Languages stutter to a rethink

The Government is ready to backtrack on its controversial decision to allow pupils to drop all foreign languages at age 14.

Alan Johnson, the education secretary, admitted he is "re-thinking" the optional status of foreign languages after a sharp decline in the number of pupils studying them since 2004 when they stopped being compulsory.

The number of British students taking GCSE German fell below 100,000 for the first time this year and there was a 13.2 per cent fall in the number of pupils taking French.

Teachers and business leaders were united in blaming the Government for allowing pupils to turn their backs on languages. Heads warned the subjects were in "free fall" but warned difficulties in recruiting specialist teachers would make it difficult to reinstate compulsory languages immediately.

Mr Johnson said he was ready to listen to concerns. He said: "We took modern foreign languages out at key stage 4. Whether we should have done that or not, we are having a re-think now."

The education secretary made his comments after a keynote speech to the Social Market Foundation on education's role in tackling poverty. He promised to take a fresh look at the Government's targets to ensure they did not focus attention on a narrow group.

Mr Johnson said: "We need to make sure our targets do not hold back those who are roaring ahead, nor fail to allow those who have fallen behind to catch-up.

"I want to look at the potential of targets that encourage progression, so that every child achieves more, and we don't just focus on those who are just below the line.".

Mr Johnson said he had asked local authorities to ensure they pass on extra money intended for the schools in the most deprived areas. At the moment some money intended for schools in poor areas is shared among all schools in a local authority. And he promised that the Green Paper expected later this autumn would make a big difference to the education of children in care.

He said: "This has to be right at the top of our agenda. We want something people will look at and say this is very comprehensive and very exciting."

From October, foster carers in Northern Ireland will benefit from new minimum allowances of pound;102 per week for babies, rising to pound;151 for the oldest children.

Improved allowances for foster carers is one of the aims of the TES Time to Care Campaign for better education for looked-after children.

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