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Should we force them?

Interest in studying languages at Costessey high has risen substantially since the head decided to make it optional.

Philip May, head of the Norwich comprehensive, allows 14-year-old pupils to choose whether or not they will continue to study French or German at GCSE.

This year, 39 per cent of pupils chose to take a language GCSE and Mr May hopes that within four years 70 per cent of pupils will do so.

"We're putting a lot of energy into making languages attractive to younger pupils," he said. "We have an interactive whiteboard in every language room. We run residential and day trips abroad.

"There's no point trying to dragoon reluctant children. They'll just give languages up at 16, and never touch them again. Motivation is better than if language teachers were just babysitting disaffected youths."

At Kelvin Hall comprehensive in Hull, by contrast, French or German are compulsory until the age of 16 and Martin Doolan, headteacher, said:

"Speaking a language gives youngsters a competitive edge.

"In most other countries, learning a foreign language up to 16 or 18 is the norm. You only have to look at the number of foreign footballers over here who speak English."

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