Tristram Hunt calls for action to stop languages being axed from GCSEs and A levels

Plans to scrap a number of languages from A level and GCSE exams has been criticised by those in the field and politicians.

Exam boards AQA and OCR have published lists of subjects planned to be axed, which includes foreign languages such as Polish, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Modern Hebrew, Turkish and Portuguese, while Ancient Hebrew is also likely to be axed.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has called on the government to “rescue” these subjects.

Meanwhile, Gosia McKane, quality assurance and training manager at the National Centre for Supplementary Resources, who are leading a campaign against the decision, said it could have a wider impact on the economy if such exams were scrapped.

She said: “We would like the exam board to withdraw this decision. We see a great importance in awarding A levels and GCSEs in modern languages.
“Ethnic minorities contribute a lot in this country, one example is their language. If ethnic minorities are denied the opportunity to take exams in their language that is not encouraging.

“They look at the commercial impact as an organization but they have to look at the wider costs. Languages are respected at universities and there is an economic benefits in having relationships with other countries. It is very short-term – it will have long-term damaging consequences.

“I think it is important to remember that lots of people from the community volunteer their time, their language skills, to teach these subjects, and we recognise the quality of their contributions through exams.”

This view was re-iterated by Labour MP Fiona MacTaggart in a parliamentary debate on GCSEs on Tuesday.

She said: “I have spoken to a senior examiner in Polish and she assures me there is no difficulty in finding suitably qualified examiners in that subject, yet AQA is determined to abandon it.

“It points out that only 983 students were entered in the last year, but it has ignored the fact that the Polish community, which is the biggest driver of the number of A level entrants, is growing hugely.

“So this short-sighted policy risks the children of the many thousands of Poles who have settled in Britain in the last years not being able to study the language.”

Mr Hunt said: “Make no mistake, it is the Government that has caused this mess, which risks important languages like Turkish, Polish, Gujarati, Bengali, Punjabi, Modern Hebrew, and Portuguese, being lost from the school curriculum.

“Precisely at the time we need to be harnessing our entrepreneurial capital and soft power in the new emerging economies, the Government’s actions will lead to fewer young people being able to take A levels in Portuguese, Turkish, Gujarati and Punjabi.

“It is not good enough for the Education Secretary to wash her hands of the problem, to disappear off on the election campaign. She must do the right thing and clear up the mess that her government has created. She must take urgent action before Parliament is dissolved so that these subjects are not lost from our education system.”

A spokesperson for AQA said the board was “no longer able” to offer Bengali, Modern Hebrew, Panjabi and Polish – at A-level only.

He said: “We completely understand and respect the importance of these languages, and we still intend to offer all of them at GCSE.

“With language A-levels changing to include speaking and listening as well as reading and writing, it’ll be extremely difficult to recruit enough examiners in these subjects to cope with double the amount of assessment.

“In addition, the small number of students choosing to study these subjects at A-level makes it very hard to set appropriate grade boundaries.”

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