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MS says government’s modern foreign language strategy is ‘chucking mud and seeing what sticks’

03 Mar 2022 3 minute read
Laura Anne Jones MS. Photo Welsh Conservatives

The Welsh Conservatives have attacked the government’s approach to the teaching of modern foreign languages (MFLs) in schools, describing it as “chucking mud and seeing what sticks”.

The comments were made in the Senedd by the Tories Shadow Education Minister Laura Anne Jones, following an exchange with Education Minister Jeremy Miles.

She criticised the £5.8 million spent to “improve and promote MFLs in Wales” and highlighted a big decline in the number of Welsh pupils taking MFLs at GCSE and fall in the number of those teaching the subjects.


“To future-proof education, ensure our children have international opportunities, and so the next generation gain valuable skills for the workplace, ensuring modern foreign languages is a subject that’s central to schooling must be a priority,” the Shadow Minister said.

“That is why I was disappointed that the minister buried his head in the sand, rejecting that this is a Wales-specific problem when the figures clearly show take-up is much stronger in England and the declining number of pupils and teachers for these subjects here.

“The Labour Government have rather forgotten about modern foreign languages, adopting a strategy of chucking mud and seeing what sticks. Throwing money at the problem but seeing take-up of foreign languages decrease shows the plan is not working and needs and immediate change.

According to the recent Language Trends Wales report conducted by the British Council:

  • GCSE entries for French and German had almost halved between 2015 and 2021, and by 11% and 12%, respectively, in the past year alone;
  • GCSE entries over the past two years for languages other than French, German, Spanish, and Welsh have declined significantly from 626 in 2018 to just 175 in 2021, a 72% drop;
  • 46% of responding secondary schools either do not have post-16 provision or do not offer international languages in the sixth form; and
  • 78% of schools reported a negative impact from the Covid pandemic on language learning.

The report also noted the teenage population in Wales is growing slightly, so any decline in the numbers of students studying languages cannot be attributed to falling school enrolment.

Meanwhile, in England there were increases in French and Spanish from 2019 to 2020 (although there was a 2% increase in the GCSE-age school population) and that for the first time since records began, Spanish attracted over 100,000 entries, almost double the 2005 total.

Spending on the teaching of MFLs in Wales has increased by 72% since 2015, but over the same period, GCSE entries for French and German have declined by 41% and 45%.

Meanwhile, the number of MFL teachers have fallen, with the number of French teachers down by 14% and the number of German teachers have declined by 15%.

Overall, the number of foreign language teachers is back at the level recorded in 2017.

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Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
2 years ago

Maybe if Welsh universities made a pass in a modern foreign language at GCSE a condition of entry, the tide might be turned. An exemption for those living with dyslexia would be necessary of course.

2 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Meagher

“An exemption for those living with dyslexia would be necessary of course.” Why not indeed. People seem to get exemptions for sundry other things already so people with a genuine inhibitor should get support.

2 years ago

Our nation needs young people fluent in a range of European languages plus Japanese 🇯🇵 and Mandarin 🇨🇳 who can represent us in diplomatic, cultural and economic forums and interactions. When I worked at the EU committee of the regions / i was so impressed by young from Ireland and the Benelux countries in particular who advocated for their nations. In my last post Brexit meeting in Slovenia 🇸🇮 I rejoiced at their delegates switching to Italian and German In economic discussions with Swiss, Italian Austrian and German colleagues. We are not getting it right and there may be differing… Read more »

2 years ago

English is the de facto Esperanto. Very handy… meanwhile Welsh is our cultural core language.

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