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Foreign Languages in Schools

Volume 651: debated on Monday 17 December 2018

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.

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.

I think the whole House would digest the hon. Gentleman’s personal memoir. We are indebted to him for it.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.