The British Council and CBI have expressed disappointment at the fall in students taking languages at GCSE and A-Level this year. La Academia sometimes feels like we are fighting a losing battle to share our love of languages, but we are hoping that this will be a short-term trend, as the results show that those students who persist in language studies are rewarded with good grades.

GCSE language results:

Over the past 3 years the number of pupils taking modern foreign languages has fallen from 332,000 (2013) to 321,000 (2014) to 302,500 this year. The numbers in 2013 were boosted by the government including modern foreign languages in English Baccalaureate (Ebacc), but that seems to have only worked in the short term.

In fact, since 2005 the entries for French have fallen by 42% and for German by nearly half. Spanish has backed the trend and increased entries by 43%.

The upside was that grades for languages exams have improved, but that may be because the brighter students are continuing to study, and those that would have achieved lower grades are dropping out.

A-Level language results:

A-Level entries fell for French (1%) and German (4.25%), though Spanish rose by 14%. This probably reflects the increase in students studying Spanish at GCSE.

Modern foreign languages are sometimes seen as difficult subjects, but this not reflected in the grades, as the grades in A-Level language subjects are among the highest awarded.

Further Mathematics gets the highest percentage of A and A* grades at A-level (56.3%), but German (39.1%), French (37.3%) and Spanish (35%) are amongst the subjects that give the highest proportion of top grades – in other words, students who get past the perception that languages are “difficult” have a high chance of getting the sort of grades that universities are demanding. In addition, languages are seen as “facilitating subjects” (see our previous post) that provide a good foundation for degree-level study, and are sought after by universities.

What this all means for the future:

Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council, said: “While it is good news to see Spanish – one of the languages the UK needs the most – buck the trend with a rise in entries at both A and AS level, this isn’t enough to compensate for the long-term decline in other key languages”.  She explained that “as this decline continues, the UK risks falling behind on the international stage – we need far more of our young people to develop their language skills in order to effectively connect, work and trade with their counterparts around the globe as well as to become the language teachers of the future”.

Katja Hall, the Deputy Director-General of the CBI added: “Foreign language skills can open up many opportunities for young people and also help firms with the ambition to sell into overseas markets. Europe remains our largest export market so to see yet another fall in the numbers studying those languages used on our doorstep is a matter of concern.”

We would encourage students to study languages to as high a level as possible. As well as being a valuable life skill, languages are valued both by universities and by employers.

La Academia offers GCSE and A-level language tuition to help anyone who needs some extra help, or to build their confidence. If you know a student who could benefit, please give their parents our number: 0161 491 1444 – they’ll thank you for it!