Withdrawal of GCSE and A level exams in small-entry languages – Call to action

24 Mar 2015

Update 22/7: the Government has announced that the DfE is taking action to ensure that GCSEs and A levels in languages such as Polish, Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Turkish and Gujarati will remain available to pupils.

Scroll down for the background to this situation, and calls to action.

With the introduction of new GCSE and A level specifications for languages from 2016 (for French, German and Spanish – 2017 for other languages) – exam boards have announced their intention NOT to redevelop qualifications in a range of small-entry languages.

The languages already affected are:

A level: Bengali, Modern Hebrew, Panjabi and Polish (AQA); Dutch, Gujarati, Persian, Portuguese, Turkish (OCR); Arabic, Modern Greek, Japanese and Urdu (Edexcel).

This will leave only Chinese, Italian and Russian in addition to French, German and Spanish.

GCSE: Dutch, Gujarati, Persian, Portuguese, Turkish (OCR) will not be redeveloped.

Other small-entry languages present ‘significant awarding and resourcing challenges,’ according to one of the awarding bodies, and are under discussion by both AQA and Edexcel.


What are the reasons for the discontinuation of these qualifications?

The main reasons given by Awarding Bodies are:

  • A small number of entries means that it is not cost-effective to redevelop the qualifications under the new, tighter assessment requirements, and there are difficulties in the statistical underpinning of grade boundaries
  • The more rigorous conditions attached to the new A-level specifications, and the need to teach and assess cultural content as well as language skills
  • Difficulties sourcing examiners and other experts


For further information, see this briefing prepared by Professor Katrin Kohl, University of Oxford: Languages qualifications from 2017 incl. CIE -23 3 2015

Who will be affected by this?

The range of languages being withdrawn is very broad. They are currently taught both in mainstream state and independent schools, in adult and further education, and in supplementary schools provided by local communities. In this case, students may sit the exam in their mainstream school or college, but prepare for it in their own time.

As is also the case with French, German and Spanish, candidates include a mixture of bilingual native speakers, learners who have some ‘background exposure’ to the language, and those who have learnt the language from scratch in a school, college or adult education context.

In 2014, nearly 4000 candidates sat the affected languages at A level, an increase of 50% since 2004. With the exception of Urdu, Gujarati, Greek and Bengali, entries for all the affected languages have increased since 2004, in a context where entries for French and German have dropped by a third.

According to research by the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (representing 922 schools teaching over 67,000 pupils) these reforms will affect 59% of supplementary schools teaching a language (in addition to the 13% whose languages already lack a qualification).


What are the wider implications?

The decision has serious implications for the future supply of language skills that Britain needs. In 2014 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages launched its Manifesto for Languages calling for step change in the UK’s national capacity in foreign languages. Without an enhanced capacity in language skills:

  • our economy will suffer as British firms are held back from trading across the world
  • our young people will suffer as they lose out in a global jobs market,
  • our international reputation and capacity for global influence will suffer,
  • our defence and security interests abroad will be damaged, and
  • our cultural capital at home will be impoverished.


The decision has particular implications for:

  • schools which teach or wish to develop the teaching of a more diverse range of languages
  • communities which speak or learn the languages in which examinations are being withdrawn
  • individuals who wish to learn them

For further evidence and discussion, see:




What is being done about it?

In July 2015 the Government announced that the DfE is working with exam boards to secure the future of these exams. Read the press release here.

Statement by Bernardette Holmes, Campaign Director of Speak to the Future:

These decisions make no sense.  Languages matter more than ever to community development, to social mobility and to our economy.  Our rich and diverse language capital makes the UK the most attractive place for inward investment.  We need to recognise and value the multilingual capabilities of so many of our young people and build our future upon them.  At a time when business is increasingly hyper-connected across the globe, it is the very languages which face the axe that would be significant assets to our success and to the prosperity of those who speak them.  To say nothing of the intrinsic linguistic and cultural value of these languages which will no longer be taught and assessed in our schools. Please, let us unite to find solutions to reverse this decision!

