Ministers have awarded an almost £15m contract to tackle the systemic decline in the number of pupils in England taking foreign languages at GCSE and A-level.

University College London’s Institute of Education will develop and roll out the Department of Education’s £14.9m language programme in primary and secondary schools over the next three years, with a focus on increasing opportunities among disadvantaged pupils.

The IoE will establish a National Centre for Languages Education (NCLE) made up of up to 25 lead schools specialising in languages to work with up to 105 partner secondary schools. The centre aims to develop strategies to persuade more boys, as well as pupils with special educational needs or disabilities and other disadvantaged pupils, to choose languages, while up to five schools will be chosen to expand the Home Languages Accreditation project, which helps bilingual pupils gain GCSEs or A-levels in their home or heritage language.

The NCLE will also develop an online toolkit for teachers to improve curriculum planning and reliable assessment of language learning to improve the transition from primary to secondary school.

The aim is to support the DfE’s English baccalaureate (Ebacc) ambition for 90% of year 10 pupils in state-funded schools to study a combination of core academic subjects including a language by 2025. But statistics from the 2021/2022 academic year showed just 38.7% entered the Ebacc.

Nick Gibb, minister for school standards, said: “Our economy needs people who can communicate across the globe and trade with overseas businesses. This programme is about ensuring we have the next generation of young people with the languages needed to compete on the world stage.”About £400,000 is ringfenced to develop German language skills, which the government recognises as a strategically important language to the UK. Entries for German GCSEs and A-levels have plummeted in recent years. The IoE will work with trained German specialist teachers via the Goethe-Institut to increase the number of pupils learning German in both primary and secondary schools.

The DfE also announced a review of the syllabus for Chinese A-level to make it easier for non-native speakers, as well as a separate £11m expansion to the Mandarin Excellence Programme, with the aim of a further 21 schools participating by September 2024.

Language experts cautiously welcomed the announcement, especially the investment in German.

Prof Neil Kenny, lead fellow for languages at the British Academy, said: “We urge the government to take care that this new investment in both a Centre for Excellence and in German is not narrow in approach but is shaped by a wide and balanced range of research evidence and of expertise.”

Crossbench peer Jean Coussins, who co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, said it was good the government was taking languages seriously but in order to reach its Ebacc targets, it would “also need to address modern foreign language teacher recruitment (just 34% of target numbers this year)”, and ensure universities stop shutting down language degrees and protect the year abroad.

You can read the article first published on The Guardian website on March 3rd here.