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Languages could lose out to compulsory ICT

Linguists fear move threatens another downward slide in GCSE uptake.

Karen Thornton reports

Computer skills are to be made a compulsory subject for post-14 students in Wales. But linguists warn the move will leave even less timetable space for modern foreign languages - and predict GCSE entries will drop below 30 per cent next year.

Updated guidance on reforming the 14-19 curriculum confirms that information and communications technology will become the fourth mandatory subject at key stage 4 in Wales, alongside English, Welsh, and maths (plus PE, RE, sex education and personal and social education).

Schools will be expected to enter all pupils "who would benefit from it" for ICT exams, whether they be GCSEs, entry level or key skills qualifications, according to guidance published last month.

Critics say schools will interpret this as meaning they have to timetable lessons in the subject.

However, the overall aim of the 14-19 reforms is to reduce the subject content of the curriculum and boost pupils' key skills, such as communication, application of number, ICT and problem-solving. The hope is that offering teenagers a wider choice of vocational, academic and work-based courses, with more emphasis on skills than subject knowledge, will help reduce the high number who leave school at 16 without a single qualification.

ACCAC, the Welsh qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority, has yet to put a timetable to the proposals. But CILT Cymru, the centre for information on language teaching and research in Wales, is worried that making ICT compulsory will squeeze modern foreign languages even further.

This summer, entries for French and German GCSEs were down 6 and 8 per cent respectively in Wales, with less than a third of 2004's school-leavers sitting at least one language GCSE. Ceri James, director of CILT Cymru, predicted entry levels for next summer's GCSE exams in languages would fall below 30 per cent.

He said: "Schools will interpret this new requirement as 'we can't make ICT compulsory without attaching lessons'. In which case, it will be another option column gone on the timetable. So it's not going to make the situation for languages any easier."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "If the guidance is about mainstreaming ICT skills across the board, so schools are bringing them to bear on the study of history or science, that's to be welcomed. But if it's about making specific ICT lessons in the curriculum, that's a retrograde step because it will mean less time for other subjects and it's not mainstreaming. The ACCAC document bears that interpretation."

Other changes mooted in ACCAC's revised 14-19 guidance include writing the requirements for key skills, such as communication and numeracy, into revised GCSE courses for English, Welsh, Welsh second language and maths.

At present, it is not made explicit which, if any, requirements for, say, numeracy are covered in GCSE maths. Instead, students have to produce a separate portfolio of evidence to show they have met the key skills requirements.

The guidance highlights examples of good practice and useful resources for delivering "core" areas of the 14-19 curriculum, such as careers advice, key skills, Welsh, Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig and work-based experience.

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