Revitalizing Language Learning in England: UCL’s £15m Programme to Empower Disadvantaged Students and Prepare the Next Generation for Global Success

Finally! The UK government is taking action to tackle the alarming decline in the number of pupils taking foreign languages at GCSE and A-level. This is great news, and it’s about time that this issue was given the attention it deserves. I am thrilled to hear that the Department of Education has awarded a contract worth almost £15m to the University College London’s Institute of Education to develop and roll out a language programme in primary and secondary schools over the next three years.

This is a crucial step in addressing the systemic decline in language learning, and it’s heartening to see that the programme has a particular focus on increasing opportunities among disadvantaged pupils. The establishment of a National Centre for Languages Education (NCLE) made up of up to 25 lead schools specialising in languages is a fantastic idea. Working with up to 105 partner secondary schools, the NCLE will develop strategies to persuade more boys, pupils with special educational needs or disabilities, and other disadvantaged pupils to choose languages.

But that’s not all. The NCLE will also develop an online toolkit for teachers to improve curriculum planning and reliable assessment of language learning, which will improve the transition from primary to secondary school. This is a fantastic initiative, and it will help to ensure that more pupils have the opportunity to learn languages and develop valuable communication skills that are essential in today’s global economy.

I’m also delighted to hear that the government has recognised the importance of German language skills and has ringfenced £400,000 to develop them. This is a strategically important language to the UK, and it’s great to see that the IoE will work with trained German specialist teachers via the Goethe-Institut to increase the number of pupils learning German in both primary and secondary schools.

The announcement of a review of the syllabus for Chinese A-level to make it easier for non-native speakers and the separate £1.1m expansion to the Mandarin Excellence Programme are also very welcome. These initiatives will help to ensure that more pupils have access to language learning opportunities and can develop the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world.

Language experts have cautiously welcomed the announcement, and it’s essential that the government takes care to ensure that the new investment in both a Centre for Excellence and in German is not narrow in approach but is shaped by a wide and balanced range of research evidence and expertise.

Overall, this is fantastic news, and I hope that this initiative will go a long way in ensuring that more pupils have access to language learning opportunities and can develop the skills they need to succeed in the global economy. But there is still more to be done. The government must address modern foreign language teacher recruitment and ensure that universities stop shutting down language degrees and protect the year abroad. Let’s keep the momentum going and work together to ensure that language learning is given the priority it deserves.

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