• More than a third of Welsh schools now have less than 10% of Year 10 (14-15 year olds) studying a modern foreign language.
• 44% of schools have fewer than five pupils studying a foreign language at AS level and 61% have fewer than five foreign language pupils at A level
• 64% of MFL departments have just one or two full-time teachers, with one third depending on non-British EU nationals for their staff
• Take up of modern foreign languages is continuing to fall in years 10 and 11 indicating that numbers will decline further in 2017 and 2018
The latest Language Trends Wales report into modern foreign languages (MFL) in Welsh schools has found teachers are ‘extremely worried about the future of modern foreign languages’.
The report’s findings show teachers’ fears are well founded and its publisher, British Council Wales, is calling for urgent action from the Welsh Government.
More than a third of Welsh schools now have less than 10% of Year 10 (14-15 year olds) taking an MFL. The decline is attributed to the number of compulsory subjects pupils are required to study and the introduction of the Welsh Baccalaureate.
At post-16 level (years 12-13) many schools no longer offer MFL and those that do are often teaching small classes: 44% of schools have fewer than five pupils studying a foreign language at AS level and 61% have fewer than five foreign language pupils at A level. Teachers say that such small classes mean it may not be financially viable for their schools to continue to offer MFL in the future.
The declining numbers of pupils opting to study MFL at advanced level is attributed to competition with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) and the belief that it is harder to gain top grades in an MFL than for other academic subjects.
The decline of the subject means MFL departments in Welsh schools are often very small with 64% employing just one or two teachers. As many as one third of schools depend on non-British EU nationals for their MFL teaching, which is of particular concern due to the uncertainty as to whether these members of staff will be able to remain in the country after the UK’s departure from the EU.
The report found that the Welsh Government’s programme to promote MFL in schools, Global Futures, is popular with teachers, but so far it is having limited impact on take-up.
British Council Wales is now calling for tough action to stem the decline in MFL learning.
Jenny Scott, director of British Council Wales, said: “There’s no doubt that Wales needs a new generation of linguists to help deliver Welsh Government’s aspirations for a prosperous and outward looking Wales. The continued decline in numbers learning languages is very worrying, especially in the light of Brexit, which means that more than ever businesses will need language skills to help seal deals with international customers.
“The benefits of studying or working abroad for young people are well known; international experiences build confidence, enhance career prospects and even lead to better exam results for students, but a lack of language skills is a barrier that prevents some young people taking up opportunities to work or study internationally.
“We fully support Welsh Government’s efforts to encourage more Welsh school pupils to study a language. We are 18 months into its Global Futures plan to promote MFL learning, which our survey found is reaching many schools and is popular with teachers.
“However, while the number of A level entries across all subjects has increased by 7% since 2001, it is shocking to see the continued decline in the number of entrants for MFL. Our research suggests that the numbers of MFL GCSE entries will continue to fall in 2017 and 2018.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to take strong action now to stem this decline. The teaching of Welsh and English at primary level must be developed to support the teaching of foreign languages – it is concerning to hear teachers say that year 7 pupils start secondary school with a weak knowledge of grammar and unable to make links between the vocabulary and structure of languages.
“At secondary level the development of the new curriculum for Wales offers an ideal opportunity to develop a ‘triple language’ award – Welsh, MFL and English – with the same status and value as ‘triple science’. MFL should no longer be in competition with Welsh and English, rather the potential of these three subjects to support each other needs to be harnessed now, for the benefit of pupils and the future economic prosperity of Wales.”