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‘The world is more of an oyster for them than a monoglot’: Schools defend language studies amid drop in student uptake

PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 06:48 28 February 2019

Norwich High School for Girls language students on a school trip to Paris. A survey has revealed a fall in the number of students taking GCSE and A-level language exams in Norfolk. Picture: Norwich High School for Girls

Norwich High School for Girls language students on a school trip to Paris. A survey has revealed a fall in the number of students taking GCSE and A-level language exams in Norfolk. Picture: Norwich High School for Girls

Norwich High School for Girls

Norfolk teachers have praised the importance of foreign languages in schools as figures reveal fewer students are choosing to study a language at GCSE.

A survey of secondary schools revealed that the number of students studying languages has fallen by around 16pc in Norfolk in the past five years.

The analysis of 2,000 schools around the country by the BBC showed that uptake of GCSE language courses had fallen by more than 30pc in the worst-affected areas, and that French and German had taken the hardest knocks.

At East Norfolk Sixth Form College, languages are still well supported: it offers French, German and Spanish at A-level as well as courses for Mandarin and Japanese.

Principal Dr Catherine Richards said: “Offering languages is an essential part of a rounded curriculum for young people and helps them to have a greater appreciation for the wider world around them.

A BBC survey has revealed a fall in the number of students taking GCSE and A-level language exams in Norfolk. Picture: PAA BBC survey has revealed a fall in the number of students taking GCSE and A-level language exams in Norfolk. Picture: PA

“Learning a language helps young people to develop their confidence and be able to explore other countries and cultures, so positively promoting languages continues to be a priority for East Norfolk.

“We work closely with our local schools to ensure we can offer pathways for languages to A level and then beyond to university.”

The Inspiration Trust, which runs secondary schools including the Hewett Academy in Norwich, Great Yarmouth Charter Academy and Cromer Academy, offers at least one language up to GCSE in all its schools while Jane Austen College and Thetford Academy also offer multiple languages at A-level.

Trust spokesman James Goffin said the schools regularly review their subjects in line with demand from pupils.

“Students generally study traditional languages like French, German, and Spanish but we have also offered Portuguese or Russian where there has been sufficient demand.

“It doesn’t have to be solely about exams, though. For example, students from Jane Austen College in Norwich have run introductory language courses for pupils at [fellow Inspiration Trust school] Charles Darwin Primary as part of their extracurricular activities, covering French, Spanish, Arabic, and German.”

A-level language students at Norwich High School for Girls have recently returned from a trip to Paris, where as well as visiting the sites they conducted interviews with a local charity and attended a university lecture.

Headmistress Kirsty von Malaisé felt languages were an important skill for students to have in their arsenal.

“From the moment you enter Norwich High School and are welcomed by our ‘Willkommen’ ‘Bienvenido’ and ‘Bienvenue’ signs, you know that the school is committed to giving our girls the important life skill of speaking another European language, maintaining languages as a core subject at GCSE, leading to strong numbers at A-Level in all three.

“Our girls are confident linguists for whom the world is more of an oyster than it is for a monoglot,” she said.

The decrease in foreign language tuition is also significant in the context of cultural diversity in Norfolk.

According to the Department for Education, 11.4pc of primary pupils and 7.6pc of secondary pupils in state schools in the county speak a language other than English as their first language – a total of around 11,000 children.

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