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Language Teaching

Volume 659: debated on Monday 29 April 2019

It was Labour’s decision in 2004 to make languages at key stage 4 non-compulsory that led to the dramatic drop in the numbers taking GCSE foreign languages. Thanks to our introduction of the EBacc, the percentage of pupils in state-funded schools taking a language GCSE has increased, from 40% in 2010 to 46% now. Our target is 75% studying a foreign language GCSE by 2022 and 90% by 2025.

Given that catastrophic mistake by the Labour party, I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the proportion of pupils taking a language GCSE increasing from 40% to 47% since 2010. Does he agree that, given the—so far, unicorn—desire to develop a really global Britain project, it will become more and more important that our students are properly equipped for a fully global world, in which Britain will have to make a new way for itself?

I agree with my right hon. Friend completely. As we enter a new global economy, we want to be able to trade with our European partners and need to speak European languages, as well as languages throughout the world, which is why we believe in the EBacc. I wish the Labour party would support our ambition to have 75% of students taking the EBacc combination of GCSEs by 2022.

The provision of languages post-16 has shrunk since 2010. This is largely due—or partly due at least—to the continually growing 16-to-18 funding gap on the Government’s watch. Is it not time to raise the rates so that, among other things, languages can prosper again post-16?

Actually, that is not the reason. The numbers taking A-level maths and further maths are at all-time highs. Languages have suffered because of the decision in 2004 on GCSEs. It is difficult for someone to take an A-level in a language if they have not studied it at GCSE.

Speaking a language greatly increases one’s employability. According to Business Insider, the No. 1 language for getting a good job is German—going by the number of job ads and the quality and pay of the jobs—yet only 3,000 pupils sat German A-level last year. The exam could be held in Westminster Hall so few are the pupils. I appreciate that the Government have an excellent record on GCSEs. Can we do more to encourage language learning at A-level?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Germany is the fourth largest economy and not far away—a few hundred miles—from this country, and we need more young people studying German GCSE, which is why we have the target of having 75% taking a modern language by 2022.

To teach more foreign languages in schools we need to recruit and retain the very best teachers. What is the Minister doing to help us retain the very best modern languages teachers, who are feeling the pressure under increased workloads and increased stress?

That is why we have introduced a recruitment and retention strategy and why we have £26,000 tax-free bursaries and £28,000 tax-free scholarships for the best foreign language graduates coming into teaching. Teaching is a very worthwhile profession. I hope the hon. Gentleman will talk it up, as we do on the Conservative Benches.