A-level language decline raises danger of monolingual society

16 August 2018

Commenting on the publication of results for A-levels, AS-levels and vocational qualifications, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

Congratulations to all those students who have achieved the results they wanted not only in A-levels and AS levels but also in vocational qualifications which often go unsung on results day but which provide excellent opportunities for many students year in and year out. To those who may have missed their targets we would urge them not to despair as there will be a range of options available to them and they should take pride in what they have achieved in qualifications which were already tough and which have become tougher as a result of government reforms.

And congratulations to the schools, colleges and teachers who have steered their students through the new courses and exams. Eleven new A-levels were sat for the first time this year, 13 last year and a further tranche will be sat next year, and there have also been major changes to vocational qualifications. All this is in addition to the biggest overhaul of GCSEs in their 30-year history. The sheer weight of these reforms has placed an intolerable additional strain on staff and students and we have no doubt that this has affected the mental health and wellbeing of a proportion of young people and teachers. The government must pay heed and ensure that any future reforms are introduced in a more manageable and considered manner.

Today’s results show further significant declines in the number of entries to A-level French and German. This is part of a long-term downward trend at A-level and also at GCSE. Even Spanish which has been relatively stable previously has seen a fall in A-level entries this year, and we must face the fact that we are in danger of becoming a monolingual society. The government’s attempt to boost languages through the dubious incentive of school performance tables is clearly not working. Schools and colleges need sufficient funding and teachers, and we need a national strategy to boost language uptake

Creative and technical subjects such as music, drama, and design and technology are also under intense pressure with A-level entries continuing to decline. Government performance measures which favour traditional academic subjects, combined with severe funding pressures, have pushed these subjects to the fringes of the curriculum. We must do more to value and cherish these subjects as a vital part of our cultural heritage and also our economy.

We are clearly seeing a pattern at both GCSE and A-level of the curriculum narrowing. This is a direct result of the government’s underfunding of the education system, severe teacher shortages and performance measures which prioritise a select group of subjects.