Teachers are concerned that language exams may be too difficult, and that Brexit is also deterring students from studying exams, according to the British Council’s annual Language Trends Survey.

The 2019 edition of the report found that 71 per cent of state secondary school teachers surveyed, and 64 per cent at independent schools, said they were concerned about the content of language exams. Last year the government introduced new and more rigorous language GCSEs and A-levels. Many teachers also expressed concern with the way exams are marked and graded.

Schools report that this is contributing to fewer pupils choosing to study languages. Since 2014 there has been a 19 per cent reduction in the number of entries for GCSE languages, with both French and German seeing a decline of 30 per cent, although Spanish has seen just a two per cent decline over the same period. Schools believe that the revisions to the syllabus in the past three years have had a disproportionate impact on lower attaining pupils, with 84 per cent of state schools and 70 per cent of independent schools saying these pupils are now less likely to take a language than three years ago. 

Brexit is also having an impact on pupil’s motivation to study languages, teachers believe, with 25 per cent of teachers at state secondary schools and 15 per cent at independent schools reporting a negative effect. Teachers also noted an impact on parental attitudes, with some parents actively discouraging their children from learning languages. Furthermore, around one quarter (24 per cent) of independent schools and one third (34 per cent) of state schools report difficulties recruiting language staff - the majority of secondary schools depend on EU citizens to help staff their language departments, the report found.

In primary schools, the report found that fewer schools were teaching languages at an early age - only one third of primary schools said they taught a language at key stage 1, the lowest proportion since the first Language Trends report in 2015. Again, lower attaining pupils seemed to be missing out, with schools with lower attainment at key stage 2 less likely to set aside specific time for language learning each week.

Teresa Tinsley, the report’s lead researcher commented ‘The report paints a picture of language learning in England becoming increasingly segregated along both socio-economic and academic lines. Pupils from poorer backgrounds and those who are less academically inclined are much less likely than their peers to acquire any substantial language skills or access foreign cultures in any significant way, challenges that Brexit looks to exacerbate. We all know the pressures schools are under, but these inequalities are not good for our society or the future of our country.’

Full report: https://tinyurl.com/yy4ar3qz

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