Primary and secondary languages

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.

Further reading:

Latest developments and publications

  • June 2017: The British Council publishes Language Trends 2016/17 authored by K. Board and T. Tinsley. The report examines the situation of modern languages in schools in England in both the Primary and Secondary sector. A digest can be accessed on the right. The full report can be downloaded here.
  • 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, whils also addressing issues such as Language Policies and Languages in Higher Education. The Report on Proceedings from the day, which 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 can be found on the right-hand side of our webpage. A video of the day is also available here.

A levels

Statistics:

  • 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 on the right-hand side of the menu; 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. A summary and analysis of this data (including sets of data since record began in 2002) can be accessed from the right-hand side menu on this page. 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 on our News page (also accessible through the document on the right-hand side of this page). 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 this page), as The Daily Telegraph has rightly reported and as is reflected on pages 16-17 of the Ofqual corporate plan (downloadable from this page).
  • CfBT/British Council Language Trends. These reports are published annually and attached to this page for downloading.

Reform

  • 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 on the right-hand side menu.

  • 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. See: http://www.ucml.ac.uk for details. 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 in the panel on the right.

  • 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 in the panel on the right.

  • 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.
  • Ofqual consulted on A level reform during 2012. UCML submitted a response. In January 2013 Michael Gove wrote to Ofqual with his policy decisions (downloadable to the right of this page). The ALCAB came out of this.
  • The OCR Awarding Body has kindly given permission to UCML to post notes from meetings on our site. They have been conducting extensive research to inform A level reform more generally, with the needs of HE at the forefront. Executive summaries of the research are published on the OCR website.
  • Most of the other Awarding Bodies have consultative groups or expert panels on languages and qualifications reform. If you would like to get involved, please contact the Awarding Bodies directly.

GCSEs

  • 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 on the right-hand side of the menu. This year, the digest includes figures on the number of centres offering Languages at GCSE
  • 25 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 mondern languages with a growth of 2.1% and 1.8% respectively. A digest of data can be accessed from the top right-hand side of the menu on this page.
  • 20 August 2015: results are available in a digested form through out news items page. These figures, again, unfortunately see a fall in the number of pupils taking languages at GCSE level. Full results can also be accessed on the JCQ website, which include a breakdown of languages other than French, German, Irish, Spanish, and Welsh. Our digest can also be accessed from the document uploaded on the right-hand side of this page; it also contains a breakdown for uptake figures between 2002-2015.
  • 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. See: http://www.ucml.ac.uk/news/263

National Curriculum Review - England

As a result of reviews and consultations since 2011, on 8th July 2013 the Government published the draft legislative order Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study) (England) Order 2014 which is up for consultation until 8th August 2013. This covers both KS2 and KS3 languages. The Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study for KS2 (Primary) language teaching from 2014 do not now specify any particular languages to be taught. UCML responded to the consultation on this on 05 August 2013 and our response can be downloaded from the right of this page.

Primary languages

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.

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: CILT Cymru for information on languages in Welsh education

Other relevant data on languages in schools: