Monday 24 March 2014

• 85 per cent of primaries welcome compulsory language lessons at Key Stage 2

• 24 per cent have no staff with more than GCSE language qualification

• Schools find it difficult to ensure that pupils can continue the languages they learned at primary school at secondary level

A new report from the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council shows that teachers support the introduction of compulsory foreign language lessons in primary schools – but there is concern on two fronts, that lack of communication between secondaries and their primary feeder schools is hindering the continuation of language studies beyond primary level, and that GCSE is the highest level of linguistic ability amongst staff in 24 per cent of schools.

The Language Trends Survey 2013/14 indicates that primary and secondary schools in both the independent and state sectors are only able to provide limited continuity when it comes to language teaching. 

Almost half of primary schools indicated having no contact with language specialists in local secondary schools, with less than one third of state secondary schools being able to ensure pupils continue with the same language they learned at primary level.

However, the report also highlights some positive developments – especially the continued improvement in the uptake of languages at GCSE as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. There is also a slight improvement in the number of schools offering Chinese – the language of the world’s second biggest economy and a priority in terms of government policy.

Co-author of the report Teresa Tinsley, said:  “The fact that some 42% of primary schools say that they are already meeting the foreign language requirements of the new National Curriculum, and the increase in numbers taking languages at Key Stage 4 are very encouraging signs. However our findings show there is still much to be done before language teaching and learning in English schools can be given a clean bill of health. We highlight the training needs of primary teachers, difficulties in transition between primary and secondary school level, the growing exclusion of certain groups of pupils from language study in secondary school, and the crisis in language study post 16 as issues urgently in need of attention if English pupils are to receive the education they need for life and work in a globalized society.” 

Tony McAleavy, Director of Research and Development at CfBT, added: "I am delighted that languages is finally being given the place it deserves within the primary curriculum. I know that primary school teachers are immensely dedicated and that they will respond well to the challenge but it is concerning that so many teachers lack confidence in the field of languages teaching, and many schools lack teachers with advanced subject knowledge of languages.”

Vicky Gough, Advisor – Schools at the British Council, commented: “Languages matter to the UK’s long-term competitiveness. We need more school pupils developing their language skills to work confidently around the world and in multinational organisations here in the UK.  And this in-depth survey in English schools shows some progress.

“For fans of UK trade and travel, there are some ‘green bamboo shoots’, the study of Chinese is increasing – albeit slowly from a small base. But other important languages for the UK’s future like Arabic, Italian, Japanese and Russian are still offered much less frequently, and often only as extra-curricular subjects.  It’s great to see an increase in the numbers taking language GCSEs, but the best future for the UK would have many more of us confident enough to try a few words in many more languages.” 

The Language Trends Survey 2013/14 is the 12th in a series of annual research exercises, charting the health of language teaching and learning in schools in England. The research is based on an online survey completed by teachers in 2,000 state secondary schools and 500 independent secondary schools across the country. In 2012, and again in 2013, a national sample of primary schools has been included. This year, 3,000 state primary schools were surveyed. 

Other key findings highlighted in the 2013/14 report were:

• French, Spanish and German remain the most widely taught languages in schools with 37 per cent of state secondary schools and 48 per cent of independent schools seeing pupil numbers for Spanish rise in recent years;

• 75 per cent of teachers say it will be challenging to deliver the languages curriculum requirement at Key Stage 2;

• Disapplication procedures, where pupils are taken out of class to get extra tuition in areas such as numeracy and literacy, occurring in 27 per cent of state secondary schools surveyed means many lower level students aren’t studying a language at all;

• The number of students choosing to study a language at A level in the independent sector is declining with 43 per cent of independent schools reporting declines compared to 35 per cent in 2012 and 30 per cent in 2011.

About the British Council

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.