Thursday 25 August 2016


The 2016 GCSE entry figures show an overall drop in the number of Modern Foreign Language exams. The number of French exams has fallen by 8.1% compared with 2015, with a 7% drop in German. Conversely, the number of Spanish exams was up by 2.1% this year - with a 27.6% rise in entries over the past five years. In total, there were 334,355 Modern Foreign Language entries in 2016 compared with 757,296 entries to GCSE maths and 513,285 to GCSE English.

Commenting on the figures, Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council, said:

“It’s yet another disappointing day for language learning as GCSE entries continue to fall. Highly-valued languages French and German have suffered once again with respective declines of 8.1% and 7%. And although French remains the most popular of the GCSE languages, uptake has more than halved in the past two decades. In fact, this year’s figures paint a worrying picture for languages overall with the total number of students sitting a languages GCSE this year being less than half of those sitting one in maths.

“The main silver lining today is that last year’s drop in Spanish – the language seen as most important for the UK’s future prosperity* - seems to have been reversed with entries rising by 2.1%. In fact, Spanish is the one language that continues to buck the general decline with overall entries up by almost 30% (27.6%) in five years. There are also welcome increases in the uptake of Arabic and Chinese but sadly these modest gains cannot compensate for the downturn in language learning overall.

“The reality is that language skills matter to the UK with our current lack of them estimated to cost the country billions of pounds a year**. More than that, learning a language isn’t just a rewarding way to connect with another culture but it boosts job prospects too. It is vital that we encourage far more of our young people to develop their language skills both now and in the future.” 

Notes to Editor

Note: All figures are from JCQ with overall Modern Foreign Languages figures including Welsh as a second language and Irish.

*British Council ‘Languages for the Future’ report, 2013

**Foreman-Peck research, 2014

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Kristen McNicoll in the British Council Press Office on 0207 389 4967 or

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

For more information, please visit: You can also keep in touch with the British Council through and