On this page you will find information about the place of languages in primary and secondary curricula. Where there are reforms proposed, any responses by UCML to consultations may be viewed on this page. Updates on data, including A level entry statistics in languages, trends in take up of languages in schools etc, are also provided here.
British Council Language Trends Reports
Each year the British Council publishes Language Trends, reports that examine the situation of modern languages in schools in England in both the Primary and Secondary sector:
The British Council has also produced reports on language trends in the devolved nations.
- Wales reports have been published annually since 2015 click here. The 2019 report is available here.
- The first Northern Ireland report was published in 2019. A second report was published in 2021.
Response to DfE and Ofqual Revised MFL GCSE Consultation 2021
The British Academy has submitted a response to the Department for Education and Ofqual consultation on revised GCSE qualifications in modern foreign languages. UCML was a signatory supporter of the proposal, which outlines ways cultural learning can be more thoroughly embedded into the GCSE curriculum in modern foreign languages, replacing the current ‘themes’ approach. The proposal has received support from a range of organisations involved in language education at both secondary and higher education levels. You can read the full response here.
A Future for Languages in Schools
In July 2015 the A Future for Languages in Schools? colloquium was held at Pembroke College, Oxford. The event aimed to bring together language practitioners in the Secondary sector, while also addressing issues such as Language Policies and Languages in Higher Education. The Report on Proceedings from the day includes an executive summary of the headline recommendations and action points to be taken from the colloquium, as well as summaries of the contents of each of the three working groups. A video of the day is also available here.
- 19 August 2018 A level results: JCQ has released the results for this year’s A-Level qualifications. Despite a significant drop in AS number due to its decoupling from A-Levels, figures for Languages remain relatively stable with a drop for the three main languages and an increase in Chinese and Other languages. Read our digest here: A and AS level trends in Modern Languages 2002-2018.
- 17 August 2017 A level results: JCQ has published results for the latest set of A-Level and AS examination entries for 2017. During what JCQ calls ‘times of significant reform’, caution must be exercised in particular when looking at the AS uptake data. Overall, results show that entries for both Spanish and Other languages continue to grow (with an increase of 1.7 and 2% on last year’s figures respectively). A digest of the figures can be found here: A and AS level trends in Modern Languages 2002-2017; additional information with comprehensive data for all languages is here.
- 19 August 2016 A level results: JCQ has released the latest set of data for AS and A-Level entries for 2016. UCML have produced a summary and analysis of this data (including sets of data since record began in 2002). Other comprehensive data including all subjects can be found here. Unfortunately data reveal that the downward trend for languages continue nationally with glimmers of hope for some of the languages in the ‘Other languages’ group (i.e. languages other than French, German, and Spanish). In other news, encouragingly, German is proving to be the language with the highest degree of conversions for pupils who decide to continue studying the language from AS to A-Level (with an increase of 2.09%).
- 13 August 2015 A level results: See latest summary analysis here. Results for previous years for comparison purposes, can also be found on the JCQ website. Also see comments from Speak to the future on these results.
- August 2013: Ofqual investigated grading inconsistencies in A levels. This is extremely welcome as there has been concern for some time about ‘severe’ grading in language A levels (see downloadable document from the bottom of this page), as The Daily Telegraph has rightly reported and as is reflected on pages 16-17 of the Ofqual corporate plan.
- March 2016: Ofqual has published a consultation document on the Conditions and guidance for GCSE/A-Level in Modern Foreign Languages. In particular, information was sought from languages other than French, German and Spanish. UCML has now replied to the consultation; our response can be found at the bottom of this page.
- June 2015: Ofqual has published a document on changes that will affect year groups taking new GCSEs, AS and A levels examinations. In September 2016, Year 10 will be taught new AS and A levels in MFL (French, German, Spanish) and Year 8 will be taught GCSEs in MFL and Ancient languages. Year 7 will be taught new GCSEs in MFL and Ancient languages from 2017. How the new reforms look like can be seen here.
- March 2015: AQA, Edexcel and OCR announced they would not be developing new A levels in smaller languages. UCML responded, as did numerous other bodies, receiving cross-party support. Currently we anticipate that in future there will only be A levels available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Chinese – no other modern languages.
- December 2014: DfE publishes final subject content for French, German and Spanish for teaching from 2016 (first examination 2018).
- July 2014: ALCAB publishes new A and AS level subject content for MFL A levels and DfE launches consultation on A level subject content. UCML’s response is available here.
- July 2014: Ofqual launches consultation on (inter alia) new AS and A levels in Modern Languages for first teaching from 2016. UCML’s response is available here.
