Language Trends 2013/14

Kathryn Board OBE

Teresa Tinsley

The Language Trends survey 2013/14 is the 12th in a series of annual research exercises, charting the health of language teaching and learning in schools in England, this year conducted in partnership with the British Council.

The survey shows that teachers support the introduction of compulsory foreign language lessons in primary schools - but there is concern on two fronts, that lack of communication between secondaries and their primary feeder schools is hindering the continuation of language studies beyond primary level, and that GCSE is the highest level of linguistic ability amongst staff in 24% of schools.

Findings from the report indicate that primary and secondary schools in both the independent and state sectors are only able to provide limited continuity when it comes to language teaching. Almost half of primary schools indicated having no contact with language specialists in local secondary schools, with less than one third of state secondary schools being able to ensure pupils continue with the same language they learned at primary level.

However, the report also highlights some positive developments - especially the continued improvement in the uptake of languages at GCSE as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. There is also a slight improvement in the number of schools offering Chinese - the language of the world's second biggest economy and a priority in terms of government policy.

The research is based on an online survey completed by teachers in 2,000 state secondary schools and 500 independent secondary schools across the country. In 2012, and again in 2013, a national sample of primary schools has been included. This year, 3,000 state primary schools were surveyed.

Other key findings highlighted in the 2013/14 report were:

  • French, Spanish and German remain the most widely taught languages in schools with 37 per cent of state secondary schools and 48 per cent of independent schools seeing pupil numbers for Spanish rise in recent years.
  • Disapplication procedures in 27 per cent of state schools surveyed means many lower level students aren’t studying a language at all due to being taken out of class to get extra tuition in areas such as numeracy and literacy.
  • The number of students choosing to study a language at A level in the independent sector is declining with 43 per cent of independent schools reporting declines compared to 35 per cent in 2012 and 30 per cent in 2011.