The number of pupils studying foreign languages at school plummeted to a record low this year, sparking fresh warnings that the subject is in terminal decline.
Just 307,386 pupils gained a GCSE in any foreign language, compared with 348,528 last year and 559,115 a decade ago – an overall drop of 45 per cent.
It means well under half of pupils now study languages to a decent level between the age of 14 and 16.
The decline was particularly marked in French and German – traditionally the two most popular languages at school – with both being named among the fastest declining subjects at GCSE level.
It follows a decision by Labour to make languages optional for 14-year-olds in England for the first time in 2004.
This triggered a sharp drop in the number of teenagers choosing to study the subjects, which are traditionally seen as the most difficult academic disciplines.
A major review of the National Curriculum in England was launched by the Coalition earlier this year in a move that could see a return to compulsory language lessons.
Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said: “It is worrying that the downward spiral in the number of students studying modern foreign languages has continued, with French and German uptake halving over the past decade.
“Languages are key to our economic and social future; without them we risk insularity and we narrow the job opportunities available to young people educated here.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The fact that modern languages continue to decline is disappointing, especially taking into account our place in a global society and economy.
“This issue needs to be addressed in the Government’s review of the National Curriculum in order to reverse this extremely troubling trend.”
According to figures, 154,221 pupils took a GCSE in French this year, a drop of 15 per cent in just 12 months. German entries dropped by more than 13 per cent to just 60,887 in 2011.
This represents a 54 per cent decline in both subjects over the last decade.
It had been claimed that students were dropping French and German in favour of other languages spoken in their local community, such as Polish, Turkish, Mandarin and Urdu.
But figures reveal overall drops in 19 out of 20 language subjects offered in British schools. Modern Hebrew was the only language to show a modest increase.
Spanish, which has undergone a revival in recent years, saw entries drop by 2.5 per cent to 66,021.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, blamed businesses for the decline.
“The decrease in modern languages at GCSE is disappointing but until employers give a clear message that they value languages as a business skill, it will be difficult to convince student otherwise,” he said. “The message from employers that they need science graduates has had a big impact on uptake and we need the same thing to happen with languages if this trend is to reverse.”
Taken from The Telegraph: 25.08.11