Girls twice as likely as boys to pass GCSE languages, EPI finds

Girls are more than twice as likely than boys to achieve a pass grade in GCSE languages, a new report has revealed.

A report published today by the British Council also found just 38 per cent of boys sat GCSE languages in 2018, compared to 50 per cent of all girls.

Unions have claimed the government’s failure to address the shortage of language teachers and severe grading in exams is behind the stark gender gap.

Elsewhere the report, produced by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), showed a pupil’s gender was a stronger predictor of outcomes than a pupil’s level of disadvantage.

Girls are 2.17 times as likely as boys to enter and achieve a grade 4 in a language GCSE. Girls from poorer backgrounds are also more likely to outperform affluent boys.

While 574 of the 2,253 schools reviewed (25 per cent) have achieved higher than average GCSE language entry and attainment rates between  2013/14 and 2017/18, only 117 (five per cent) have consistently “beat the odds” for three or more years.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said there is a “particular problem with the take-up of languages” as the government “has tried to drive up entry rates through the use of school performance measures without addressing the fact that schools are desperately short of teachers and funding”.

He also said grading in language GCSEs and A-levels is “too severe”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU,  added that “gender stereotypes limit opportunities for both boys and girls” and “persistent cuts to school and college funding mean that many leaders are faced with having to cut teachers they can no longer afford”.

This ultimately leads to “cuts in subject choice”, he said.

It was revealed earlier this year that the government had failed to meet its secondary school recruitment target for the seventh year running, with modern foreign languages taking the biggest single hit – plummeting 26 percentage points from 88 to 62 per cent from 2018/19 to 2019/20.

However, the Department for Education attributed the dramatic drop to a “large increase in the target” – which jumped from 1,600 to 2,241.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring more pupils are studying languages, which is why it is now compulsory in the national curriculum for all children between Years 3 and 9.”

They also said the introduction of the EBacc had “halted the decline in take up of GCSE languages” –  with 47 per cent taking a language in 2019, rising from 40 per cent in 2010.

“The proportion of boys taking modern foreign languages at GCSE level has remained broadly stable over the period.”

Bobbie Mills, the report’s author, added: “The government has set an ambitious target of 75 per cent of pupils studying the EBacc by 2022. If it intends to make any progress towards this goal, it must urgently clarify how it intends to address the huge gender gap in languages.

“There is no evidence that current initiatives to improve foreign language entries will narrow this divide”.

Elsewhere, the EPI recommended the need for more studies into the benefits of language learning for young people and its role in improving literacy and numeracy.

Last year, Ofqual revealed plans to make it easier for pupils to achieve top grades in GCSE French and German from the 2020 exam series amid fear “severe” grading is putting pupils off the subjects.

The EPI commended the move and said the exam regulator should continue to address the difficulty of the assessment.