Problems Brewing in Foreign Language Exams in UK

Article by Hilary Douglas and Matthew Davis for, March 17, 2013:

Recent figures reveal the number of pupils sitting traditional foreign languages such as French and German has plummeted but there has been a surge in Polish GCSE students.

The Department for Education statistics show Polish is now the sixth most popular foreign language in schools, with 10 times as many pupils taking it as a decade ago. Yet those who sail through their Polish exams achieving the highest grades, often end up flunking their English GCSE.

The popularity of traditional foreign languages has declined at the same time as a rise in Polish ­GCSEs
Critics blame pressure from school league tables for creating a system where Polish children are congratulated for passing comparatively simple exams in their mother tongue while failing English.

Nearly all the 2,500 students who passed the Polish GCSE last year ended up with a lower grade in their English GCSE, or didn’t even sit the exam at all.

The popularity of traditional foreign languages has declined at the same time as a rise in Polish ­GCSEs.

In 2004, the last Labour government decided to end compulsory language study for children after the age of 14 and since 2006 there has been a 22 per cent fall in the numbers of teenagers taking a modern foreign language at GCSE.

In the past six years, the number taking French has fallen by 74,000 and 30,000 fewer are studying German. However, there has been a small rise in Italian and Spanish studies.

Gerard Batten, Ukip London MEP, said: “This reveals the utterly dishonest and politically correct manipulation of the education system to disguise that we’ve imported millions of people who cannot speak English, and the disastrous social consequences of that.

“Instead of insisting that they learn English to the exclusion of all else first, we are allowing them to take subjects that will not be of use to them in their careers or working life, unless of course it is intended those jobs will only require them to speak their native language.

“Mass immigration is distorting the structure of Britain and now we see it has had a direct effect on the education system.”

Christopher McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Modern languages teaching is in a disastrous state in our maintained schools. By entering immigrant children for GCSEs in their mother tongue, such as Polish, the extent of the disaster is being disguised by schools.

“We need to ensure most of our youngsters can master the basics of at least one foreign language.

“As for Polish children who struggle with English and, indeed, English pupils who struggle with English, the answer lies with more ‘back to basics’ teaching of grammar, punctuation and spelling. The new National Curriculum is a step in the right direction.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “After years of ­decline the take-up of modern foreign languages is on the increase, with Spanish, German and French making up around 90 per cent of all languages being studied at GCSE.

“Many students choose to sit Polish GCSE to gain an extra qualification, but it is often taught at home rather than during school time. In fact, Polish is not even offered as a teacher training course in England.

“We have also made it compulsory for one of seven key foreign languages – French, German, Italian, Mandarin and Spanish and ancient Greek and Latin – to be taught in primary schools from next year so children develop these crucial skills from an early age.”


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