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Lockdown and Brexit squeeze language GCSEs, but Chinese and Spanish survive and thrive

August 17th, 2021 by

Last year I reported on the dire impact of the use of Teacher-Assessed Grades on GCSE entries for languages not generally taught in mainstream schools – languages such as Turkish, Arabic, and Polish which tend to be taught in after-school community language classes rather than as curriculum subjects. Entries for these languages – taking all 15 of them together – dropped by 28% between 2019 and 2020 with large numbers of learners of these languages effectively being excluded from the Teacher-Assessed grading system.

Another year, another lockdown. A look at this year’s figures shows an encouraging 7% increase in entries for languages other than the big three (French, Spanish, and German) but not enough to make up for the 28% decline of the previous year.

The impact of Brexit also appears to be evident. Comparing the 2021 entry figures to 2019, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese have all declined significantly (by 32%, 50% and 35% respectively). I would suggest this is the result of EU citizens leaving Britain rather than anything to do with the lockdown and teacher-assessed grades.

The only languages to have attracted more candidates this year compared to 2019 are Spanish, Chinese, and Modern Hebrew. Spanish has been on an upward trajectory for many years which neither the lockdown nor Brexit have damaged. Entries for Modern Hebrew are relatively low and a 58% rise, not large in numeric terms, does not exceed the normal range of fluctuation for this language over the last 10 years. We should not read too much into this.  

Entries for Chinese rose by 26% between 2020 and 2021, probably as a result of the first cohort of GCSE entries from the Government’s Mandarin Excellence Programme which started in 2016. This provides pleasing confirmation of the impact of concerted effort and a relatively small investment of government funding. It is to be hoped that the Government will now consider similar schemes for other languages.

The ten-year picture

Taking a step back to look at the evolving situation for different languages over the period 2011 to 2021, the great beneficiaries have been:

  • Spanish – up 74%
  • Chinese – up 73%
  • Arabic – up 46%

The greatest losers have been:

  • Bengali – down 64% and Gujarati – down 56% (both of these from a low base)
  • Japanese – down 40%
  • And German, down 57%

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One response to “Lockdown and Brexit squeeze language GCSEs, but Chinese and Spanish survive and thrive”

  1. Fatima says:

    Thank you very much fir this insightful information Lesley. I will share it with community languages so they benefit from it.

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