Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Languages make depressing reading

Nearly 50 per cent of year 10 students have given up studying a foreign language, according to a poll of SHA members.

Members who participated in the email poll said that, while 99 per cent of students in their schools are studying a language up to the end of key stage 3, only about 55 per cent over the last two years have carried on studying a language in year 10.

Respondents said that making languages optional had been one factor in reducing student numbers. However, problems recruiting high quality foreign language teachers has also contributed to the student exodus.

The average number of foreign language teachers in secondary schools has also fallen. Compared to two years ago, 41 per cent of secondary schools have fewer foreign language teachers.

The number of foreign language teachers ranges from 14 in some schools to less than one full-time teacher in others.

Many respondents commented that initiatives at primary school level were beneficial and that students were showing more interest in studying Spanish and other languages not widely taught in schools.

President Sue Kirkham, herself a former languages teacher, said: "Many secondary schools do not want to see a return to mandatory languages post-14. School and college leaders need to make that decision based on what is best for the school and the students.

"However, we are urging schools to think very carefully about the position of languages from age 14 to 16. We don't want to have a generation of students who later in life regret having dropped a language.

"We do want to see the 14-19 specialist diplomas, coming out in 2008, include language learning as a statutory element wherever appropriate. Also, the current performance tables do not encourage schools to maintain foreign languages for all students. Changing the way league tables are presented would help this."

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