Teachers cry foul at move to lift language teaching

LONDON (Reuters) - The government published revised school performance tables in England on Wednesday to try to boost the number of teenagers studying foreign languages, but teachers attacked them as meaningless.

The number of students taking exams in foreign languages has plummeted since the former Labour government made it optional to study such subjects at GCSE level, taken by pupils aged 16.

Education Secretary Michael Gove hopes to spark a revival in language learning with a new ranking that judges schools by the number of pupils doing well in GCSE exams in five specified subjects including a foreign language.

Teachers said the new measure, only announced in draft government legislation last November and after last summer’s exams season, was retrospective and meaningless.

They said it would unfairly rank schools which had been concentrating on meeting the existing government targets in English and maths GCSE exam performance.

“You can’t have schools judged against criteria that were not previously in place,” said National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower.

“This will significantly disadvantage some schools, as they will not have been geared up to doing, for instance, a modern language,” she added.

The new ranking is a broader measure, dubbed by Gove the “English baccalaureate,” that rates schools by the number of pupils who get good marks at GCSE in a foreign language, a science, and history or geography, as well as in English and maths.

Gove said the new rating would add breadth and depth to the performance tables, which have been criticised for distorting teaching priorities and encouraging schools to game the system.

“This is just shining a light on the system,” Gove said.

“I hope it will spark a debate about which subjects we should be concentrating on,” he added.

Many schools in poorer catchment areas had entered their pupils for less-academic vocational subjects which at one point each counted in the tables for as much as four GCSE exams.

In Wednesday’s tables many state-funded schools with strong ratings for the proportion of students achieving good grades in English and maths sank down the rankings once marked against the wider English baccalaureate test.

Just 16 percent of pupils in England qualified for the baccalaureate measure, compared to 54 percent meeting the existing English and maths target. (Editing by Keith Weir)