Secondary schools could be given more money to persuade them to become specialist language colleges as new evidence emerges of the subjects'
Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, was expected yesterday to unveil incentives to tackle the crisis, revealed in a survey presented at this week's Specialist Schools Trust conference in Birmingham.
It suggested that few secondaries will now opt to specialise in languages in the next two years. Ministers had hoped that specialist colleges would spearhead a language revival but the survey shows that only 26, or 3 per cent, of 944 secondaries which plan to take on a specialism envisage becoming languages colleges. There are currently 203.
The figures prompted Sir Cyril Taylor, trust chairman, to tell delegates that Britain risked becoming a "nation of monoglots".
He said: "If you wish to sell your products and services you should know your customer's language. Even more important, the ability to speak the language of another country helps you to understand the culture of that country."
The Teacher Training Agency today reveals a 10 per cent drop in the number of graduates applying to become trainee language teachers this year, despite an overall increase in trainee applications.
And this month, a survey by Cilt, the National Centre for Languages, revealed that more than a third of 14-year-olds have given up languages since September when they became optional from Year 10. In one north of England secondary, the languages department was cut by a quarter when just 27 per cent of pupils opted to take a GCSE.
John Jackson, who teaches German at independent Plymouth college, said: "I know of schools where no pupils are taking languages. Young people will take the path of least resistance when faced with the option of taking a language, graphics, PE or IT."
Mr Clarke was expected to announce concessions on language college status.
A rule requiring all language college pupils to study two languages until 16 has already been relaxed to one.
And he is considering paying more for colleges' primary outreach work.
Specialist colleges are seen as crucial to the policy of giving every seven to 11-year-old the chance to learn a language by 2010, as they have to develop local networks with primary schools.
Language advocates stress their importance in the business world. Sir Cyril said a leading company, which he refused to name, was prepared to sponsor 100 new specialists if they agreed to teach pupils Mandarin Chinese.
Sir Cyril risked a fresh row with further education colleges by calling on all 11 to 16 schools to consider adding a sixth form. An extra 200,000 places were needed if English staying-on rates were to match other European countries and many colleges were full, he said.
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