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 Languages in the curricula in England, Scotland and Wales

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Languages at Key Stages 2 & 3

'The purpose of language learning is to foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world.' (National Curriculum, England)


Since September 2014, pupils of Key Stage 2 in English maintained schools must study one foreign language. This language learning should enable pupils to express their ideas and thoughts in another language and to understand and respond to its speakers, both in speech and in writing. It should also provide opportunities for them to communicate for practical purposes, learn new ways of thinking and read adapted aspects of literature in the original language. Language teaching should develop language awareness, provide the foundation for learning further languages and equip pupils to study and work in other countries.

As stated in the Programme of Study: The teaching should provide an appropriate balance of spoken and written language and should lay the foundations for further foreign language teaching at secondary level. It should enable pupils to understand and communicate ideas, facts and feelings in speech and writing, focused on familiar and routine matters, using their knowledge of phonology, grammatical structures and vocabulary.

The focus of study in modern languages will be on practical communication. If an ancient language is chosen, the focus will be to provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension and an appreciation of classical civilisation. Pupils studying ancient languages may take part in simple oral exchanges, while discussion of what they read will be conducted in English. A linguistic foundation in ancient languages may support the study of modern languages at Key Stage 3.

For more information on attainment targets and subject content, click here.


Key Stage 3

Students in England study at least one foreign language up to the end of Key Stage 3.  As stated in the Programme of Study:

‘Teaching may be of any modern foreign language and should build on the foundations of language learning laid at Key Stage 2, whether pupils continue with the same language or take up a new one. Teaching should focus on developing the breadth and depth of pupils’ competence in listening, speaking, reading and writing, based on a sound foundation of core grammar and vocabulary. It should provide suitable preparation for further study.'

For more information on attainment targets and subject content, click here.

Key Stage 4

Languages are not statutory at Key Stage 4 in England. As detailed in the entitlement areas of the national curriculum ‘The arts (comprising art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts), design and technology, the humanities (comprising geography and history) and modern foreign language are not compulsory national curriculum subjects after the age of 14, but all pupils in maintained schools have a statutory entitlement to be able to study a subject in each of those 4 areas.’

Following a public consultation, the Education Secretary announced proposals for comprehensive reform of GCSEs on 7 February 2013.

In April 2014, new GCSE content for reformed modern languages study at Key Stage 4 was produced but awarding organisations may use any flexibility to increase depth, breadth or context within the specified topics or to consolidate teaching of the subject content.

Key Stage 5/ Post-16

At Key Stage 5 or Post-16 level, students can opt to study an A-level in one or more foreign language. The government is currently reforming the content of A-Level languages and the reform will follow recommendations from the A Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) and they will be ready for teaching from September 2016.                  

Schools can also opt to offer students an International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. The most popular amongst students is the two year diploma programme. During the course, students pick one subject from each of six subject groups – Languages, Sciences, the Arts, and so on – and study three of these to a higher level. Click here more information on the IB.

For more information on Languages in the English Secondary Curriculum, click here.

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The European model

The 1+2 approach to language learning at primary level and at secondary level, focus lies on further developing the second language and providing opportunities to explore the third.


With the 1+2 approach, it is anticipated that by 2020 all children will start learning a first additional language (L2) in their first year of primary school (P1), at the age of 5. A second additional language (L3) will be introduced no later than P5, when they are aged 9. The first additional language will be one which learners will continue with at secondary school and continue through the Broad General Education (S1-S3) to the end of S3, when they are aged 14.

This continuity will ensure that learners have the opportunity to develop their skills in enough depth to allow them to gain qualifications at a later stage. Pupils will be given the opportunity to explore and experiment with the second additional language through project work or a block of learning that examines the culture and the language of a country.

Further information:

Language Learning in Scotland- A 1+2 Approach: Scottish Government Languages Working Group Report and Recommendations here.

Guidelines and recommendations for schools and education authorities on the implementation of the 1+2 Approach to language learning is available here.

More information is also available on the SCILT website here.


Broad General Education Phase: S1-S3 (Age 12-15)

School clusters have been set up to aid the development of L2 from primary into secondary school and continue to the end of S3. This continuity will ensure that learners have the opportunity to develop their skills in enough depth to allow them to go on to gain an SQA qualification or award in the Senior Phase (S4-S6). Secondary schools may also offer opportunities for learners to explore the same L3 and further progress their skills in that language.

Languages is one of the eight curriculum areas in the Scottish curriculum, which are:

  • Expressive arts
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Languages
  • Mathematics
  • Religious and moral education
  • Sciences
  • Social studies
  • Technologies

The curriculum areas are the organisers for ensuring that learning takes place across a broad range of contexts, and offer a way of grouping experiences and outcomes under recognisable headings. 

