S2F writes to OCR on dropping MFL exams

18 May 2016

Speak to the Future has written to OCR following its announcement that it will cease to offer GCSEs or AS/A Levels in any languages, including French, German or Spanish.

The letter has been co-signed by representatives of the APPG on Modern Languages, ALL, NALA, Routes Into Languages and ISMLA.

The letter can be downloaded here (PDF, 280KB) and the full text is below.

OCR withdrawal from GCSE and GCE AS/A level reform of qualifications in French, German and Spanish 

It is with deep regret that we learn that OCR has made the decision to withdraw from the reform of GCSE and GCE examinations in all Modern Foreign Languages. We are aware of the complex factors which contributed to OCR’s announcement that it would discontinue its offer of accreditation in less-widely taught languages, but that this decision should now extend to the widely taught languages of French, German and Spanish is a cause for concern.

At a time of national reform, where government policy has shown commitment to offering a rich core of academic subjects to every child in the country through the English Baccalaureate, it is astonishing to discover that a prestigious awarding body such as OCR should restrict its offer and fail to provide accreditation in the full suite of EBacc subjects. Surely it is a matter of principle for every awarding body to offer equality of opportunity for all pupils to fulfil the EBacc requirement and to achieve a recognised qualification in facilitating subjects, including Modern Foreign Languages?

In light of the country’s need for higher levels of competence in a wide range of languages to support economic growth, national diplomacy and security and to secure our position of excellence in global research in all disciplines, it seems inconceivable that OCR should be withdrawing from the opportunity to contribute to strengthening language qualifications at AS and A level. For our young people to fulfil their potential in higher education and in work, and to compete in the global labour market on an equal footing to their peers from other major jurisdictions, high quality language qualifications at GCSE and AS and A level have never been more relevant.

Your press release states that a number of interrelated factors account for OCR’s decision to withdraw its current submissions to Ofqual. We accept that the Ofqual validation process is highly technical and time-consuming. We acknowledge and respect that OCR understands the needs of schools at the current time and fully agree that schools must have clarity about available specifications for first teaching from September 2016. We also recognise that OCR was not the largest provider of qualifications in Modern Foreign Languages and that factors in the economic climate inevitably affect business strategy. However, the decision for a major awarding organisation to withdraw from the  reform of language qualifications at this crucial crossroads in education policy is a matter which affects the nation’s future. It conveys a message that OCR regards languages as a failing market. It also suggests that ‘your different vision for language learning’ was not worth fighting for. We disagree on both counts. Current policy intends to rebuild languages capability in this country, improving take-up and the quality of learning. A robust, reliable and relevant accreditation system is crucial to policy implementation. Success relies on a shared vision and concerted effort from awarding bodies working in partnership with teachers in schools and higher education, with learned associations and with government. The loss of OCR’s considerable expertise at this time is deeply regrettable.

This announcement marks the end of a very sad period in OCR’s history where its long and valued commitment to languages has been seen to ebb away, starting with the withdrawal of ASSET languages in 2014, the decision to discontinue accreditation in less widely-taught languages in 2015 and now the complete withdrawal of all qualifications in Modern Foreign Languages from the end of this exam series. We urge you strongly to reconsider your decision.


Bernardette Holmes MBE, Campaign Director, Speak to the Future and Chair of the Languages Liaison Group

Co-signed by:

Nia Griffith MP, Chair of the APPG on Modern Languages
Baroness Coussins, Co-chair of the APPG on Modern Languages
Richard Hardie, Senior Adviser UBS Ltd and Chair of Speak to the Future
Professor Michael Kelly, OBE, Professor of French, University of Southampton, Director of LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, Director of Routes into Languages, and Hon Secretary of the European Language Council
Pam Haezewindt, former HMI ML subject lead 2006-11, and President of NALA (National Association of Language Advisers)
Jennifer Carpenter, Chair NALA
Rachel Middleton, Director of the Association for Language Learning, on behalf of ALL trustees
Nick Mair, ISMLA and Trustee Speak to the Future

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