Language Learning

School cash incentive to promote language A-levels

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The report also highlighted “severe shortcomings” in language learning in primary schools in NI

Schools in NI should be given extra money if they can get more pupils to take language subjects at A-level.

That is one of the recommendations from a UK-wide report aimed at tackling the fall in pupils studying foreign languages at school.

The number of pupils taking subjects like French, German and Spanish to GCSE has fallen over the past decade.

Many teachers have said languages are often perceived as too difficult by pupils, compared with other subjects.

The British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Association of School and College Leaders, the British Council and Universities UK are calling for new government measures to promote language learning.

While their report is UK-wide, there are some recommendations targeted at Northern Ireland.

It calls for an advanced languages premium to be given to schools which can encourage more pupils to study languages after GCSE.

That would mean schools would get some extra funding for each pupil who studies a language in sixth form.

“At a time when languages are disappearing fast from post-16 provision, especially in disadvantaged areas, this measure is urgently needed to prevent post-16 language teaching from closing altogether,” the report said.

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Grade boundaries for language A-levels and GCSEs should be adjusted, the report said

The report also highlighted “severe shortcomings” in language learning in primary schools in Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a statutory primary languages programme,” it said.

“The Department of Education should develop and implement a fully funded primary languages curriculum.”

Funding for a previous modern languages scheme for primary schools in Northern Ireland was cut in 2015.

‘Marked too severely’

The report said the Northern Ireland exams board CCEA should adjust grade boundaries for language A-levels and GCSEs to ensure there was a “level playing field” for pupils.

CCEA has previously said it was investigating whether GCSE and A-level languages are marked too severely.

The report also made a number of other recommendations, including making it easier for adults who want to learn a language to take an intensive course.

“We need urgent, concerted and co-ordinated action to address the critical situation for languages in the UK,” the report said.

“If the UK’s citizens had stronger skills in languages other than English, this would help make the UK more prosperous, productive, influential, innovative, knowledgeable, culturally richer, more socially cohesive, and healthier.”

Janice Carruthers, professor of French at Queen’s University of Belfast, was one of those behind the report.

She said it put forward a set of realistic proposals.

“The UK-wide recommendations are directly relevant to Northern Ireland and a number of proposals have specific resonance in the local context,” she said.

“Putting these recommendations into place will help remove barriers to language learning and will encourage a much-needed boost to uptake in our schools and universities, with all sectors called upon to play a part in bringing about positive change.”

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