Another familiar story — are poor teaching methods or budgetary cuts to blame?
Story by Richard Garner for The Independent, January 11, 2011:
Some state secondary schools do not have a single pupil taking a modern foreign languages GCSE, inspectors reveal today.
A report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog,.reveals that two-thirds of secondary schools have failed to reach a benchmark set by the previous Government that half their pupils should study a modern foreign language at GCSE.
The number opting for the subject ranges from nought to 90 per cent – with schools in the leafier suburbs most likely to have the biggest take-up.
Nationally, around thirty state schools are understood to be a completely “language free zone” once pupils reach the age of 14 with no-one learning the subject..
The analysis of language teaching, carried out once every three years by inspectors, shows that the slide in languages take-up is continuing with the overall number of youngsters studying the subject sliding from 61 per cent to 44 per cent in the past five years.
This is since it first became clear that the Government was going to scrap compulsory language lessons for 14 to 16-year-olds.
The inspectors reveal that enthusiasm for learning languages is growing in primary schools – but all too often youngsters are put off by a pedestrian approach to the subject in secondaries.
They conclude that “there are significant barriers to good language learning in secondary schools”.
“Too often the teaching was too uninspiring and did not bring the language to life for pupils,” they add.
One barrier is the fact that they have little opportunity to speak the language they studying.
Inspectors complained that “teachers’ lack of use of the target language to support their pupils’ routine use of the language as well as opportunities for them to talk spontaneously” was hampering delivery of the subject.
One of the reasons for this was teachers’ unpreparedness to use the language – possibly as a result of their own shortcomings in it.
Unlike primary schools – where efforts were made to bring in outside native speakers to liven up lessons little effort was made to do this in schools where take-up was low.
Sometimes, said inspectors, the time for learning languages was cut for those pupils struggling with literacy – so they got more time to learn to read and write English.
Another barrier was the fact that secondary schools were failing to take account of the improvements in primary school language teaching – with the result that pupils were going back over old ground they had already covered once the started secondary school.
“Too many students are failing to reach their full potential and do not choose to undertake more advanced study beyond 16 because of the way they are taught languages in many secondary schools,” said Christine Gilbert, chief schools inspector.
“To raise standards and increase enthusiasm for languages further, schools should address the areas of concern highlighted in this report.
“In particular, secondary schools should ensure their students get regular opportunities to speak and read realistic material in the target language so they build the confidence to use their skills in the world beyond the classroom.”
The Coalition Government is attempting to increase the take-up of languages in schools by introducing its new English Baccalaureate – which consists of a certificate awarded to all pupils who get and A* to C grade pass at GCSE in maths, English, a science subject, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanities subject like history and geography.
Today’s report showed that the majority of pupils studying languages at primary school were taking French. In secondary schools, the numbers opting for French and German at GCSE had significantly declined – although there had been an improvement in the take-up of Spanish and Italian.