Petition to keep *all* of the exams:

*New 9/6: Petition to save Modern Greek A Level exams:

Petition to save Japanese exams:

Petition to keep Urdu exams:

Petition to keep Polish exam:

Petitions to keep Turkish exam:


STATEMENTS FROM POLITICIANS: This section will be updated with statements we are gathering from the new intake of MPs. Please check regularly for updates!

Parliamentary debate led by Nick de Bois MP, 24 March 2015 - read it here

Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, 24 April: “I am making a clear commitment that the next Conservative Government will guarantee the future of GCSEs and A-levels in subjects like Polish, Gujarati, Panjabi, Bengali and Turkish.”

Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Minister, 24 Apr“Labour has been clear from day one: we will save these important language qualifications.”

Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Minister, 26 Mar“She [Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education] must take urgent action before Parliament is dissolved so that these subjects are not lost from our education system.”

Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, 24 Mar: “I believe that these problems may well have solutions [...] I will invite them [the exam boards] to reconsider their current position—I will do that tomorrow”.

Statements from interview with Londra Gazeta magazine:

Nick de Bois MP: “It’s a very short sighted decision that limits the ambition not just of the Turkish-origin community but all Britons with ambition to learn an important language. What the exam body should actually be doing is pro-actively seeking to grow the appeal of Turkish as a foreign language to a sustainable level.

Lynne Featherstone MP: “I will help the community make the case to keep the GCSE and A level courses by contacting OCR, and also raising the matter with ministers in the Department for Education.”

Andy Love MP:  ”I’ll be writing to the OCR to seek a reversal of the decision.”

Fiona McTaggart MP, 24 Mar: “I have spoken to a senior examiner in Polish and she assures me there is no difficulty in finding suitably qualified examiners in that subject, yet AQA is determined to abandon it.”

Please let us know what is happening in your networks, so we can update this section!


OCR Head of Policy article in TES Connect: “Unless we act soon, even GCSE French and German could face the chop.”

Withdrawal of GCE AS and A level Arabic, Greek, Japanese and Urdu from 2017 (Edexcel)



Both Labour and the Conservatives pledged to save these exams, and the new Government is indeed working with exam boards to bring this about.

You may wish to contact your MP to raise awareness:

1) Write to your new MP
Each of us can ask them: Will they support the Government’s efforts to save these exams?

Find out how to contact your local MP at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
(Remember to include your name & address in your email to them).

You can also tweet them (again, find their Twitter account via http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/ or search on Google eg “David Cameron MP Twitter”)

Example tweet to Lib Dem MP:
As my MP will you support govt efforts to reverse cuts to GCSEs & A Levels in languages? #languagepolicyUK

Example tweet to Conservative candidate:
As my MP will you support @NickyMorgan01 efforts to rescue GCSEs & A Levels in languages?  #languagepolicyUK

Example tweet to Labour candidate:
As my MP do you support @TristramHuntMP pledge to rescue GCSEs & A Levels in languages & support govt efforts to do so? #languagepolicyUK

2) Make your views known on Twitter using the hashtag #languagepolicyUK

3) Post this page to your Facebook or LinkedIn pages

4) Sign the petitions (above)

5) You can write to the DfE, to Ofqual and to UK Awarding Bodies concerned: AQAEdexcelOCR, CIE.

6) Write to local & national press

7) Email your contacts – ask them to do all of the above too!

Thanks – and don’t forget to let us know what you are doing either by emailing us or using #languagepolicyUK on Twitter and Facebook.


*new 22/7: TES coverage of Government announcement on future of these exams:
Ministers force U-turn on plans to scrap minority language qualifications

8/5: OCR Head of Policy on the situation in TES Connect:
TES Connect: “Unless we act soon, even GCSE French and German could face the chop.”

23/4: Media coverage of Conservative pledge to protect the exams:
BBC News
The Telegraph

14/4: RT News report (Youtube clip, 2min):

1/4: BBC World News interview (Youtube clip, 3min):

26/3: Media coverage of Labour pledge to protect the exams:
BBC News




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