.

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