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Decline in school language learning prompts call for action

09/08/2017 Joanna

Concerns have been raised over new figures that indicate a decline in the number of students choosing to learn languages at school.

An analysis from the Press Association has revealed that there has also been a fall in French and German entries at GCSE level, despite the value that employers place on both of these languages. This has coincided with a more welcome rise in applicants for Spanish courses, and for other modern languages including Chinese and Arabic.

At A level, entries for French and German dropped by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2016, with the likes of Spanish, Arabic and Italian gaining in popularity, while at a university level, the number of UK applicants for European language courses has fallen by 22.8 per cent between 2012 and 2017.

Although the fact that Spanish is bucking the general downturn for European language-learning was welcomed, the British Council - which works to foster international cultural relations - said schools and government bodies need to take action to address the broader trend, particularly as the UK's relationship with the rest of the world evolves post-Brexit.

Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: "If the UK is to remain internationally competitive - particularly as we prepare to leave the EU - we need far more young people, not fewer, to be learning languages in schools and beyond. It's not enough to rely on English alone."

Responding to the report, a Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said a number of steps are already being taken to halt the recent decline, including making modern languages a compulsory part of the primary curriculum and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate at GCSE.

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