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'Languages should be compulsory from ages 5 to 18'

MPs launch recovery plan to reverse ‘national crisis’ in language skills, which is 'holding back Britain economically, socially and culturally'

MPs plan to address languages crisis

MPs launch recovery plan to reverse ‘national crisis’ in language skills, which is 'holding back Britain economically, socially and culturally'

A national recovery programme has been launched to address the “urgent and compelling” need to save language learning in Britain’s schools.

An All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs and peers says Britain's languages deficit is holding back the nation economically, socially and culturally – and wants to “bust the myth” that language learning is “only for the top set”.

In a new report published today, the group says the UK’s lack of language skills is costing the economy around 3.5 per cent of GDP and that young people need to be “culturally agile” for an international job climate in which the proportion of web content in English is declining.

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Among strategic objectives in the report is that there should be "a statutory entitlement to languages education at all stages of the curriculum from ages 5 to 18" (currently it is only a requirement at key stages 2 and 3).

It also outlines issues covered by Tes, including the decreasing entries for GCSE and A levels in MFL (modern foreign languages) as well as figures showing that MFL graduates each year are now fewer than MFL teacher training places.

Baroness Jean Coussins, a crossbench peer and joint chair of the group, told the BBC: "We are complacent. In the 21st century, speaking only English is as much of a disadvantage as speaking no English at all. One of the myths we need to bust is [that] languages are just for the top set."

The group is calling for a range of new qualifications amid concerns that it is seen as harder to get a good grade in MFL GCSEs than other subjects. It also says:

  • Language learning at any age has cognitive health benefits for pupils, helping to develop other skills.

  • Bilingual pupils and those with English as an additional language (EAL) should be seen as an educational and social asset, not a problem.

  • There should be an increase in the range of languages taught in primary and secondary.

  • There should be stronger messages from the government to schools, parents and pupils about the value of languages.

  • Every language learner should have access to a language assistant.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, highlighted that funding, as well as teachers, could be a barrier to reform.

He said: "We wholeheartedly support efforts to boost language learning, but we need to be careful to set realistic targets, and it is hard to see how schools could fulfil an objective to ensure all young people learn a language from ages 5-18.

"We need a national strategy to enthuse young people about language learning which is underpinned by having enough teachers and funding, both of which are in desperately short supply."

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