Foreign Languages in Schools

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons on 17th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces)

What steps he is taking to support the take-up of foreign languages in schools.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The Government’s ambition is that 90% of pupils will study the EBacc combination of GCSEs, including a foreign language, by 2025. We offer generous financial incentives to recruit more language teachers, and we have introduced the Mandarin excellence programme and modern foreign languages—MFL—teaching hubs to increase languages take-up and to support schools to improve the quality of foreign languages teaching.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces)

I thank the Minister for his answer. One way to stimulate learning foreign languages in our schools is by using foreign exchange students. Indeed, in my school days, a charming French lady greatly stimulated my knowledge of the language. I am not a member of the governing party in Scotland. I therefore ask whether Her Majesty’s Government will do everything they can to continue using exchange students and to build on that in future.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I can absolutely confirm that.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

The Europa School in my constituency teaches languages by teaching other subjects in foreign languages. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is proving popular with parents of all types, including from the UK, and that it is a good model to follow?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I share my hon. Friend’s admiration for the Europa School. It teaches the European baccalaureate, which is of a very high standard. The continuation of that qualification will depend on discussions with the European Schools system after the UK leaves the European Union.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

There has been a significant contraction in the post-16 modern languages curriculum as a result of the significant funding cut. Funding has been frozen since 2013-14. Is it not time to raise the rate so that that curriculum can get back to where it should be?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

To make A-level foreign languages classes viable, we need more sixth formers to opt for the subjects. To raise the uptake of A-level, we first need to increase the number of pupils who take a GCSE in a foreign language, reversing the damage caused by the last Labour Government in 2004, when they downgraded the importance of languages.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My right hon. Friend may recall that schools used to teach Latin to give a better understanding of English grammar. Does he agree that German, Spanish and Italian give a better understanding of grammar than French? When will we get some teachers of those languages?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Of course, we need all those European languages, as well as Mandarin and other languages, to be taught in our secondary schools. Since 2010, there has been an increase from 40% of the cohort taking a GCSE in a foreign language to 46% this year. However, we need to go further, which is why we have the target of 90% studying the EBacc combination of GCSEs by 2025.

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Non, nee and nein are among the European words the Prime Minister has learned this week, but a generation of children is being denied the same opportunity, with nearly 20,000 fewer hours of modern languages taught in secondary schools now compared with 2010. The decline is particularly stark in German and French. Will the Minister commit today to reversing that trend, or is it only the Prime Minister who is being taught a lesson?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I must say, it is rich for Opposition Members to criticise the reduction in modern foreign language teaching. It was their Government—the Labour Government, in 2004—who downgraded the importance of foreign languages, and we are trying to reverse that. We have increased the proportion of young people studying a foreign language from 40% in 2010 to 46% this year, and we want to go further.