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GCSE students shun Welsh and modern languages in favour of compulsory subjects

19 Mar 2022 3 minute read
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash.

New research has revealed that half of all students are open to learning a language up to the point they make their GCSE choices but numbers fall back dramatically subsequently.

The study also shows that out of 13 subjects, English ranked top, international languages came in at 11 and Welsh was the least popular subject at 13.

Cardiff University’s Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) Mentoring Project sought the opinions of 5,800 young people in a study which began in 2015.

The study found that in the lead up to choosing their subject options, 48% of all learners surveyed were willing to consider learning a language at GCSE.

However, in 2021 the national average of Year 11 pupils being entered for a modern foreign language at GCSE was only 14.4%.

The study found that most pupils feel that core, compulsory subjects are more important for their careers than an international language.

Data also revealed that STEM subjects were chosen 1.3 times more than humanities and four times more than arts subjects.

Female learners were twice as likely to study an international language as males, while initial indications suggest that learners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and those whose parents speak more than one language are more likely to choose an international language at GCSE.

Urgent intervention

The project has been working with 140 schools in a bid to increase the number of young learners taking international languages in Wales, and address the 64% decline in the uptake of language studies.

University mentors from across five partner universities trained to work with learners in Years 8 and 9 to “inspire an intrinsic love and motivation for language learning and intercultural communication.”

An external evaluation of the project has shown that between 40–50% of pupils who are mentored as part of the initiative opt to study a GCSE language.

According to, project director Lucy Jenkins, based at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Foreign Languages said: “Although the national picture remains hugely concerning, the openness of learners to languages indicated in this survey offers reason for hope.

“Not least, offering us opportunity to capitalize on the linguistic diversity of Wales to support positive choices towards international languages at GCSE.

“However, these results also provide a stark reminder that without urgent intervention, it may not be feasible for schools to continue to offer an international language as a choice for GCSE and A Level if the current decline continues.

“Although we’ve heard anecdotally from teachers about the views of learners, this report gives us the clearest picture yet of learner attitudes towards languages in relation to other subject areas.

“As the Curriculum for Wales is rolled out, it is paramount that we harness the opportunity to improve learners’ overall appreciation of languages—which includes English, Welsh and international subjects—as an important part of their personal and professional development.”

Professor Claire Gorrara, Academic Lead for the MFL Mentoring Project added: “Learning a language offers so much to students. As well as improving their future prospects, it gives them confidence, an expanded outlook and a whole range of highly transferrable skills.

“Our work with student mentors and schools demonstrates what a difference an improved emphasis on language learning can have on students. It is vital that more is done to make languages a more attractive proposition for students, so they feel it could be a realistic option for them.”

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Gwyn Meredith
Gwyn Meredith
2 years ago

How many English-speaking Welsh pupils would choose to take Welsh to GCSE level?

2 years ago
Reply to  Gwyn Meredith

Dunno. How many?

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