The state of play for language learning in secondary schools

Last updated: Sep 6th, 2019

First introduced to England in 1066, the French language continues to be widely taught throughout the UK, with the popularity of Spanish, German and Italian growing from the 16th century due to commercial prosperity.

Further to these languages, more niche languages such as Russian began to appear in the 1960s and build momentum in the late 20th century due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And more recently in 2004 China has been pushing for Mandarin to be learnt in schools across the world – so what do these languages look like in UK schools today?

Although there’s been a general decline in language learning across the board (with German being most affected), languages still continue to enrich and add to students’ learning. The government also believe this, and aim to raise the percentage of students sitting language GCSE to 90% by 2025 by encouraging and raising the learning standard – particularly within secondary schools.


The language trends report 2019

The recently released language trends report from the British Council has detailed that exam entries have declined by 19% in the past year, with problems mainly attributing to Brexit and an increased difficulty in exam papers that are deterring students from all educational backgrounds from taking the tests.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Spanish continues to be a much more stable language, with little difference in uptake. Independent schools are continuing to build on more specialist languages such as Chinese and Italian, encouraging students to branch out globally with their language choices.

Further to this, the school trips market has continued to provide trips that nourish students’ language learning outside of the classroom; with independent schools reporting uptake in Erasmus projects and partner school swaps.

Although there are both declines in school trips (due to funding), as well as increases (due to pushing languages as a valuable skill for later life) – it can’t be argued that trips abroad don’t benefit students’ language learning.

This is particularly true with senior school students who find the relationship with their language tutors are stronger, coupled with popular trips and enrichment events which encourage them to take language onto further education.


How our staff feel about the decline in language learning

Many of the sales and operations staff within Rayburn Tours studied languages in school and then progressed onto further education. For them, the decline in students taking languages in schools was a real concern, as they felt their own language education had been incredibly beneficial; not only to their education but to their personal development.

Lauren, one of our Educational Tour Consultants, said:

“It’s so sad to see students being put off by the difficulty of learning a language. Being given the opportunity to study and work abroad is an immeasurable experience with so many life skills learnt.”

She explained that being able to travel and learn about other cultures inspired her to learn Spanish, which she now uses on a daily basis here at Rayburn Tours.

Richard, one of our Educational Tour Co-ordinators, studied abroad for a year near Frankfurt:

“It was a special experience and the reaction from locals when you speak to them in their language (even if you do make a few mistakes!) is great. The chance to meet new people from a lot of different countries was brilliant and I made a lot of great friends”.

Whilst Richard’s love for learning German was born from a school exchange programme when he was thirteen, with only a few phrases under his belt, staying with a German family really gave him the confidence to pick it up fluently – and subsequently returned to visit his German family nearly every summer through his teens!


Do the recent trends from the language report represent the state of play of foreign languages in your school? Do you offer language trips as a way to keep students engaged with language learning? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tweet us @RayburnEdu using #languagetrends.