Friday 13 December 2019
  • Entries for GCSE in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) have declined by 60% since 2002 in Wales and continue to fall year-on-year.
  • 39% of schools now either have no provision or no take-up for MFL for post-16 pupils.
  • A positive picture is emerging at primary level where there is evidence of expanding interest and involvement in MFL.
  • Danger of a lost generation of language learners as children engaged at primary could find scarce or no provision in secondary. 
  • Welsh Second Language GCSE has seen 77% rise over five years, dovetailing with a decline of 28% for MFL.

Entries into international language GCSE and A-Levels are plummeting in Wales, finds a new report from the British Council Wales. 

The report finds the decline is faster in Wales than both England and Northern Ireland, with a 28% decline in entries for GCSE MFL over the past five years, and a 22% decline for A-Levels. Scotland have their own education system. 

The report found that 73% of schools claim the difficulty of MFL exams is discouraging pupils to continue the subject at GCSE and A level. Compared to other subjects, MFL is considered unsuitable for the less able and challenging for all. 

The British Councils Language Trends Wales report has been surveying teachers and tracking the decline of modern foreign language learning in Welsh schools over five years.   

Jenny Scott, Director, British Council Wales said 

“In order to sell itself to the world effectively, Wales needs young people with good language skills to do business with and positively influence the rest of the world. This is all the more pressing in the context of Brexit, which creates a new imperative for Wales to reach out to the rest of the world.  The continued decline of MFL in our schools could harm Wales’ ability to do that in the long term.

We are pleased to note the intention from Welsh Government to refresh Global Futures and hope that this will include consultation with schools and organisations that are working so hard to improve the situation for international languages in Wales.

This work needs to come alongside a shift in attitudes which addresses the view of international languages as less valuable.”

This has been a persistent complaint from teachers over the five years of Language Trends Wales. In November 2019, Qualification Wales announced that they would review the GCSE specifications for international languages. This mirrored a similar review in England to adjust grading standards in GCSE French and German. 

The report, which looked at exam data and surveyed teachers in 269 primary and secondary schools, also highlights a long-term negative shift in perceptions of the value of language skills. Despite compelling evidence of the importance of languages for trade, business and research, Welsh students are increasingly not pursuing language skills in school.  Increasingly, STEM subjects are thought to be more useful to students graduating in a highly competitive marketplace.

This year’s survey also highlights the complexity of supporting effectively MFL in Wales.  While Welsh-medium primary schools are embracing international languages at a faster pace than their English-medium counterparts, teachers are reporting that efforts to promote Welsh in secondary schools have sometimes come at the expense of MFL, failing to tap into the potential to develop Wales as a truly multilingual nation.

A positive picture is emerging at primary level where there is evidence of expanding interest and involvement in MFL, particularly in Welsh-medium schools. Language Trends Wales surveyed 155 primary schools and found they are increasing their MFL provision – 39% of schools said they provide some form of MFL lesson, compared to 28% in 2016. The Minister for Education has recently reiterated the importance of including MFL in primary school curriculum.

However, there is a risk of a lost generation of language learners as children engaged in languages at primary school move onto secondary schools, of which 39% have little to no provision of MFL. 

This years’ survey concluded that incentives and support beyond the current scale and scope of Welsh Governments Global Futures plan is needed to challenge the severity of the decline in secondary schools and help develop provision at primary level, else Wales is at risk of being at a language deficit.


Notes to Editor

The report findings are based on the analysis of online surveys completed by teachers in charge of MFL in secondary schools across Wales. It was carried out between March and May 2019 and gathered evidence from 155 primary and 114 secondary schools, equating to a response rate of 12.5% and 55% respectively. 

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Rosa Bickerton, Communications and External Relations Manager, British Council Wales on 0773 5559 752 or

The Language Trends Survey is available to download here