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Revival hopes for language GCSEs with new centre of excellence

University of York is now coordinating work of language hub schools to help reverse decline in language learning

Teaching linguistics would help pupils in studying modern foreign languages, says Michelle Sheehan

University of York is now coordinating work of language hub schools to help reverse decline in language learning

The dwindling take up of French and German at GCSE has been addressed with the opening of the country’s first modern foreign languages centre for excellence.

The £4.8 million centre is based within the University of York from where it is coordinating the work of nine MFL hub schools across the country to promote pioneering teaching practices - with hopes it will create “a renaissance in the teaching and learning of languages."

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: “In the application process, the University of York demonstrated that it has the vision and expertise to be at the forefront of the work to improve the way in which foreign languages are taught in schools and to increase the take up of languages at GCSE.

“The hubs are already having a positive impact and this direction will help them go from strength to strength”

The DfE admitted at the end of last year that GCSE French and German entries were in decline, however recent research shows Spanish GCSE entries are on the rise.

The centre, which will be known as the Centre for Excellence for Languages Pedagogy, will help the teaching of Latin alphabet languages such as Spanish, French and German. It will take forward recommendations made in the Teaching Schools Council’s Modern Foreign Language Pedagogy Review, led by headteacher and linguist Ian Bauckham.

He said: “Languages are an essential part of a rich and rewarding school curriculum, and an improved national language capacity is needed for the United Kingdom to continue to play a role as an outward-facing trading nation. 

 “The University of York will be collaborating with a number of strong partners to support the newly created national network of MFL lead schools and hubs, basing its work on the 2016 Teaching Schools Council report on MFL pedagogy. 

“I have every confidence that this work will help lead to a much-needed renaissance in the teaching and learning of languages in our schools.”

A survey of employers by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pearson, carried out in 2017, found that only a third of businesses rated the foreign language skills of school and college leavers entering the jobs market as satisfactory, with the major EU languages of French, German and Spanish most in demand.

Professor Emma Marsden of the University of York’s education department said it was “a unique opportunity” for researchers and expert teachers to work together and draw on high quality, international research into language learning and teaching.

She said: "This very solid investment in foreign languages education is welcome evidence of a commitment to nurturing relations with other cultures and offering a broad education to all.

“Learning languages is associated with a whole raft of benefits - personal, cognitive, cultural, social, and economic. Yet, in a largely English speaking population, we have a special set of challenges in teaching foreign languages and the centre's work will help teachers to make the most of every opportunity that can be offered by secondary schools.”

*See Friday's Tes magazine for a major feature on the future of languages in our secondary schools

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