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New report highlights language learning gap between north and south of England

16/06/2017 Joanna

Schoolchildren in the south of England are more likely to learn foreign languages than their counterparts in the north, according to a new report.

Research conducted by the British Council for its 15th annual Language Trends Survey showed that in summer 2016, 65 per cent of pupils in inner London took a language GCSE, compared to just 43 per cent in the north-east.

Indeed, examining figures collated over the last three years indicate that London is the only part of the country where the percentage of pupils taking languages to GCSE level is currently increasing, with a marked decline in the number of pupils studying more than one language observed overall.

The online survey - which canvassed teachers from more than 700 state secondary schools, over 720 state primary schools and around 140 independent secondary schools - suggested that difficulties organising exchange programmes or hosting language assistants in the classroom is making it harder for students to get first-hand experience of interacting with other languages or cultures, an issue that may be exacerbated by Brexit.

Some positive trends were also highlighted by the report, including the fact that language teaching is becoming more firmly embedded in the primary curriculum, with 88 per cent of teachers expressing wholehearted commitment to primary languages.

Nearly two-thirds of primary schools have more than five years of experience teaching the subject, while at secondary level many state schools with very low uptake in languages are successfully increasing their numbers. However, performance levels continue to vary significantly from school to school.

Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: "If we are to ensure that the UK remains globally competitive in the current and ever-changing landscape, we need all of our young people to be given the chance to acquire these vital skills. And from businesses to parents to schools, we all have our part to play in making this happen."

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