The benefits of learning a second language present themselves in many ways; from greater employability, to improving the functionality of your brain. It’s hard to escape the stereotype that Brits are terrible language learners, and the government have been trying to tackle this in schools. Despite encouraging more and more pupils to undertake a modern foreign language at school or college, there has been a huge drop in the number of students choosing a language as part of their A-levels.
This is a worrying amount, especially considering that the percentage who choose a language anyway is already incredibly low.
One of the steps the government has taken to facilitate the improvement of language learning is the English Baccalaureate, more commonly known as EBacc. This allows students at GCSE age to study a wider range of subjects, including one language, which is a mandatory part. Despite the introduction of this qualification, the number of students choosing to study languages is still declining, so why is this?
Malcolm Trobe of the ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) heads’ union explained that there is a drop in the number of entries into languages because schools and colleges were finding it hard to run courses with very small numbers of pupils, due to funding shortages.
In many schools there are only a handful of student in language classes, yet for other subjects they require 3 or 4 separate groups to cope with the numbers.
He also said that the continuing decline in the number of A-level entries was a worry, especially because there is also a decrease in other “minority” subjects, such as design and technology, and music.
Additionally, many schools also struggle with funding. School budgets are often stretched to their limit, and it can be hard to justify paying for courses that only have a few pupils.
These funding pressures put schools and colleges in a difficult situation; it is near impossible to run all of the courses that students want to take.
There is a general consensus that the funding for the education of students over the age of 16 needs to be revised and improved, but this is easier said than done.
There have also been changes to the AS level course criteria; students can now only pick 3 subjects as opposed to the 4 that were mandatory in previous years, and can no longer drop a subject at the end of the first year. The AS level grades do not count towards the final A-level grade, the exams have to be sat again in the second year, and this is another factor involved in the major decrease. This change has meant that the choice students have has decreased drastically, and increasing pressures of getting into university mean that students are less willing to take a subject they simply enjoy, as opposed to one they are good at. It’s now more dangerous to take a risk when picking a subject; ones will be picked that guarantee the best grades possible.
Grades are overall improving, across all subjects, but the number of pupils taking a language course is declining fast.
The quickly reducing numbers could lead to a shortage of people in the country who are multilingual, and in a few generations we may end up with an almost entirely monolingual workforce, living in a multilingual world. Languages are something that we have to encourage from a young age, and at the moment – we are doing anything but.