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Covid-19 disrupts school language offer in England

A survey of teachers across more than 1,500 primary, secondary and independent schools in England has revealed the impact Covid-19 has had on language learning in the country.

French is the most popular language at Primary, Key Stage 3 and GCSE at schools in England. Spanish is the most popular A level language for the second year running. Photo: Unsplash

Some 71% of state schools in deprived areas reported a "big negative impact" on language learning, while 52% of schools in the most affluent areas said the same

The British Council Language Trends 2021 report found that the pandemic caused “significant disruption” in language learning.

During the first lockdown from March 23 to late June 2020, language teaching was discontinued at more than 53% of primary schools in England and two in five students aged 11-14 at secondary schools did not engage with language learning.

It also found that language teaching was suspended at one in five primary schools in January 2021 due to the pandemic.

Both primary and state secondary schools had recorded “significant declines” in international activities such as partnering with schools abroad, involvement in international projects and hosting language assistants, in addition to trips abroad.

A “surprising statistic” was that 64% of primary schools reported having no international activities in their schools, the report noted.

“The past year has been extremely challenging for schools and these findings highlight the significant impact of Covid-19 on the teaching and learning of languages,” said British Council schools adviser, Vicky Gough.

“As education begins to recover from the pandemic, it’s essential that schools prioritise language learning and look to build back international opportunities and connections.

“The benefits of having language skills and some understanding of other cultures cannot be overstated, particularly as the UK renegotiates its place on the world stage.”

“The benefits of having language skills and some understanding of other cultures cannot be overstated”

The survey also found that French is the most popular language at primary, Key Stage 3 and GCSE, Spanish is the most popular A-level language for the second year in a row.

Author of the Language Trends 2021 report, Ian Collen, noted that the most disadvantaged pupils are “most likely to have been negatively affected by the impact of Covid-19” and have experienced greater disruption to their language learning and fewer international opportunities.

Some 71% of state schools in deprived areas reported a “big negative impact” on language learning, while 52% of schools in the most affluent areas said the same. Just 16% of independent schools reported a “big negative impact”, the report found.

“Looking to the future, schools should consider giving more curriculum time to languages, as well as more opportunities to use languages in real life such as visits abroad,” he urged.

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