Nicky Morgan is Secretary of State for Education and MP for Loughborough.
As Education Secretary, and as a Conservative, I am passionate about making sure every child can access a great education. We have more pupils than ever before in good or outstanding schools, but I want to go further and make sure that every single child can fulfil their potential.
That commitment includes making sure that children study a range of core subjects, including foreign languages. The ability to speak and understand a foreign language isn’t just a skill that is valued by employers: it helps pupils understand different cultures and countries, broadening horizons and preparing them to succeed in an increasingly globalised world.
After all, one of Britain’s strengths is its rich and diverse society. Ensuring young people have the opportunity to study the widest range of languages is integral to that. I want every child to have that chance – regardless of their background, gender or race.
In 2010, we inherited a situation in which the number of students studying a foreign language was at its lowest level in years. In fact, under Labour there were 200,000 fewer children taking these subjects than in 2002. This was a shameful waste of talent, and it meant that our young people were not gaining the tools they needed to succeed.
That’s why over the last six years we have worked hard to correct this, and made the study of at least one foreign language a requirement of the EBacc – the core subjects that give children the skills they need to equip them for the global world.
As a Government, we should be proud that the decline in foreign languages has been addressed and last year’s results showed 20 per cent more pupils are taking languages at GCSE than in 2010. That’s not all: A level entries in modern languages have increased by nearly five per cent since 2014.
So when I heard in April 2015 that exam boards were planning to withdraw GCSE and A level courses in a number of languages, I was clear that action had to be taken to preserve those courses. I received numerous representations from members of communities concerned that young people would be unable to take gold standard qualifications in such languages as Portuguese, Gujarati, Japanese and Bengali. Bob Blackman and other MPs told me about the impact that fewer language courses would have on children in their constituency, and their importance to their community. They told me that it was essential that pupils could continue to study these languages – giving them vital skills when leaving school and entering the world of commerce.
Since the election, my department has worked closely with exam boards and Ofqual to protect these qualifications so that anyone who wished to study these subjects will continue to be able to do so. That’s why I’m delighted to announce that those conversations have been successful. The Pearson and AQA exam boards have agreed to continue providing the foreign languages they were offering. Furthermore, they have also agreed to take on almost all the qualifications that are being withdrawn by OCR.
This is part of our wider efforts to promote the importance of languages. One such example is Mandarin, and the reason why more and more pupils in Britain are now studying this at school. China is a country of huge strategic importance to the UK, and education plays a key role in developing that wider relationship with important economic and educational benefits. This latest news also builds on the Government’s announcement in September of a £10 million boost for Mandarin teaching in English schools.
We’re also making sure that qualifications are more robust and rigorous, to match the best education systems in the world and to keep pace with universities’ and employers’ demands. To support our schools in teaching modern foreign languages, we have also provided £1.8 million between 2014 and 2016 to train teachers to teach the new languages curriculum.
It’s important to thank everyone who has been involved in this process. As a Government, we firmly believe that learning other languages is important in our globalised economy, as well as in helping pupils to prepare for life in modern Britain and a global world. It is important that we have high quality qualifications not just in French, German and Spanish but the widest range of languages possible such as Portuguese, Mandarin and Urdu. In an outward facing country such as Britain, we need our young people – the next generation – to have the fullest range of skills and opportunities. As a result of our work we can now guarantee that this will remain the case, so that pupils up and down the country will continue to have these important opportunities.