Schools are increasingly preventing their lower-ability pupils from studying foreign languages, amid concerns that the courses are more difficult than others and less important than maths and science, according to new research.
The Language Trends survey, carried out by the British Council and the CfBT Education Trust, found 28 per cent of state schools had “disapplied” pupils from studying languages at Key Stage 3, meaning they would be much less likely to be able to study the subjects at GCSE.
Teresa Tinsley, co-author of the report, told TES the practice of disapplying pupils meant they were excused from studying the national curriculum. The practice was designed to be used only in “exceptional circumstances”, but was now being used “more and more consistently”, she said.
“Lower-ability pupils are being pulled out of language classes so that they can do extra literacy and numeracy lessons, so for one lesson a week they’re being excused the lesson and there’s no way they can catch up,” she said.
“But language learning can make an important contribution to literacy by improving vocabulary and understanding of language structure, so it doesn’t make sense to pull pupils out.”
Other schools were using less formal practices that also excluded lower-ability pupils from studying languages, Ms Tinsley said. These included passing on a “subtle” message that languages were “not for some pupils” and arranging option blocks so that languages were not available to those on vocational paths or in lower-ability groups, she said.
The research found that the most economically deprived category of schools were excluding 17 per cent of pupils from language study in Key Stage 3 and 44 per cent were excluding some pupils at Key Stage 4.
“Lower-ability pupils may be discouraged from taking a language to GCSE in order to maintain a school’s rating in performance tables,” the report says.
The study, which covered more than 500 state secondary schools, over 600 state primary schools and more than 120 independent secondary schools, also found schools in which pupils with a range of different abilities studied languages to GCSE level were “unfairly represented as underperforming” in the government’s accountability measures. This had led to cuts in language provision, it says.
It found 99 per cent of primary schools responding to the survey now taught a language, following the introduction of compulsory language teaching at Key Stage 2. However, only 17 per cent had invested in extra training for teachers and only six per cent had recruited new staff. Thirty-one per cent of primary schools employed no staff with more than a GCSE in a language, it says.
However, almost half of primary schools were introducing pupils to a language at Key Stage 1 even though this was not a statutory requirement.
It found secondary teachers were concerned about the “wide variety” in the quality of language teaching in primary schools, with some feeling “sceptical” about primary schools’ ability to deliver a good standard of learning.
The study also identifies problems with pupils’ transition to secondary school. Almost a quarter of secondary schools had “no contact” with primaries about languages and could not manage “cross-phase collaboration”, it says.
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