FOREIGN languages will become the preserve of middle-class students under government plans to make the subject optional at age 14, new research shows.
The Green Paper proposals have yet to come into force but, as The TES revealed last month, hundreds of schools are already abandoning languages.
The Government has faced criticism from foreign ambassadors and language specialists since it decided that pupils will be given only an "entitlement" to learn a modern language post-14. They will be allowed to drop languages in order to make time for other academic or vocational courses.
A survey by the Association of Language Learning last month revealed that nearly 30 per cent of schools plan to abandon compulsory languages from September.
Further analysis of the survey of nearly 300 members has found that schools in disadvantaged areas are most likely to jettison languages.
The study showed that secondaries with high numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals already allow nearly 15 per cent of students to opt out of languages in order to study job-related courses. Schools with below-average free meals - the main indicator of deprivation - allow just 3 per cent of pupils to drop languages.
When schools were asked to predict what the figures would be when languages became optional at key stage 4, the gap widened further. Schools with a small proportion of poor children said 65 per cent of pupils would still do languages. However, schools in deprived areas said only 46 per cent of pupils would choose to study the subject.
Terry Lamb, president of ALL, said: "There is a grave risk the proposals will exacerbate social polarisation and exclude many of our most excluded children even further from learning languages and the opportunities that can bring."
His warning came as local government leaders said the proposals would harm future job prospects of young people.
In its official response to the "Green Paper 14 to19: Extending Opportunities and Raising Standards", the Local Government Association calls for language learning to be extended to all primary pupils.
Graham Lane, LGA education chair, said: "The Government has sent totally the wrong signal. This takes away a key thing that makes young people attractive to employers and puts them at a disadvantage when they compete for jobs with those on the Continent."
Schools should be encouraged to offer vocational language courses which would be related to business or leisure needs, he said.