HMC statement on the 2016 British Council language trends in schools survey

18 April 2016
Posted by Heidi Salmons

The annual British Council survey on language trends in schools in England is published today. The results are based on responses from a randomly selected sample of 492 state-funded secondary schools and 132 independent secondary schools across England.

The survey paints a very dispiriting picture of the prospects for modern foreign languages in England's schools. It comments that the independent sector is ‘an important provider of A-level linguists’ (p. 145) and reproduces extensive survey responses from language teachers in HMC schools.

Perhaps most depressing is the continued and widespread lack of confidence that language assessment and examinations are being properly managed by the boards and regulated by Ofqual.

The survey authors conclude that “The exam system is seen as one of the principal barriers to the successful development of language teaching.  The fact that exams and languages are seen as harder than they are for other subjects and widely reported issues of harsh and inconsistent marking are deeply demotivating for both pupils and teachers alike” (p. 151).

The authors also say that teachers from both independent and state schools share widespread ‘deep concerns’ about these problems and the negative impact they have on “pupils and parents perception of the subject as a whole” (p. 141).  One half of all respondents considered that A-level results in 2015 were out of line with expectations.

Peter Hamilton, Chair of HMC’s Academic Policy Committee and headmaster of Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Elstree, said:

“The annual British Council survey is becoming the crucial source for assessing the health of language provision in England’s schools.  Once again, the results are very discouraging.”

“By pointing to examinations and assessment as a key problem, the survey's authors place the blame for much of what is wrong squarely at the door of the exams regulator, Ofqual.”

“The HMC committee which I chair has been warning the regulator regularly of the urgency of this problem for over a decade and still nothing has been done to secure fair grades for each successive cohort of summer exam candidates in language A levels.  This is a continuing national disgrace.”