Independents play a long game

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
Private sector schools start languages earlier and are far more likely to have large numbers of pupils studying two foreign languages to GCSE, the TESCILT modern languages survey reveals.

In prep schools and secondary independents a far higher number of pupils have already learned a foreign language before Year 7 or equivalent. The average percentage of pupils with previous experience is 79.8 per cent among prep schools, 64.9 per cent among secondary independents compared with 25.8 per cent among other schools.

But 80 per cent of prep schools offer French only as a first foreign language, in Year 7 and so does 68.6 per cent of secondary independents. This shows considerably less diversification of the first foreign language at this age than among secondary local authority maintained schools, of which 43.6 per cent offer French only.

The rate of diversification has also been slower in the private sector. Over the past five years only 13.1 per cent of secondary independents have switched to teaching languages other than French at this level, compared with 22. 5 per cent of secondary local authority maintained schools. But the number of independents switching back to teaching just French is also low at only 0.7 per cent, compared with 7.7 per cent of secondary maintained.

Surprisingly, nearly twice as many maintained sector schools offer German than in the private sector. Twenty-two per cent of independents offer German in some form as a first foreign language, 9.1 per cent offer Spanish and 0.6 per cent Italian. This compares with 40 per cent of maintained secondaries offering German as a first foreign language, 11 per cent Spanish, and 0.7 per cent Italian.

The main difference in these figures seems to be accounted for by the fact that the percentage of maintained schools offering both French and German as a first foreign language is more than double the percentage of independents doing so (36 per cent compared with 17 per cent). In addition 7.3 per cent of maintained secondaries offer French and Spanish as first languages compared with 3. 3 per cent of independents.

But the private sector comes into its own on the take-up of a second foreign language up to GCSE. Seventy per cent of all schools in which pupils study two languages in Year 11 are secondary independents, 16.6 per cent are secondary voluntary aided and only 6.6 per cent are local authority maintained. This suggests strongly that pressure on the timetable due to national curriculum requirements is a major factor preventing the continuation of the two languages in maintained schools, a comment made by many schools in the survey.

Among schools offering a second foreign language, German is offered by 63.2 per cent, Spanish 25.7 per cent, French 25.3 per cent, Italian 3.9 per cent, Russian 2.4 per cent, Urdu 1.4 per cent, Punjabi 0.4 per cent, Japanese 0.3 per cent, Bengali 0.3 per cent.

Only 24 per cent of all schools offer and teach a third foreign language, most them post-16, but again, among secondary independents the figure is very high at 57.5 per cent. Among those schools offering a third foreign language Spanish is taught to 59.9 per cent, Russian to 19.7 per cent, German to 18.2 per cent, Japanese to 6.2 per cent, French to 4 per cent, Urdu to 2.2 per cent. Other languages taught are Portuguese, Punjabi, Arabic, Gujerati, Bengali, Dutch, Swedish, and Mandarin. But the survey estimates the number of pupils studying three languages in Year 11 at less than 0.5 per cent.

School size may be the reasonwhy independents tend to offer one language, French, as a first foreign language yet are strong on provision of a second language to large numbers of pupils up to Year 11.

Independents tend to be smaller and the survey showed that among schools with fewer than 750 pupils 34.5 per cent offered a language other than French at 11 to 16, compared with 56.1 per cent of schools with more than 750 pupils.

If a school is small, timetabling problems are exacerbated if first foreign language classes are split between more than one language, particularly as this leads to even smaller classes taking each second language option.

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