GCSE results: Language entries drop for second year running

The number of entries for language GCSEs has dropped for the second year running, despite a government bid to increase uptake by including languages in the Ebac performance measure.

This year’s GCSE results, published today, show that entries in German dropped by 9.8 per cent to 54,037. Entries in French fell 6.2 per cent to 157,699 and those in Spanish fell 2.4 per cent to 90,782.

Entries also fell in 2014, following a surge in 2013 in response to the introduction of the Ebac measure.

In German entries have now fallen back to a level below the figure for 2012, before the surge took place.

Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said the figures were “disappointing”.

“The reality is that as this general decline continues, the UK risks falling behind on the world stage,” she said. “Employers are crying out for more language skills. We all need to realise that learning a language isn’t just a rewarding way to connect with another culture but will boost job prospects too.”

However, she said the “silver lining” was an increase in the uptake of other languages, such as Mandarin Chinese which saw an 18.5 per cent rise in entries to 3,710. Portuguese and Arabic also saw increases in entry numbers.

Students’ results in language GCSEs were better this year than last, with a 0.3 percentage point rise in A* and A grades in French and a 0.2 point rise on the same measure in German. For Spanish, the increase was 0.1 points. The proportion of grades at A* to C also rose in all three subjects.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said today: “There was a significant surge in entries for modern foreign languages in 2013. I think that was very much part of a policy initiative to encourage language take-up and, maybe people [were] thinking it was going to be part of the floor standard.

“What we saw last year was a decline and in 2015 we’re now showing a further decline. Only Spanish has really managed to hold onto that surge in entries from 2013.”

He said the rise in outcomes was likely to be due to schools entering their more able students for the exams. “Outcomes are up and I think that’s hardly surprising because if you’ve only got students who are very confident in languages taking them, it’s not surprising that they perform well,” he said.

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