A teaching union has questioned official figures showing that GCSE entries in modern foreign languages have increased for the first time in five years.
A “glimmer of hope” was offered to linguists on results day last month when it was revealed that there had been a 0.4 per cent increase in entries this year.
But the Association of School and College Leaders says this was probably due to some schools switching from iGCSEs (which no longer count in school performance tables) to the new reformed GCSE qualifications.
The ASCL says the number of iGCSE entries in England fell significantly, and that the statistics change when iGCSE and GCSE entries are combined.
Overall, the number of German entries fell by 3.5 per cent since last year, for example, and did not rise by 2 per cent as exam board GCSE entry figures show.
Similarly, the increase in Spanish entries was just 1.7 per cent when you include the drop in iGCSE entries, says the ASCL, and not the 4.4 per cent publicised this summer.
Lastly, the number of French candidates fell by 5.9 per cent, rather than the 2.9 per cent shown in just GCSE figures.
Languages 'in a downward spiral'
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said teacher shortages and funding pressures meant small classes were unsustainable, and that there was also a perceived difficulty of languages among students.
“It may be that we want to boost other languages besides French, German and Spanish but at present the number of entries in other languages is small, and we need a strategy about language provision in general,” he said.
“We cannot afford to become a largely monolingual society if we are to be the bold, outward-looking global nation that is essential for our future economic, cultural and social prosperity.
“It is clear that trying to boost language take-up through the school performance measure of the English Baccalaureate is not working. Schools need sufficient funding and teachers and we need a national strategy for languages.
“Fewer numbers coming through at GCSE impacts upon A-level take-up which, in turn, reduces the pool of potential future language teachers.
“It is a downward spiral and unless we take action to reverse this trend these subjects will continue to decline.”
ASCL analysis also shows that over the past five years the number of candidates taking French has fallen by 23.4 per cent and German by 25.6 per cent.
And, despite a 3.6 per cent rise in Spanish entries at GCSE, the total number of MFL candidates has decreased by nearly 50,000 since 2014.
Entries to A levels have also fallen significantly with a decline of 16.4 per cent in French and 27.7 per cent in German over the past five years, says the ASCL.