KS4 MFL: No conservative plans for compulsory languages

4th September 2009 at 01:00
The conservatives have no plans to make foreign languages compulsory again at key stage 4 if they form the next government because they fear there are too few teachers left to teach them.

Original paper headline: Tories fight shy of quick return to compulsory languages at KS4

The conservatives have no plans to make foreign languages compulsory again at key stage 4 if they form the next government because they fear there are too few teachers left to teach them.

Last week's GCSE results showed a continuation of the sharp fall in entries that began in 2002 when ministers started consulting on making languages optional.

French entries were down by 6.6 per cent and German by 4.2 per cent compared to 2008, although figures for Spanish remained virtually the same.

The Tories had highlighted the problem with official figures showing that last year only 23.7 per cent of pupils gained at least five A*-C GCSEs, including English, maths, science and a language.

But asked whether they would reverse the 2004 decision to make modern foreign languages optional at KS4, Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, said: "Not in the near term no, because so much damage has been done by modern foreign language teachers leaving the profession."

Language teacher decline

Lid King, the Government's national director for languages, said there had been a decline in language teachers in some schools.

Some had retired, some were teaching other subjects and others were teaching in primary schools.

"It would be a challenge to find teachers, but if a political decision was taken to make certain subjects compulsory then solutions would be found as they have been before," he said.

Dr King pointed out that when other modern foreign languages such as Italian, Chinese and Polish were taken into account the drop in GCSE entries was 4 per cent, most of which was explained by a 3.6 per cent fall of numbers in this year's cohort.

Mr Gibb said a Conservative government would favour a carrot rather than a stick approach, with schools encouraged to increase language take-up through league table incentives.

Languages would be core subjects given more weight in the performance tables.

But he admitted that with nine or ten core subjects it would be possible for pupils and schools to reach the five A*-C GCSE benchmark while continuing to ignore languages.

Mr Gibb said he had always opposed the end of compulsory foreign languages. He failed to rule out a return in the long-term.

"Our position at the moment is that we have not taken a position," he said.

John Bangs, NUT head of education, said the party's position was a "council of despair". "It is not a good way to start," he said.

"You don't have to follow the old pattern of language teaching in secondary schools.

"You could, for example, build on the idea of clusters of schools working together to offer languages."

The union said the fall in language entries was a "major issue", which it attributed to the "ongoing effects of the mistaken decision by Government, supported by the Conservative Party, to make modern foreign languages optional".

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