Lesser-Taught Languages

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 24th March 2015.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 7:14 pm, 24th March 2015

I will take that point to the awarding organisations. Although the IGCSE will not count in school performance tables, the qualification is recognised by further and higher education as a demonstration of a student’s proficiency in the language. Clearly, though, the availability of the IGCSE is not a full substitute for a GCSE in Turkish as a foreign language, for those who are learning it as a second language rather than as a first language.

I have listened to the powerful case made by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members this evening on behalf of their constituents and others who recognise the importance of languages to our economy. I should point out, for the sake of balance in this debate, that the Turkish GCSE attracted only 1,403 entries last year, and for the Turkish A-level there were only 354 entries. Indeed, the entry figures have been consistently low for a number of years.

These relatively small numbers create some genuine difficulties for awarding organisations. In addition to diseconomies of scale, they may struggle to recruit sufficient staff to mark the exam and find it more difficult to set grade boundaries, given the statistical variability which is more likely in smaller cohorts. Nevertheless, I believe that these problems may well have solutions. Exam boards manage to recruit markers for the current version of the GCSE and they manage to set grade boundaries effectively.

My hon. Friend is correct. It is not the Government who are applying pressure, financial or otherwise, to reduce the number of foreign language GCSEs; quite the contrary. Having listened carefully to the arguments made by him and others, both during the debate and outside the Chamber, I will raise his concerns and those of other hon. Members with the chief executives of the awarding organisations, including OCR and AQA, and I will invite them to reconsider their current position—I will do that tomorrow—and to subordinate what I believe to be a commercial calculation to the far more significant long-term economic and cultural considerations for this country. In doing so, I will also question them closely about the financial rationale for their decisions.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and others for raising this important issue, and I pay tribute to his firm support for the key place of languages in our long-term plan for education and the economy.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.