The Brexit effect and six other languages findings

New teacher survey shows that exiting the EU has led to some questioning the value of studying modern languages

John Roberts


The Brexit vote has had a negative impact on parents' attitudes and pupils' motivation to learning modern languages, according to a new survey of teachers.

More than a third of state secondary schools have reported that the decision to leave the European Union has made parents and pupils question the important of learning a language.

The findings comes from the British Council’s Language Trends Survey 2018, which questioned heads and language teachers in 692 primaries and 785 secondary schools in England between January and March.

Here are seven key findings from the report:

1. Brexit is having an impact

The study reveals that parents’ perception about the importance of learning languages has been affected by Brexit.

More than a third (34 per cent) of state secondary schools reported that there has been a negative impact on student motivation or parental attitudes towards learning languages as a consequence of the decision to leave the European Union.

One teacher highlighting this trend said: “We regularly have questions from pupils or parents about the value of learning a language, as 'we don’t need it' and 'everyone should speak English'.”

“Brexit is often touted as a reason not to do a language,” the report says.

However, 10 per cent of respondents reported that senior management in their school had become more positive towards language study as a result of Brexit. 

2. Spanish GCSE is set to overtake French by 2025

The uptake of French and German at GCSE and A level has dramatically fallen over the past two decades, while there has been a significant rise for Spanish.

The survey showed that these trends have continued this year, with French and German both falling to a new low of 8,300 and 3,300 entries respectively at A level, while Spanish has risen to 7,600 entries.

The report predicts that based on current trends, Spanish will overtake French as England’s most widely taught modern language at A level by 2020 and at GCSE by 2025.

3. More schools meeting 75 per cent pupil target

Former education secretary Justine Greening announced last year that the government would like to see 75 per cent of pupils studying the core academic subjects that make up the English Baccalaureate – English, maths, science, history or geography and a language – by 2022.

The study says some schools are making progress towards this target, with 29 per cent of state schools seeing at least three-quarters of their pupils learning a language at GCSE, up from 24 per cent the year before. Among private schools, 82 per cent have at least three-quarters studying a language GCSE.

4. Language students tend to be more academically able

The study also showed that there has been a move since new, tougher GCSEs were introduced – with the first language grades due to be awarded this summer – towards the courses being taken by high and middle-ability pupils, and away from them being taken by lower-ability youngsters and those with special educational needs.

Around 68 per cent of the state school teachers questioned, and 49 per cent of those in fee-paying schools, said lower-ability pupils were now less likely to be taking a languages GCSE.

5. Deprived pupils are missing out

The survey showed that schools with fewer teaching hours for languages at key stage 3 are more likely to have higher proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM).

It found that schools with the lowest proportions of pupils on FSM – a key measure of poverty – are more than twice as likely to offer 11- to 14-year-olds two and a half hours or more of languages per week than those with the highest proportions of students getting free dinners.

It also showed that schools with the highest proportion of FSM pupils are over three times as likely to have low numbers taking languages at GCSE, and no plans for this to improve, compared with schools with the smallest proportions of FSM students.

6. Girls are more likely to be language learners

At GCSE, 56 per cent of language entries are from girls, compared with 44 per cent from boys, while at A level, 63 per cent of entries are from girls and 37 per cent from boys.

7. There is a North/South divide

Figures point to a North /South divide, or more accurately a London and the South East and everywhere else divide.

The proportion of GCSE entries were above average in London (62 per cent) and the South East (49 per cent) and below average in the other seven regions of England.

The North East had the lowest participation rate at 40 per cent. The local authority with the highest proportion of entrants was Newham at 74.5 per cent, a proportion more than two and a half times that of the lowest – Middlesborough, with 29 per cent.




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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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