Mixed messages from today’s A level results for languages

13 Aug 2015

A level entry figures for 2015 released by JCQ show a substantial rise in the numbers of students taking Spanish at A level: AL entries Aug 15 the subject saw a 14.4% increase, which was the second highest across all subjects after computing. However conversely, German showed the fourth largest decrease in entries, down 4.25%. As the chart above shows, the preference for Spanish over German has been evident for some years. But there must be deep concern about what appears now to be a tipping point where severe financial pressures are making smaller A level groups unviable. This is something that Speak to the Future will be taking up in the autumn.

There was only a slight decrease in numbers taking French A level this year; however over a 6 year period, French has seen a 26% drop in entries. The ‘Other languages’ shown on the graph exclude Welsh and Irish but include all other (modern) language A levels, some of which are under threat of being withdrawn. Providing opportunities for more students to sit exams in these languages will be key to their future viability and this is something that Speak to the Future is already pursuing actively.

AL entries Aug 15b
The entry figures for Chinese are highly anomalous and are not shown here. Chinese has largest number of A level entries of any language after French, German and Spanish (3,099 in 2015) and has grown by about a third since 2010. However, as has been shown elsewhere, entries come predominantly from the independent sector and are far in excess of the number of entries for GCSE or AS, suggesting that many students are native speakers from abroad.

AL entries Aug 15c
There is a wealth of data contained in JCQ’s figures which merit further analysis by gender, and by UK region. In the light of concerns about the grading of language exams and the relative lack of As and A*s, teachers will be interested to discover whether the promised improvements to marking have had any impact. We will report on these issues in due course.



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