Press release

Overwhelming support for foreign languages plan

News on the reaction to the Department for Education’s proposal to make foreign languages compulsory for pupils aged 7 to 11.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

More than 9 in 10 people back the Department for Education’s proposal to make foreign languages compulsory for primary school pupils aged 7 to 11.

Responses to a consultation on the issue - launched in the summer - show overwhelming support for the plan.

The majority of respondents said all children benefited from learning a foreign language, including those whose first language is not English, children with special needs, and higher attaining pupils.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said the government would now make foreign languages a statutory subject at key stage 2 from September 2014.

The reform is a further step in the government’s drive to make foreign languages a key part of every child’s education, and to stop the slide in standards and take-up.

A major study of foreign languages skills among teenagers in Europe ranked England at the bottom of the table - underlining the government’s need to prioritise the subject.

Including the subject in the EBacc has seen the number of GCSE pupils taking a language rise, and we are prioritising the teaching of foreign languages in our schools (see background for more information).

The Department for Education is also today (17 November 2012) launching a consultation on a proposal to give primary schools the freedom to choose to teach any one of seven foreign languages - the modern languages of French, Spanish, German, Italian and Mandarin and the classical languages of Latin and ancient Greek.

French, German and Spanish were the modern languages identified by respondents to the consultation as the most popular choices for primary schools, followed by Italian and Mandarin. These five are widely considered to be the key languages that will help young people succeed in later life. They give a good grounding for further languages study, at secondary school and beyond, and are important in the world of work.

Additionally Mandarin is vital for the economic future of our country, and is increasingly a world language. It also introduces pupils to the concept that not all languages use Roman script. Several primary schools already offer some basic Mandarin teaching.

The two classical languages are included to give primary schools further options. Latin and ancient Greek give a good grounding in grammar, syntax and vocabulary of a number of modern languages, including English.

Primary schools will be free to choose to teach any one of the languages on the list, and to teach any other language, if they want to, which can be on the list or not.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said:

The EBacc has not just arrested but reversed the decline in languages in our secondary schools. Now we will ensure that every primary school child has a good grasp of a language by age 11.

We must give young people the opportunities they need to compete in a global jobs market - fluency in a foreign language will now be another asset our school leavers and graduates will be able to boast.

She added:

Mandarin is the language of the future - it is spoken by hundreds of million of people in the world’s most populous country and shortly the world’s biggest economy.



This summer, the first major study of foreign languages skills among Europe’s teenagers ranked England at the bottom of the table - underlining the government’s drive to boost standards in the subject.

The European Survey on Language Competences - carried out by the European Commission with a consortium including Cambridge Assessment - compared the modern foreign language skills, in reading, listening and writing, of 15-year-olds in 16 jurisdictions on the continent (14 countries) in 2011.

It rated England:

  • bottom in reading, writing and listening in the main foreign language taught (French for English pupils).
  • worst in reading in the second foreign language taught (German for English pupils).
  • 14th out of 16 in listening and writing in the second foreign language taught.

The study also found that pupils in England:

  • start learning a language later than average;
  • are taught it for fewer hours a week than average;
  • spend less time on homework than average;
  • do not see the benefit of a language as much as most other pupils in Europe;
  • were significantly behind their peers, with only one per cent of foreign language students here able to follow complex speech. This compared with a Europe average of 30%.

Sweden, Malta and the Netherlands headed the table, followed by Estonia, Slovenia and Croatia.

The EBacc is restoring foreign languages to secondary schools.

The EBacc was introduced in January 2011.

  • 54% of GCSE pupils are set to take a language GCSE in summer 2014.
  • That is up from 43% who took a language GCSE in summer 2010, and the highest proportion since summer 2005 when 60% of pupils took a language GCSE.
  • In 2002, 75% of pupils at the end of KS4 were entered for a language GCSE.

CfBT’s Language Trends Survey 2011 showed that 51% of state secondary schools already have a majority of their pupils taking a language in Year 10, against 36% in 2010. This proportion increased particularly among schools with higher levels of free school meal children.

Quality of teaching

For the allocation of initial teacher training places from the academic year 2012 to 2013, primary courses that offer a specialism, particularly in the sciences, maths or modern languages, will be prioritised. For 2013 to 2014, the government expects to adjust financial incentives or trainees to favour trainees on specialist primary courses with a good A level in maths, a science, or a language, over those on generalist courses.

Notes to editors

  1. Modern foreign languages is currently a compulsory national curriculum subject in maintained schools in England at key stage 3 only.

  2. In January 2011 the government launched a review of the national curriculum. After consideration of evidence from other countries, advice from key stakeholders and responses to the review’s call for evidence, the government’s expert panel for the review recommended that the teaching of languages should be introduced earlier in the national curriculum. Following this, on 11 June 2012, the Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, announced the government’s intention to add breadth to the primary curriculum by requiring all maintained schools in England to teach a foreign language at key stage 2, from year 3 to year 6. There were 318 responses.

  3. A further statutory consultation on the proposed content for the programmes of study will take place in early 2013.

  4. The consultation launched today can also be found on the Department for Education’s website.

DfE enquiries

Central newsdesk - for journalists 020 7783 8300

General enquiries - for members of the public 0370 000 2288


Published 17 November 2012