Languages at A Level: French, German and Spanish in decline

16 Aug 2012

The provisional results for 2012 were published today, showing a decline in take-up of French, German and Spanish throughout the UK.

In England, French entries have fallen to 11,298 (down 5.68% on last year) and the figure for the UK is very similar (12,511 – a fall of 5.19%). German is down nearly 8% to 4,478. Even Spanish which has increased take-up in recent years is down this year (by 3.5%) . This continues the downward trend begun two years ago following a period of relative stability at A level . Since 2010 French entries have fallen by over 9% and German by nearly 14%. This is over a period when overall entries have hardly changed (a small fall of less than 1% this year) and when subjects such as Art, English and History have had increased entries, while the uptake of science has improved dramatically. Physics (5% up this year) now has more candidates than all languages combined.

Also of concern is the decline in AS entries – where only Spanish has shown a small increase. French is down by 9% and German by 11%

The overall figure for languages appears more positive (a small increase since 2010) because of the dramatic increase in entries for “other ” languages. These now total over 9,000 for the UK (8,786 in England), which is nearly twice as many entries as German and significantly more than Spanish. As well as seeking to understand the factors that have led to such a rapid fall in the traditional languages, it will be important to look further at the growth in “new” languages.

In common with all other subjects and in response to Government policy there has been a small fall in the number of A* and A awards (around 40% for French and German, rather fewer for Spanish and over 50% for “other” languages.

Commentators expressed concern at the downward trend. Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, said the drop was a “real worry”. ”There is a crisis here in modern foreign languages,” he said. “We have the euro economy in crisis; I think modern foreign languages are in the same place.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said demand for more maths and science graduates had already prompted rising interest in those subjects and similar action was needed for languages. “The continuing fall in numbers taking modern languages is a real concern,” he said. “A-level students are savvy and have their eye very much on the job market. If we are going to turn around the decline in modern languages, employers, universities and the government must send out the message that modern language skills equal employment opportunities.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “A strategy designed to promote modern foreign languages is overdue. From investigating the possibility of giving talented language teachers a ‘golden hello’ to setting up advisory networks, we must begin to raise the status of modern foreign languages so that our school leavers can take full advantage of the creative and commercial opportunities the rest of the world has to offer.”

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