Secondaries struggle to ensure pupils continue their primary language learning


Secondary schools are finding it difficult to ensure that pupils continue with the languages they have learned at primary level.

Secondary schools are finding it difficult to ensure that pupils continue with the languages they have learned at primary level.

A new report has identified problems with a lack of communication between secondaries and their feeder primary schools which it says is hindering the continuation of language studies.

The Languages Trends Survey 2013/14, published by the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council, found that almost half of primary schools say they have had no contact with language specialists in local secondary schools.

Furthermore, less than one third of state secondary schools said they have been able to ensure pupils continue with the same language they learned at primary level.

However, the report also finds that uptake of languages at GCSE level continues to improve because of the ongoing influence of the English Baccalaureate. 

There is also a slight improvement in the number of schools offering Chinese – the language of the world’s second biggest economy and a priority in terms of government policy.

Elsewhere, the study raises concerns that the practice of taking students out of lessons for numeracy or literacy interventions is hitting language learning.

It finds that “disapplication procedures” to allow pupils to get extra tuition are common, with 27 per cent of state secondary schools surveyed admitting that this means many lower level students aren’t studying a language at all.

Meanwhile, French, Spanish and German remain the most widely taught languages in schools with 37 per cent of state secondary schools and 48 per cent of independent schools seeing pupil numbers for Spanish rise in recent years.

At primary level, the report finds that 42 per cent of schools say they are already meeting the foreign language requirements of the new national curriculum. From September, language study at key stage 2 is compulsory.

Vicky Gough, schools advisor at the British Council, added: “Languages matter to the UK’s long-term competitiveness. We need more school pupils developing their language skills to work confidently around the world and in multinational organisations here in the UK. And this in-depth survey in English schools shows some progress.

“For fans of UK trade and travel, there are some ‘green bamboo shoots’, the study of Chinese is increasing – albeit slowly from a small base. But other important languages for the UK’s future like Arabic, Italian, Japanese and Russian are still offered much less frequently, and often only as extra-curricular subjects.

“It’s great to see an increase in the numbers taking language GCSEs, but the best future for the UK would have many more of us confident enough to try a few words in many more languages.”

Co-author of the report Teresa Tinsley said: “Our findings show there is still much to be done before language teaching and learning in English schools can be given a clean bill of health.”

The research is based on an online survey completed by teachers in 2,000 state and 500 independent secondary schools as well as 3,000 state primary schools. 

The report can be downloaded at



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