Nearly half of state schools in England say Brexit is having an effect on the learning of modern foreign languages, according to a new report.
Parent and student attitudes, as well as concerns about the future recruitment of language teachers caused by Britain leaving the EU, are highlighted in the British Council’s "Language Trends Report 2019" published today.
The annual report, based on evidence from 1,600 teachers who were contacted earlier this year, says “respondents report that Brexit has cast a pall over languages.”
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The report states: “A large minority of schools in both sectors (45 per cent of state schools and 41 per cent of independent schools) say that the implications of Brexit are a major challenge to providing high-quality language teaching. In the state sector, these schools are statistically more likely to be local authority-maintained schools, and slightly more likely to be in coastal areas.
The Brexit effect on languages
“When asked specifically whether Brexit has had an impact on pupils’ attitudes towards language learning, 25 per cent [of school leaders] say that there has been a negative impact either on motivation to learn a European language or motivation to learn languages in general.”
The report's findings are similar to those in last year's report, in which 34 per cent of state secondary schools reported Brexit as having a negative impact on student motivation or parental attitudes.
Author Teresa Tinsley said “by and large” there was a geographical mirroring across the country of areas that voted for Brexit and areas where schools have a lower take-up of modern foreign languages (MFL).
In this year's report she says language learning is also becoming "increasingly segregated along both socio-economic and academic lines".
The report says 54 per cent of secondary schools in the quintile with the highest level of pupils on free school meals stated that groups of Year 9 students did not study a language at all, compared with 21 per cent of schools in the quintile with the lowest number of FSM pupils.
One school leader said: “Some students see no use to languages (particularly pupil premium students) as they have never been abroad and probably never will. Since the Brexit vote, there has also been a shift in attitudes.”
Another said: “We’ve had parents mention that they do not believe their son/daughter should be studying a language as it is little to no use to them now that we are leaving the European Union.”
Brexit is given as one of the main causes of a “gentle decline” in pupil exchanges and school trips in both primary and secondary schools, with just one quarter of state secondaries offering pupil exchanges, the report says.
It also highlights that 67 per cent of state schools and 79 per cent of independent schools have one or more staff who are citizens of EU countries other than Britain.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools were struggling with a severe shortage of language teachers and Brexit could worsen this situation because many language teachers come from EU countries.
He said: “We are in danger of becoming a monolinguistic country unless we do something to rejuvenate the love and learning of languages.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We want more people to study foreign languages and benefit from the opportunities they provide. Since the introduction of the Ebacc in 2010, the proportion of pupils studying a language has risen from 40 per cent to 46 per cent.
“We are providing a range of support to schools to encourage more children to study languages alongside initiatives such as the £10 million Mandarin Excellence Programme which will put 5,000 young people on track to be fluent in Mandarin by 2020.”
“Prior to our reforms, employers and universities said GCSEs were not providing young people the right grounding in the skills they needed for the next phase of education and the world of work. Our gold-standard GCSEs are on a par with the best in the world and respond to those concerns.”