Thursday 23 August 2018

Pupils in England sat reformed GCSE exams in French, German and Spanish for the first time this summer. The assessments use a new grading scale of 9 to 1, with 9 being the top grade. Reformed exams for other modern foreign languages including Chinese, Italian and Russian will follow from next year.

The 2018 GCSE entry figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show an overall 0.4% rise in the number of students taking language exams in the past year. The number of French exams has fallen by 2.9% compared with 2017. However, the number of pupils taking Spanish has risen year-on-year, with an increase of 4.4% since 2017 while German is up 2.0%.

Commenting on the figures, Mark Herbert, Director of Schools and Skills at the British Council, said:

“The slight rise in pupils studying languages at GCSE is encouraging, particularly at a time when the UK is looking to establish a new position on the global stage. Now more than ever our young people need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the internationally competitive economy.

“A survey of schools we conducted earlier this year suggested that more rigorous GCSEs may already be improving students’ linguistic competency, but also that lower ability pupils now appear less likely to take a language in the first place – so it’s vital we make language learning accessible for everyone, no matter their background.

“After a sustained period of decline German has had its first increase in years at GCSE, while Spanish continues to grow in popularity – to the extent it is likely to overtake French at GCSE in the next decade. Our research shows Spanish and German will be among the most important languages post-Brexit, along with Mandarin, French and Arabic. The popularity of Spanish may be accounted for by a perception it’s easier to pick up than other languages, along with the fact that Spain is the most popular holiday destination for Brits, so young people can imagine having the chance to put what they learn in the classroom into practice.

“To inspire a new generation of language learners we need to demonstrate the real-world value of being able to speak another language, not just on holiday, but in the workplace and beyond.”

Notes to Editor

For more information, please contact Andrew Willard on +44 (0)207 389 4518 or at

All figures are from JCQ

Languages for the Future (2017) identified Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic and German as the top five priority languages for the UK’s future prosperity, security and influence in the world.

Language Trends 2018, the latest in a series of annual research exercises charting the health of language teaching and learning in schools in England, found growing inequity in pupils’ access to learn a foreign language. Socio-economic background and pupil ability were identified as factors. The research is based on an online survey completed by hundreds of teachers across England in primary and secondary schools in the state and independent sectors.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year we reached over 75 million people directly and 758 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.