More Secondary Schools Teaching Languages

21st March 2013.

The BBC reports today that more pupils in secondary schools are taking up foreign languages than they did in the past. Until 2004, it was compulsory for pupils to learn a foreign language up until they were 16.  When this compulsion was dropped, the number of pupils learning a foreign language at secondary school dropped. The government have now brought in a league table measure called the English Baccalaureate, which includes measuring how many pupils complete a GCSE grades A* – C in a foreign language.  As a result uptake for studying a foreign language has increased, and in secondary schools at least half of older pupils study a foreign language.  However, there are still not many teenagers who take up a foreign language at ‘A’ level.

  • England does not have a good reputation for teaching languages compared to other European and non-European countries.
  • Commentators believe that because England does not excel in language teaching, that puts the country at an economic disadvantage.
  • Pupils tend to prefer learning Spanish to French or German.  This is often because of where they go on holiday, rather than because of their perceptions of the prevalence of its use.
  • Some schools have started to teach pupils Mandarin, although the British Council reported in February 2013 that there was not enough increase in the teaching of this subject.
  • We are arguably a country of reluctant foreign language speakers.  Our stereotype abroad is to speak English regardless, slowly and loudly. It seems that the British have relied on English being the dominant language spoken internationally, Culturally, we do not seem to want to take the risk, and make a fool of ourselves, speaking a foreign language.  Perhaps, a significant change in our attitudes to foreign languages is needed, if we, as a nation, are going to improve our language skills.

How does this affect your choice of school?

  • Some schools are specialist language colleges.  If they take their specialism seriously, they might be a school you want to consider, if you want your child to be proficient in foreign languages. 
  • Because of the English Baccalaureate, it is likely that differences regarding how much foreign language is taught in each secondary school will reduce.
  • It is worth finding out what choices of language pupils are given at a secondary school.  Sometimes, only the more able pupils are allowed to do more than one language.  Sometimes, the choice of language available depends on the expertise of the teachers.
  • It is difficult to teach a foreign language well.  It is difficult to learn a foreign language if you are not interested in it. There is nothing worse than a badly taught language lesson full of reluctant learners. You need to look at the GCSE results in languages in a school, to see if they are good enough.   It is not a good idea to push your child to do languages if they are not interested.
  • Universities are usually impressed by a student who has a good ‘A’ level in a foreign language.
  • More and more students are considering degree courses abroad.  In this case, skills in a foreign language are very useful for your child.
  • If you want your child to speak confidently abroad in a foreign language, a GCSE is not enough.
  • A 20111 Ofsted report said that secondary schools were not very good at building on the language learning of primary school pupils.  If your child has enjoyed languages in primary school, it is worth asking the secondary school how they build on the pupils’ prior learning in languages.

Add a comment

Leave a comment

Close it