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Tackling decline in modern foreign languages

3 December 2015

Students stood around globe

Welsh universities announce major new scheme

“In a world where monolingualism is the exception, our young people are increasingly disadvantaged” - four Welsh universities announce programme to tackle ‘serious decline’ in MFL take up

A new scheme aimed at tackling the ‘serious decline’ in the take up of modern foreign languages by school pupils in Wales will today be announced by four Welsh universities.

Initially a pilot, the major intervention is aimed at increasing the take up and attainment of modern languages at secondary schools across the country. It is funded by the Welsh Government as part of its Global Futures strategy aimed at supporting modern languages in schools in Wales.

Under the new scheme, modern foreign language (MFL) undergraduates at Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities will be recruited and trained as student mentors and coaches and will be partnered with school students in their respective areas.

Each undergraduate will undergo a rigorous assessment process and training with specialists in student mentoring. They will be partnered with committed schools in the areas surrounding their university in close collaboration with regional educational consortia.

Each partner school will be assigned student mentors who will be matched with Key Stage 3 mentees and classes. Student mentors will undertake weekly mentoring and coaching sessions for their pupil mentees on a one-to-one and group basis across next academic semester.

The new scheme builds on existing work taking place between universities and schools in Wales, including the Routes into Languages Cymru programme, through which universities engage in outreach programmes with pupils in local primary and secondary schools.

The new mentoring approach has been chosen due to the ‘striking impact’ of a Student Language Ambassadors scheme, which saw students take part in summer schools careers talks with pupils. In summer 2013, schools which hosted the talks achieved 17.5% more MFL entries at GCSE level than those schools which did not.

As well as creating sustainable links between HE MFL departments and secondary schools, the scheme will offer employability experiences and opportunities to MFL undergraduates.

Professor Claire Gorrara, Head of Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages and academic lead for the project, said: “Although Wales is a bilingual nation, the number of school students taking at least one modern language at GCSE has declined from 55% in 1995 to approximately 22% in 2013. This, in the context of a growing body of evidence showing that a decline in modern foreign language uptake in secondary schools curtails educational, training and career opportunities for young people from Wales.

“And it’s not just a Welsh problem, either; a similar decline is evident in Northern Ireland. England and Scotland are making their own headway due to their own policy approaches. While modern languages face an uncertain future in Wales, partnership initiatives, such as this student mentoring initiative, are addressing this problem and supporting the development of a more internationally-mobile and culturally-informed workforce for Welsh economic growth.”