August 23, 2013 by totalityservices

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The year is 2002, the Labour Party is in power with Tony Blair at the helm and a decision is made that continues to have a ripple effect, which could ultimately leave the English a society of monoglots.


For the first time, modern languages went from being core GSCE subjects to optional courses, alongside all the humanities. Sciences all the while benefited from compulsory status, and the more science-heavy routes are designated “Double Award” and “Triple Award”, implicitly appealing to the subconscious.


Almost a decade later and the consequences are as clear as ever.  The shift of languages from mandatory to elective at GCSE level has been linked to an all new low in the number of students taking modern languages at A-level.  Over the past year, both German and French, traditionally the two most popular languages at school have seen a drop in enrolment of about 10%, which is nothing compared to the 50% drop of French intake since the turn of the century. And, although the variety of languages available has increased, even those more exotic choices such as Arabic and Mandarin have seen a dive in students.


With fewer students leaving college with the relevant A-levels, universities across the UK are suffering the basic rules of supply and demand. Diminished interest and fewer applicants translates to less government funding and, consequently, has materialised in the closure of 40% of modern language departments across the UK since 2000 and as many as another 40% are likely to close within the decade.  This development could be catastrophic for Britain, both in and outside her borders, so much so the Foreign Office has built its own languages school with a £1m budget a year with the hope of bringing the civil service up to scratch after reported “concerns about the standard of its graduate recruits”.


Not all is lost however.  Two steps have been taken towards remedying the problem. Recently, the government has made languages mandatory in primary school and, furthermore, has introduced a new performance measure, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which recognises where pupils have secured a C grade or better across a core of academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language, as a means to reduce the increasing number of students taking non-academic qualifications.


The most recent GCSE results have demonstrated that the EBacc is a success. Elizabeth Truss, the Education minister stated: “Today’s results show that the EBacc has not just arrested the decline in the study of academic subjects at GCSE – it is reversing it […] I am particularly delighted to see a languages revival.” For the first time in more than a decade, figures showed that French, Spanish and German have all experienced enormous increases in intake, as well as minority languages.


It is still up in the air whether this is a trend or if these kids will go on to study languages at A-level; or if language learning in primary school will instil in them the desire to pursue languages throughout life, but the finite disappointment of the current situation should not make us lose infinite hope for the possibilities of the future.


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