Tough marking on language subjects repels students

According to a report by the British Council and Education Development Trust, the interaction of more rigorous marking for GCSE languages is putting pupils off taking the subject.

The study warned that increasing focus on maths and sciences and a general perception that languages are a harder option is demotivating pupils and teachers. The news comes as a new GCSE and A-level modern language syllabus is set be taught in England from September 2016, with new exams due to be delivered in the summer of 2018.

The Language Trends Survey, which charts the state of language learning in schools in England, suggests the new reforms are likely to deter pupils from taking the subjects.

It said: "The exam system is seen as one of the principal barriers to the successful development of language teaching. The comparative difficulty of exams in languages in relation to other subjects, and widely reported harsh and inconsistent marking, are deeply de-motivating for both pupils and teachers."

According to official figures the proportion of pupils sitting a GCSE in a language dropped by one per cent in 2014-15, putting an end to the initial rise in entries which began in 2012. In particular the number of entries to sit a French exam fell by six per cent, German by 2.5 per cent between 2014-15. In contrast, the number of pupils who chose to study Spanish rose by around 15 per cent.

The report also outlined positive developments, including the rise of primary schools in England which do not have access to specialist expertise in the teaching of languages. However, it noted primary schools were finding it hard to fit languages into the curriculum and sourcing suitably qualified teaching staff.

Teresa Tinsley, co-author of the report, said: "Languages are already one of the harder GCSEs, and teachers fear that with the new exams it will be even tougher for pupils to get a good grade. Combine this with the expectation that a wider range of pupils will be sitting the exam and it is not surprising that teachers feel embattled. Improving their morale and confidence in the exam system is crucial if languages are to thrive in our schools."

A spokesman for the exam regulator, Ofqual, said: "We are committed to ensuring that all GCSEs, AS- and A-levels, including those in modern foreign languages, are sufficiently valid, produce fair and reliable results and have a positive impact on teaching and learning. Last year's results in modern foreign languages were very stable, with only small changes in the proportions achieving each grade compared to the previous year.

"We have looked into concerns that it is harder for students to achieve the highest grades in A level languages. We found this is because of the way the exams are designed, rather than the nature of the subject content. We are keeping this under review and will be further publishing information shortly."

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