Make language learning compulsory at KS4, says think tank

The government should force all pupils to learn a foreign language during key stage 4, a new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute has said.

But pupils should be offered the chance to study vocational language qualifications instead of GCSEs, which should be recognised in the government’s EBacc performance measure alongside a wider range of language

The number of entries to language GCSEs has plummeted by almost a fifth in the past five years, with entries in French and German down almost a third.

HEPI’s report, A Languages Crisis?, concluded that the idea of a crisis in this area “fails to illuminate the long-standing and complex issues facing languages today”, and warned that an assumption that the rest of the world speaks English “hinders new international collaborations and overlooks cultural and cognitive enhancement developed by learning”.

The report, written by third-year Oxford Classics undergraduate Megan Bowler, warns that the decision in 2004 to make foreign languages non-compulsory subjects was the start of problems in schools “both for languages as an academic specialism and as a core competence”.

These problems are “compounded by negative perceptions of languages GCSEs and A-Levels, and the lack of alternative qualifications”.

The report recommends that “some form of language learning” should be compulsory for all pupils at key stage 4, but that policymakers should institute different forms of language-learning qualifications as alternatives to GCSEs.

These should include qualifications geared to vocational language use, which would give pupils a “less academically demanding option developing
practical usage for business”.

They should also include a scheme, similar to former asset languages qualifications, “to facilitate accreditation at different levels for a wider range of community languages, available for all ages and with detailed syllabuses”.

This would enable recognition of languages “for which GCSEs are unavailable or unsuited”, since they are “geared towards academic pupils rather than heritage learners”.

Both of these additional routes should count towards a school’s performance against the EBacc performance measure, and also be an option at 16 to 18 in addition to A-levels.

The report also calls for A-level language courses to become more variety, and demands a boost to guidance, online resources and training provision for teachers.

Any proposal to quickly increase uptake language learning in English schools is likely to be met with difficulties, given current shortages of teachers for the subjects.

New bursaries for MFL teachers were announced last year, amid fears the situation will get worse after the UK leaves the European Union.