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GCSE French - the Ebacc effect

Much was made in the media about the rise in entries for modern languages in the 2013 GCSE exams. There is no doubt that the Gove Ebacc accountability measure has started to take effect. Entries for languages, history and geography all rose this year, which is good news for those subjects (but presumably bad news for others). Spanish saw the most significant rise, cementing its position as rising star, having held its own at A-level too. Tom Bennett amusingly states in today's TES that MFL has gone from being the Giles Brandreth to Rihanna in the school curriculum.

It's too soon to say whether this reverse of a trend is the start of something greater. It will take more than the Ebacc to achieve that, plus who knows which accountability measure will take priority for schools in the future - Ebacc or the general measure of performance across eight subjects? If schools prioritise the latter, then MFL could continue its previous decline.

And let's be clear: this year's entries are encouraging, but we have not even returned to the level of 2010, which is way below the numbers taking GCSE languages in the 1990s.

Here are the figures from Brian Stubbs' site showing entries in the last column.:

           A*   A    B    C    D    E    F    G    U   A*-C    A*-U

   2013   9.8 15.0 19.8 25.6 18.3  7.3  2.9  1.0  0.3  70.2  177288
   2012  10.7 15.6 20.9 24.5 17.1  7.2  2.9  0.8  0.3  71.7  153436
   2011  10.2 16.6 21.9 23.8 15.9  7.4  2.9  1.0  0.3  72.5  154221
   2010  10.9 15.8 20.1 25.1 16.6  7.3  3.0  1.0  0.2  71.9  177618
   2009  11.2 15.1 19.2 24.6 16.8  8.1  3.5  1.2  0.3  70.1  188688
   2008  10.3 14.7 18.8 24.5 17.3  8.7  3.9  1.5  0.3  68.3  201940
   2007   9.7 13.5 18.6 24.7 17.2  9.1  4.7  2.0  0.5  66.5  216718
   2006   9.6 13.2 17.7 24.2 17.5  9.7  5.1  2.4  0.6  64.7  236189
   2005   8.5 12.3 16.3 23.2 17.9 11.1  6.7  3.1  0.9  60.3  272140
   2004   7.4 10.7 14.5 21.1 18.1 13.0  8.9  4.9  1.4  53.7  318095
   2003   6.6 11.3 12.7 20.6 20.1 13.7  8.8  4.7  1.5  51.2  331089
   2002   7.4 10.9 13.5 21.8 18.6 13.6  8.8  4.6  0.8  53.6  338468
   2001   7.2 10.8 13.3 22.1 18.3 13.6  9.3  4.8  0.6  53.4  347007
   2000   6.6 11.6 14.0 20.5 18.1 14.2  9.7  4.7  0.6  52.7  341004
   1999   6.4 11.7 14.4 19.9 18.7 14.5  9.5  4.3  0.6  52.4  335816
   1998   6.3 11.9 13.9 18.6 19.2 15.1  9.7  4.6  0.7  50.7  335698
   1997   4.1 15.1 14.9 17.2 18.5 13.4 10.8  5.2  0.8  51.2  328299
   1996   4.4 14.8 14.6 17.2 18.2 13.5 11.1  5.5  0.7  51.0  342751
   1995   4.3 14.3 14.0 17.4 17.8 13.7 11.9  5.7  0.9  50.0  350027
   1994   4.1 14.9 14.0 16.6 18.3 14.2 12.1  5.1  0.7  49.6  324343
   1993       18.6 14.0 16.1 16.4 13.4 12.9  7.3  1.3  48.7  315246

The problems are clearly deep-rooted and the MFL community can only do so much about national perceptions of languages. The primary languages policy will do little to help matters.

One thing which would make a huge difference, as I have stated in a previous blog, would be if universities (e.g. the Russell Group for starters) decided to follow the lead of UCL by making a GCSE qualification in a modern language compulsory for entry. This would, in one fell swoop, ensure all quite bright youngsters chose GCSE MFL. This would rank MFL alongside maths and English, open up exciting new avenues for young people and help solve the nation's chronic shortage of skilled linguists.


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