The University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) has “major concerns” about the current state of, and proposed changes to, GCSE and A-level Modern Languages. 9 professors and other senior language specialists wrote to the Chief Regulator of Ofqual, who oversee examinations, on January 6th.

The UCML stated that “languages in the UK are in the midst of a crisis that threatens the subject’s very existence in schools” and “it is clear that current perceptions of language A-levels are driving potential candidates to other subjects”.

Their 2 main concerns are:

  • the ongoing shortcomings in the grading of A-levels in languages
  • whether changes to GCSEs and A-levels in languages will be radical enough

Grading in A-Level languages

The UCML are concerned about “unreliability of assessment at A-level” and that “relatively few A* grades are awarded in modern foreign languages when compared with other subjects”. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents the head teachers of nearly 250 independent schools, has complained to University admissions officers about “harsh marking of German A-level compared to other subjects”. They believe that the perception that it is hard to get top grades in language A-levels is causing students to choose other subjects instead of languages.

Since the number of subjects students will take at A-level in the future is reducing from 4 to 3, students are even less likely to choose languages – they cannot take the risk of dropping a grade or two when university entrance is so competitive. This in turn will lead to schools and universities reducing language provision (40 universities since 2000 have stopped offering language degrees!)

New language GCSEs and A-levels

UCML feel that the current language GCSEs and A-Level specifications neither engage students nor provide the foundations to study languages at a higher level. However, they believe that though the new GCSE specifications are “a considerable improvement” the reform may not be radical enough to address these concerns.

Can language GCSEs and A-levels be saved?

UCML is asking Ofqual to take urgent action to ensure that grades for modern languages in the 2016 examinations will be fair. They also want Ofqual to make a public statement about the measures they are taking so that pupils, parents and schools regain confidence in languages as an A level subject “before it is too late”.

At la Academia, we are deeply concerned. We help many GCSE and A-level students with their language study, but there are some deep causes for concern here. What do you think about the state of language GCSEs and A-levels?