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In our last issue of Eds Up, we focused on the importance of children learning languages in order to open up opportunities to them. Now, new calls for languages in school have hit the media headlines.

Improving language take up could be worth £21 billion to the economy

“A new row has flared up over the inexorable slide in the take-up of modern foreign languages at GCSE in all schools following the government decision to make them voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds seven years ago,” says The Independent.

“In 1997, 71% of GCSE pupils took a foreign language. Last year only 44% did so,” reports the Times, quoting recent research which also says that improving language take up could be worth £21 billion to the economy. Kathryn Board, the chief executive of The National Centre for Languages (Cilt), said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far. Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”

The European Union boasts 23 official languages and more than 60 others widely used. “But for all that linguistic diversity, only about half of EU citizens can hold a conversation in a second language. And that’s a big problem in today’s global economy,” said the European Commission as it celebrated European Day of Languages at the end of September.

“The GCSE results also show a major divide between the performance of state and private schools. 30 per cent of youngsters in independent schools get an A* grade in French, compared with just 6 per cent in state schools – including selective grammar schools. The picture is similar for German (30 per cent in private schools and 7 per cent in state schools) and Spanish (35 per cent and 10 per cent respectively),” continues The Independent.

“We cannot be satisfied with such vast disparity in attainment,” said Nick Gibb, the Conservative’s schools spokesman. A spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said that they did recognise this problem: “This is why the Government will make language teaching compulsory in primary schools from next year.”

“But everyone speaks English” is clearly not going to be a good enough excuse anymore…

Useful link
The National Centre for Languages