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Specialists' aims lost in translation

Language colleges see drop in French, German A-level study.

Jon Slater reports.

Specialist language colleges are failing to halt the subjects' decline as their pupils follow the nationwide trend of dropping languages at A-level.

Figures show the number of pupils sitting A-levels in modern foreign languages at what are now language colleges has fallen by 10 per cent since Labour came to power.

The revelation coincides with an Office for Standards in Education report which showed that achievement at GCSE in specialist colleges has "levelled off" in the past three years. It said improvement is needed in key stage 3 language teaching.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, said all sixth-formers in language colleges should be required to take a language course.

The number of pupils at language colleges taking A-level French in the autumn 2004 term fell by almost a third, from 1,315 in 1997 to 914 last year. German, the second most popular modern foreign language, also suffered, with numbers falling to 435 from 553 in 1997.

However, the number of pupils taking other languages has increased from 361 to 660.

Stephen Twigg, school standards minister, revealed the figures in a parliamentary answer.

There are 203 specialist language colleges. In 1997, there were just 42.

Ministers are expected to increase funding to language colleges in response to fears that pupils' lack of interest will discourage schools from applying for the status.

Concerns over the future of language learning have been growing since the Government announced that, from 2004, 14-year-olds would no longer be required to study a language. Last summer, Mr Twigg was forced to write to local authorities reminding them that schools still have a legal duty to offer languages.

The total number of pupils taking French in England fell 4 per cent to 331,000 last year. The number of entries to modern foreign language A-levels has fallen by 27 percentage points since 1997.

Teresa Tinsley of CILT, the National Centre for Languages, said specialist schools had suffered a slower decline than others.

She said the centre is working to ensure that career advice does more than tell young people about jobs in translation or English teaching abroad.

Languages Work, a Department for Education and Skills project run by the centre, aims to ensure that young people are told about the benefits that foreign-language proficiency can offer in a wide range of careers.

Ms Tinsley said the figures showed the importance of schools offering young people a wide choice of foreign-language options.

"Diversity has been one of the success stories in recent years. We do not need just French and the languages of other European countries close to us.

We are going to need a much more diverse range of languages for business and employment," she said.

The growth in other languages has helped halt the decline in languages in recent years. While the take-up of French and German has continued to fall, in specialist schools at least, the total number of A-level language entries has increased from a low point of 1,961 in 2002 to 2,009 last year.

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