Lib Dems warn of ‘destruction’ of foreign languages

The Liberal Democrats have accused the government of destroying modern languages after figures show fewer than half of pupils take a modern language at GCSE.

Figures obtained by the Lib Dems show the proportion of pupils taking French, German or Spanish at GCSE has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time in recent history.

Take-up of European languages among GCSE students this year stands at 48.3 per cent, down from 53 per cent in 2006 and 83.3 per cent in 2000.

Despite the rising availability of languages such as Mandarin, pupils are not rejecting traditional French and German GCSEs in favour of more “exotic” languages.

Instead pupils appear to be turning their backs on languages, with take up of “other modern languages” at a 14-year low.

In 2004 the government ruled pupils did not have to study a foreign language after 14, with critics warning the uptake of foreign languages at GCSE and A-level was destined to fall considerably.

Fewer than 30 per cent of pupils now take GCSE French, down from 54 per cent in 2000. German has seen a similar decline, with just over one in ten pupils studying the language compared to one in five a decade ago.

Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws said the figures were “truly shocking”.

Mr Laws said: “We have an unfortunate reputation abroad for not learning other languages, but things are only going to get worse.

“Ministers have presided over the destruction of modern language teaching in just five years, with flawed government policies placing a large part.”

Mr Laws said the government had been wrong to stop compulsory language teaching at 14 until it improved provision at primary level.

He also blamed the target-driven exam system for the decline in uptake.

Mr Laws explained: “Schools and pupils are always under pressure to take the subjects which deliver good grades rather than a good education. This motivation can scare young people away from the benefits of learning a second language.”

The government admitted it had concerns over the decline in language teaching but insisted measures were in place to reverse a long-term decline.

Schools minister Jim Knight said: “Whilst we are encouraged by the increase in numbers of pupils taking Spanish and other foreign languages, we have been concerned for sometime about the decline in language learning in secondary schools.

“That is why we commissioned Lord Dearing to look at this. He published his report earlier this year and we are in the process of implementing his recommendations which we are confident will reverse this trend.”

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a review of consistency in exam grading, as well as a rapid expansion of language teaching in primary schools and measures to boost recruitment of high calibre language teachers.