The Department for Education has made a bold pledge as to the percentage of children it wants to be taking the 16+ EBacc, including a foreign language GCSE, within the next five years: 75 per cent by 2022, and 90 per cent by 2025.
However, achieving this will only be possible if there are teachers available to deliver high-quality language lessons.
Indeed, around a third of state schools and a quarter of independent schools report recruitment difficulties, and a proportion says that retention is also a problem.
These difficulties are only likely to be exacerbated by the announcement earlier this month that EU nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status and student loans from 2021.
This will impact further on teacher supply in languages given that teachers from the EU constitute over a third of MFL teachers in UK secondary schools – and some of them are considering leaving Britain in the wake of Brexit.
A hopeful outlook
However, there is a ray of hope for those concerned about the decline of languages in schools. The government-sponsored National Modern Languages School Centred Initial Teacher Training (NML SCITT) scheme which, as Tes reports today, is having the positive impact that was hoped when it was first envisioned.
This is a subject-specific teacher training course, delivered by the Sheffield Teaching School Alliance, supported by a PGCE from Sheffield Hallam University, dedicated to addressing the acknowledged shortage of MFL teachers in UK schools. (Similar schemes for maths and physics are also up and running.)
It trained its first cohort in 2017-18 and offers both a one-year full-time course and a two-year part-time route.
A key element of the NML SCITT is that every element of the training is delivered by linguists for linguists.
Trainees join qualified teachers in their classrooms from the first day of the school year.
They experience the daily challenges of teaching and put theory to the test in every lesson as their timetable gradually builds up and they begin to take charge of lessons themselves.
A proven success
As the headteacher of one of the hub schools that delivers the NML SCITT, it is heartening to see new teachers so fantastically supported and there's a real collegiate feel among the NML SCITT trainees.
Credit must be given to Nick Gibb, the schools minister, for holding fast to the idea that schools where languages are valued are likely to prove the best places in which those coming into the teaching profession – often foreign nationals and career changers, with all the rich experience they bring – can learn to become specialist language teachers.
And it is clearly working as the data shows. In its first three years, it has already achieved a strong track record of recruiting talented, enthusiastic linguists with a passion for teaching.
In total, 87 new language teachers have qualified, almost all of whom have gone on to teach in the state sector.
In the latest cohort of those trained through the regional hubs, for example, 31 of 39 graduates have jobs for September 2020 and 30 of them will be starting work in a state school.
This point is important.
One of the fears about the scheme was that a number of teachers would be creamed off by independent schools in which languages still feature as a compulsory part of the GCSE curriculum and are more likely to be taken on to A level.
This has not proved to be the case.
Of course, there is still more to do.
There are now eight training hubs around the country and 78 schools have been involved in the scheme since 2017.
These NML SCITT partner schools report that being involved in this programme has given them access to a new pipeline of MFL teachers as well as inspiring greater collaboration between local schools.
Fifty-six new NML SCITT trainees will be starting in September 2020 (up from 42 last year) and another 13 have deferred to September 2021 and will be completing subject knowledge enhancement courses over the next year.
What is needed for this scheme to make a difference nationally is for it to "go viral" – through continued support and focus from all those involved.
Certainly, we must avoid mixed messages from government and ensure that, as the British Council's Language Trends survey for 2020 notes, the role that language acquisition plays in diplomacy, security and international relations and in the promotion of societal cohesion and in connecting us with global educational, cultural and business opportunities is not underestimated.
Dr Joe Spence is Master of Dulwich College, the hub school for the South East London NML SCITT since its inception in 2017.
If you know someone who might be interested in qualifying to be a languages teacher or if you are a leader in a school that might be interested in becoming a partner, please contact Katrin Sredzki-Seamer, Director of the NML SCITT at email@example.com.