- 15 July 2014: JCQ published outcome of a review of MFL A levels, including issues of ‘severe grading’ and the low number of A* grades awarded.
- Jan 2014: The A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) for languages has been announced. This Board is run by the Russell Group, on request from Michael Gove – see below.
- 23th August 2018: JCQ has published this year’s results for GCSEs examinations. Despite a fall in the 16-year-old population (-2.7%), figures for all languages are on the rise for the first time since 2013. German has performed very well (up by 2.3% on last year’s data) as have Spanish and Welsh. In Other modern languages, Arabic, Chinese and Dutch are also on the rise. Overall, languages have increased by 0.58% compared to 2017. See our full digest here: GCSE modern languages results 2018.
- 24 August 2017: JCQ publishes data for GCSE entries for all disciplines. Overall, numbers for languages continue to fall for French, German, and Spanish. On the other hand, entries for both Irish and Welsh have soared compared to last year’s figures (5% and 71% respectively). Our digest can be accessed here: GCSE modern languages results 2017. This year, the digest includes figures on the number of centres offering Languages at GCSE.
- 25th August 2016: JCQ publishes results of take-up in GCSE for languages and other disciplines. Overall, unfortunately numbers continue to drop but positive signals come from Spanish and Other modern languages with a growth of 2.1% and 1.8% respectively. A digest of data can be accessed here.
- August 2015: published results for GCSEs uptake have generated a response from Speak to the Future Campaign Director Bernardette Holmes MBE, who is urging Head Teachers to implement the EBacc and support an outward-facing Britain with an outward-facing curriculum, which includes languages.
EBacc and KS4 qualifications (England)
The English Baccalaureate – the EBacc – was introduced by the Department for Education (DfE) in January 2011 as an additional measure in the performance tables for schools. Pupils who achieve a GCSE grade C or better in English, maths, a language, history or geography, and two sciences achieve the EBacc. The 2014 GCSE figures show the impact that this had in 2013 but that there is little evidence it is being sustained. As a result of various reforms during 2012-13, the EBacc is only one performance measure amongst many and its importance is much misunderstood, so there is little confidence that this upturn will continue. However, following the General Election in 2015, the new Conservative government is committed to trying to ‘enforce’ delivery of EBacc subjects through Ofsted. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, this will have on language GCSEs.
In September 2012, the government issued a consultation on the reform of KS4 qualifications. It was originally proposed that English Baccalaureate Certificates would replace GCSEs. However this was rejected and GCSEs were reformed instead. The new language GCSEs will start teaching in 2016 for first examination in 2018. The new content is here: revised content for GCSEs in modern languages, UCML responded to all consultations on GCSE reform.
The examination boards started publishing their new specifications in Spring 2015.In March 2015, OCR announced it would not develop new GCSEs in the ‘smaller languages’ and UCML responded.
The legislative order making Primary Languages a statutory requirement in KS2 from 2014 happened separately.
Previously, the DfE published reports on the consultation into primary languages in February 2013. It was initially proposed that a limited number of modern and ancient languages could be taught to comply with the Primary requirement but this list has been removed now, following campaigns from just about everyone (including UCML).
UCML responded to both of the government consultations on primary languages in England in 2012. The November 2012 response is available to download from this page. Language teaching is likely to be made statutory from age 7.
Lessons From Abroad: International review of primary languages: international research report on languages in the primary school shows cognitive and affective benefits of early language learning, but no consensus on ideal starting age to achieve high levels of proficiency.
National Curriculum Review – Scotland
The Scottish government announced in May 2012 that it will now explore opportunities for all young people to start learning a second language from P1 (1st year of primary).The report’s other key recommendations include advice that learning a third language should start no later than P5 (age 9) and that primary and secondary schools should work more closely together to ensure better progression in language learning. See the Scottish government Languages Working Group Report and Recommendations entitled Language Learning in Scotland: a 1+2 Approach for more information. (N.B. 1+2 refers to the EU policy of Mother Tongue + 2 languages for all EU citizens.)
See: Scottish CILT for information on languages in Scottish education.
National Curriculum – Wales
MFL is currently only compulsory for KS3, and statistics suggest that just 25% of schoolchildren currently continues to GCSE level. Welsh (either as a first or second language) is compulsory from 5-16 years. CILT Cymru lobbies the Welsh government on this subject and can provide more information. A draft report from Eurydice – Key data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe shows that Wales has the shortest period of compulsory foreign language learning in Europe.There is also currently a Welsh Government review of qualifications .
See: the Welsh Government’s Global Futures programme for information on languages in Welsh education.
Other relevant data on languages in schools:
- Data relating language learning in schools and HE in relation to ‘social advantage’, compiled by Teresa Tinsley