Britain’s top pupils are shunning language GCSEs

Author: By Richard Garner, Education Editor

Figures show the number of high attaining 16-year-olds taking at least one
language GCSE has slumped in the past two decades – since the introduction
of the national curriculum.

In 1984, 94 per cent of pupils who were amongst the highest performing pupils
were studying a modern foreign language. This figure has gradually fallen
over the years to 80 per cent in 2000 and 75 per cent in 2008.

The research, by Cambridge Assessment – europe’s largest assessment agency,
divides pupils into three performance groups – low, medium and high.

It shows for the first time that the acknowledged slump in the take-up of
languages is not only amongst pupils in more disadvantaged schools,

“Such a big drop in the uptake of languages by high attainers was a surprise
but not totally unforeseen,” said Carmen L.Vidal Rodeiro, senior research
officer at Cambridge Assessment.

“If students are not exposed to and have no prior knowledge of languages at
key stage three (for 11 to 14-year-olds), how can we expect them to make an
informed choice at GCSE?”

The research shows that French and German still remain the most popular
language options at GCSE – although both show a significant decline in
uptake. Spanish, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly popular amongst
students and is set to overtake German as the second most popular option.

It also shows that – despite the reduction in high attainers taking the
subject – the majority of grammar schools (89 per cent) and independents
schools (72 per cent) have more than three quarters of their pupils taking
the subject at GCSE. By contrast, 88 per cent of the lowest performing
schools have fewer than half their pupils studying the subject. “Students
are less likely to be studying a modern foreign language if they go to
school in a deprived area,” it adds.

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