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Queen’s research shows review of international language provision needed in Wales

A new Language Trend Wales 2021 report, which reviews international language teaching and learning in Wales, predicts that if current trends continue, it is possible that there will be less than one hundred GCSE entries in French and German in 2030.

Classroom learning

The research was conducted by Queen’s University Belfast colleagues Dr Ian Collen and Dr Aisling O’Boyle, as well as PhD student Sarah O’Neill. 

The report calls for a full review of international languages at secondary and post-16 college level to develop a national languages strategy for Wales. 

Between 2020 and 2021, entries for GCSE French and GCSE German declined by 11 per cent and 12 per cent respectively, and numbers have almost halved since 2015. Although GCSE Spanish saw a notable increase over this period, numbers have see-sawed over the years and need to stabilise to ensure the language’s long-term viability.    

With just over one in five responding schools having no students studying international languages in Year 10, this will have an inevitable knock-on effect to an already fragile situation at A level.   

The pandemic has significantly affected education in Wales with over half of teachers working in schools in deprived areas reporting a ‘big negative impact’ on language learning. 

While schools have positively engaged with Routes into Languages Cymru and the MFL Student Mentoring projects that promote languages in schools - teachers responding to this year’s survey are asking for a national campaign on language learning and for students to be given robust careers advice about the many doors that language learning can open. 

However, other factors such as timetabling options, insufficient curriculum time and the difficulty of language exams in comparison with other subjects also need to be addressed, with 68 per cent of responding teachers in favour of reviewing the content and assessment of GCSEs in French, German and Spanish. A similar number also support Qualification Wales’ proposal to create a set of ‘made-for-Wales’ qualifications in international languages. 

Dr Ian Collen, one of the 2021 Language Trends Wales authors and Senior Lecturer in Education from Queen’s University, said:“Our research shows that international languages are at a pivotal stage in Wales. The overall decline in uptake since 2015 is alarming and it is now time for action. The Welsh workforce of tomorrow needs international languages to compete on the world stage. In implementing the new curriculum for Wales, schools need guidance and support to ensure international languages have enough curriculum time and that a multilingual identity is celebrated in classrooms across the nation.”  

Jenny Scott, British Council Wales country director, said: “The past eighteen months have been extremely challenging for schools.  As education begins to recover from the pandemic, the new Curriculum for Wales and revision of qualifications provides an opportunity to review international languages at secondary and post-16 college level, to create a national strategy to tackle the ongoing decline, and to safeguard the future of international language provision across Wales.”

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