UK Government Encourages Foreign Language Learning

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In an effort to encourage more students to study foreign languages along with other challenging subjects, the UK government is changing how it ranks schools to give more weight to the number of students who do well on foreign language exams at each school.

Encouraging students to learn a new language is definitely a worthy goal. However, the new performance tables have upset many educators, who feel that changing the criteria without any advance notice is unfair.

For example, Christine Blower,  head of the National Union of Teachers, told Reuters:

“You can’t have schools judged against criteria that were not previously in place. This will significantly disadvantage some schools, as they will not have been geared up to doing, for instance, a modern language.”

However, according to the Telegraph’s Toby Young, the old system allowed some schools to game the system by encouraging students to study easy subjects instead of more difficult ones like foreign language and sciences. He explains that:

“Educators were under the impression their schools would be judged according to the percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including maths and English. The fact that they had a good deal of latitude when it came to what the other three subjects were enabled them to inflate their schools’ rankings by steering their pupils towards soft subjects, such as BTECs and Diplomas.”

Since ratings now include the number of students who qualified for an “English baccalaureate” through taking harder subjects including a foreign language, schools that encouraged pupils to take easy GCSE courses have lost ground.

As Education Secretary Michael Gove explained to Reuters, that’s exactly the point of the new ratings:

“This is just shining a light on the system,” he said. “I hope it will spark a debate about which subjects we should be concentrating on.”

4 replies
  1. Fern
    Fern says:

    This paints it in a positive light, but it’s really not so great. This has been applied with no warning, so those students who have just finished their GCSEs (in the same year as me) who chose to take subjects not included in this ‘English Baccalaureat’ could now be screwed. The schools who have biased themselves towards other subjects have now also lost out in the league tables through no fault of their own.

    Most schools give foreign languages and humanities as optional subjects. All the schools in my area (it may be different elsewhere) allow 4 option choices, so if you choose a language and history/geography in order to fulfil these requirements, you’re left with only 2 slots for your other subjects. If schools decide to make these subjects compulsory, they will decrease the choices for pupils and ruin the classes even for those who are genuinely interested in these subjects as people who have no hope of passing will be forced into them.

    The government made their stance on foreign languages pretty clear when they stopped making them mandatory a couple of years ago and decided RE was more important. I think that says all we need to know.

    • Caroline Mikolajczyk
      Caroline Mikolajczyk says:

      Hey Fern! thanks for your very interesting comment, it’s always good to have the point of view from the other side 🙂 I do understand what you mean though and i guess it’s not really fair from the government to make these subjects compulsory but i guess they are just trying to make children more open to other cultures. For example, in France, where i come from, we dont have the choice, we have to study English and Spanish/German/Italian (your choice) because unfortunately French is not the universal language, so we need to learn other languages since a young age to be able to get a proper job later in life. I understand that English speakers dont bother much about learning another language, because at the end, they already speak the universal language…but it’s always good to see what happens somewhere else…

  2. Yosi
    Yosi says:

    In my opinion this is a good move by the government. I myself am studying French and Spanish and believe that it will help give me ample opertunities in the future.


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