MFL teacher challenge looms

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The recruitment of more suitably qualified languages teachers is “likely to become more critical” because of the need to increase up-take at GCSE.

The annual Languages Trends report warns that schools are finding it “challenging” to recruit language teachers who are able to offer two languages to GCSE and A level standard.

The report states: “This difficulty most affects lower-attaining schools and those working in more disadvantaged circumstances.”
Language GCSEs form part of the EBacc and Progress 8 accountability measures and as such schools are incentivised to increase uptake.

However, recruitment has proved challenging for some schools, including for language positions.

Recent research by the NFER has shown that schools are seeing particularly high leaving rates for teachers of maths, science and languages. The recruitment target for trainee language teachers was also missed this year, according to Department for Education figures published in November.

Meanwhile, figures released by Ofqual this week (see story above) show that entries for GCSE languages this year are down on 2016. This includes:

  • French (Down from 135,200 to 121,800).
  • German (Down from 48,000 to 42,050).
  • Spanish (Down from 88,150 to 85,500).
  • Other MFL (Down from 33,900 to 33,000).

However, the Languages Trends report, which is published by the British Council, says that 38 per cent of state schools plan to increase language GCSE entries year-on-year.

It also highlights disparities in language uptake across the country with a notable North-South divide. For example, while 65 per cent of pupils in Inner London took a language GCSE in 2016, only 43 per cent of pupils in the North East and 44 per cent in Yorkshire and The Humber did likewise.

At A level, the Ofqual figures show a more stable picture in terms of entries:

  • French (Down from 8,700 to 8,600).
  • German (Down from 3,600 to 3,450).
  • Spanish (Up from 7,750 to 7,850).
  • Other MFL (Up from 8,700 to 8,900).

However, the Languages Trends report emphasises that the number of pupils taking A level languages is down by a third since 1996.
It states: “The last 20 years have seen a huge shift away from A level entrants for French and German, which in 1996 accounted for more than 80 per cent of candidates, towards Spanish and other languages, which now represent more than half of candidates. However, in the past year, Spanish and other languages have also been affected by declining numbers, making post-16 language study one of the most pressing concerns to be addressed.”

The report also warns that in state schools, access to CPD for languages teachers is being threatened because of financial pressures. It adds: “The financial pressures on state schools are having an adverse effect on language teachers’ ability to access subject-specific CPD. Although many schools offer generic, in-house CPD, linguists also require subject-specific professional development and opportunities to refresh and enhance their subject knowledge.”

You can download the Languages Trends 2016/17 report at


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