Languages lose ground

24th August 2007 at 01:00
Compulsory second language Welsh could be the cause of the shortfall, says academic

BELOW-PAR performances in modern foreign languages this summer particularly the dramatic falls in A-grades awarded at A-level have led to renewed calls for them to be made compulsory at key stage 2.

And an unexpected 0.1 per cent drop in the overall A*-G GCSE pass rates, announced yesterday, has cast doubt over key targets for the educational outcomes of all 15-year-olds in Wales.

The percentage of top A-level grades given for French, German and Spanish has nose-dived compared with 2006. The highest drop was in German, with 10 per cent fewer candidates achieving the top grade than last year. In GCSE Spanish, A-grades plunged by almost 4 per cent.

By contrast, results in ICT a subject that language supporters claim to have lost out to as it moves towards becoming compulsory for 14-year-olds from September 2008 were up at both A-level and GCSE.

The "disappointing" languages results led one academic to suggest this week that one reason for the decline might be the emergence of compulsory second language Welsh.

Writing for TES Cymru this week, Professor David Reynolds of Plymouth University says: "Is the problem that the rather less than enthusiastic response to Welsh taught as a second language hinders achievement in other languages andor puts pupils off?"

Last March, former education minister Jane Davidson opted not to follow England's example of making modern foreign languages compulsory at KS2 by September 2010 a decision that upset many language supporters.

Yesterday's GCSE results revealed that boys have narrowed their performance gap on girls by 1 per cent at A*-A and 1.6 per cent at A*-C a triumph for improved good practice in the teaching of boys in Wales.

Jane Hutt, Wales's education minister, said that the nation's GCSE A*-C results up 0.7 per cent to 63 per cent on last year were commendable. But she agreed that jaded performance in languages needed to be reviewed. "It's too early to say whether or not we should make the current non-statutory KS2 languages scheme compulsory, but it is something that needs looking at," she said.

She added she was pleased with increased GCSE pass rates in other key skill subjects, particularly maths and English.

The 0.1 per cent drop in the overall GCSE pass rate to 98 per cent the same as the UK overall will raise questions over efforts to raise attainment in Wales.

Last summer, just under 7 per cent of 15-year-olds in Wales finished school without a GCSE or equivalent. In England, the percentage was only 3.4. By 2010, Welsh officials want 60 per cent of all 15-year-olds to achieve an A* C.

Fifty-seven per cent of candidates who completed the intermediate Welsh Baccalaureate were awarded the diploma this year, while the foundation diploma gained a 75 per cent pass rate.

Comment, page 17

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