For more information on language learning at S1-S3 in the Scottish curriculum visit the SCILT website.  

Senior Phase: S4-S6 (Age 15-18)

The senior phase is when students build up a portfolio of qualifications, which provide flexibility in choice. Generally speaking pupils sit National 4/ 5 in S4, Highers in S5 and Advanced Highers in S6. 

Language learning is optional at this level and students benefit from a range of qualifications relevant to languages, such as the ‘Modern Languages for Life and Work Awards’, which develop learners’ language and employability skills, through the study of one or two modern languages in practical and relevant contexts for life and work. Click here for more information. Pupils studying two languages at Advanced Higher can also do an Interdisciplinary Project and gain the Languages Baccalaureate. For more information click here

For more information on language learning at S4-S6 visit the Education Scotland website here.

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Language Experiences through triple literacy

Language experiences and activities through the ‘Language, Literacy and Communication Skills’ Area of Learning. This is known as ‘Triple Literacy’.


In Wales, children aged 3–7 enter English or Welsh-medium settings and are immersed in language experiences and activities through their learning in the ‘Language, Literacy and Communication Skills’ Area of Learning within the Foundation Phase. This is known as ‘Triple Literacy’.

In English-medium settings, Welsh Language Development is a statutory Area of Learning within the Foundation Phase. Children develop an awareness of Wales as a country with two languages and are encouraged to show positive attitudes to speakers of languages other than English and Welsh.

In Key Stage 2 all children learn English and Welsh and as many primary schools have also seen the value of teaching skills in a second language at an early age, have extended opportunities to learn a foreign language in Key Stage 2. As a result, language skills learned in one language can support progress and the development of skills and knowledge in another language.

Although it is recognised that not all primary schools offer a modern  language in Key Stage 2, opportunities to develop these skills can be supported through the teaching of English and Welsh by including other languages through international links, home languages in the school other than English or Welsh and using teachers’ knowledge of other languages. Schools also hold language days or events with the support of the secondary school as a transition activity. English, Welsh and literacy coordinators plan how to best support each others’ work and liaise with those delivering MFL wherever appropriate. Whether learners have been taught a modern language or not in their primary school, they all arrive in Key Stage 3 with at least two languages and a range of language skills and knowledge.


Key Stage 3

Language (other Welsh) learning in Wales is statutory until the end of Key Stage 3. Like that of all other areas of the curriculum, language learning is based on a skills framework which focuses on developing the skills of Communication, Number, ICT and Thinking. This means that these 3 skills are embedded into each area of students’ learning, including that of Languages.

In essence, language teaching is focused less on vocabulary-heavy topics and more on language structures, which enables pupils to build sentences and to be creative with their language use.

WJEC offers a suite of QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) language qualifications which provide learners with formal accreditation for demonstrating language learning competence. These qualifications are ideal for engaging a whole range of learners and are particularly suitable in the following settings:

  • Primary school language learners
  • KS3 pupils including those who are starting a second foreign language
  • Lunchtime or afterschool language clubs
  • College students involved in vocational courses
  • Lifelong learning classes

For more information visit the WJEC website.

Key Stages 4 and 5

All pupils in Wales must study Welsh (either as a first or second language) up to KS4 and students can opt to study at least one other language at GCSE, AS or A-level. For more information on these examinations click here to visit the WJEC website.

Welsh Language Examinations and Welsh-Medium Education

For students attending bilingual or designated Welsh-medium schools, qualifications in Welsh as a first language are available at from GCSE to degree level and include a range of subjects including Welsh Language and Literature, History, Geography, Maths and Science.

Qualifications in Welsh as a second language are offered at GCSE, AS and A Level and are provided by both Welsh-medium and English Medium schools in Wales. 

Certain schools have chosen to follow the Welsh Baccalaureate, which the Welsh Assembly Government introduced to transform learning for young people in Wales. The Baccalaureate can be studied in English or Welsh, or a combination of the two languages. It combines personal development skills with existing qualifications like A-Levels, NVQs and GCSEs to make one wider award that is valued by employers and universities. 

Local authorities in Wales are responsible for planning Welsh-medium provision. In 2007 the Welsh Government committed to 'creating a national Welsh-medium Education Strategy to develop effective provision from nursery through to further and higher education, backed up by an implementation programme'. In response to this commitment the Welsh-medium Education Strategy was launched in April 2010. This was an historic milestone for Welsh-medium education as it set out the Welsh Government's national strategic direction for making improvements in the teaching and learning of Welsh as a language, including, in particular, Welsh second language. This document is available to view on the Welsh Government website here.