Foreign languages in Wales – from bad to worse

Last year we heard that the Welsh Government intended to remove the languages element from the Welsh Baccalaureate. Now we hear even more damage is to be done to foreign languages in Wales

In December last year we reported that the Welsh government intended to remove the languages element from the Welsh Baccalaureate, a move Speak to the Future deplored because, as Campaign Director Bernardette Holmes put it ‘even modest levels of competence connect us to the wider world and help us to understand other cultures’.

Now we hear that even more damage is to be done to the teaching and learning of foreign languages in Wales: CILT Cymru’s budget is to be cut by two thirds from April.

As the British Academy’s State of the Nation report showed, the situation for foreign languages in Wales compares badly even with the rest of the UK, with hardly more than one in five pupils taking a foreign language at GCSE level. Entries for A level are even more worrying. A derisory 144 pupils sat an A level in German last summer and entries for all foreign languages dropped by 16% in just one year and by 32% over 4 years.

Early this year, Baroness Jean Coussins, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Languages, wrote to the Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis, in connection with the proposed removal of the language requirement from the Welsh Baccalaureate. Baroness Coussins noted that, although the requirement is very low – just 20 hours, its compulsory nature at least sends a message to schools, parents and pupils about the importance of competence in another language in today’s world. She pointed out that Wales, unlike England, had no policies such as the EBacc designed to halt and reverse the drop out from languages in Key Stage 4, nor as yet a policy on foreign language learning in primary schools.

The reply received from Mr Lewis, which has been seen by Speak to the Future, demonstrates a level of complacency and defeatism which should have no place in UK policy-making. The module was ‘of limited value’ said Mr Lewis, and it was uncertain to what extent learners would benefit from such an insubstantial language learning experience. In any case, he added, by the time learners came to take the Welsh Baccalaureate, they had already decided to give up languages.

The Universities Council of Modern Languages is among the organisations which have written to the Welsh Assembly Government expressing dismay at the decision to cut CILT Cymru’s funding, and the inevitable knock-on effect on its work with schools and pupils in Wales. It pointed out that the encouragement of the learning of Welsh, which it applauded, ought not to be at the expense of equipping pupils with a knowledge of at least one other European or world language.

In response to criticism of its decision, the Welsh Government has said it was not a reflection on the work of CILT Cymru’s staff, but a ‘tough decision’ in the light of funding cuts. It admitted that the situation as regards foreign language learning in Wales was dire, but said that a ‘new approach’ was needed.

It is not at all clear whether the Welsh Government has any new approach to put forward, but Speak to the Future will certainly be adding its voice to the calls for more positive thinking on policies for foreign languages in Wales.





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