Ministers in England have awarded an almost £15m contract to University College London, to help tackle a systemic decline in the number of pupils opting to take foreign language classes and secondary school qualifications.
The Department of Education’s £14.9m language program will be designed and rolled out by University College London’s Institute of Education (IoE) over the next three years – aimed at both primary and secondary school children in England. There will be a particular focus on increasing the opportunities for language learning among disadvantaged pupils.
The IoE is set to establish a National Centre for Languages Education (NCLE) comprising 25 lead schools specialising in different languages. These lead schools will then be partnered with up to 105 secondary schools, with aims to develop strategies to persuade groups of students – including more boys, to choose foreign language subjects. Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, as well as other disadvantaged pupils will be provided with extra support in the scheme, which has a primary goal of making the foreign language curriculum inclusive and accessible. Additionally, up to five schools will be chosen to broaden the Home Languages Accreditation project, which supports bilingual pupils in gaining GCSEs or A-levels in their native or home language. An online platform for teachers will also be launched by the NCLE, with focuses on lesson and curriculum planning, reliable assessment and identifying areas with a need for improvement to ease students’ transition from primary to secondary education.
A baseline aim is to support the Department of Education’s English baccalaureate qualification (Ebacc – collective term for a set of 5 GCSEs including a foreign language) objective for 90% of Year 10 (9th grade) pupils in state-funded schools to study a combination of core academic subjects and a language by 2025. Despite being predominantly mandatory to take a GCSE in a foreign language at most state schools, it is currently up to the discretion of the school, as long as students are taking ‘enough’ subjects. Statistics from the 2021/2022 academic year showed just 38.7% entered the Ebacc.
Minister for school standards, Nick Gibb said: “Our economy needs people who can communicate across the globe and trade with overseas businesses. This programme is about ensuring we have the next generation of young people with the languages needed to compete on the world stage.”
Entries for German GCSEs and A-levels have dramatically dropped in recent years and approximately £400,000 of the new budget has been reserved to invest in German language education. The UK government maintains that German is a strategically important language to the UK. The IoE will work in association with the Goethe-Institut to boost the number of pupils learning German in both primary and secondary schools.
The Department of Education has also announced a review of the Chinese A-level syllabus, working to make it more accessible and easier for non-native speakers. A separate £1.1m expansion has been allocated to the Mandarin Excellence Programme, with targets of a further 21 schools participating by September 2024.
Language experts and teachers have cautiously welcomed the announcement.