Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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School children limited by lack of opportunities to speak and listen to modern languages

Primary schools are making good progress in introducing languages to children, but there are significant barriers to good language learning in secondary schools, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. These obstacles include insufficient use of the chosen language in lessons and a drop in the numbers studying languages.


The report, ‘Modern languages – Achievement and challenge 2007-10’, recognises the significant efforts made to support languages – especially in primary schools – since Ofsted’s last languages report in 2008, highlights a number of weaknesses in the way secondary students are taught.

One of the main barriers to effective learning is a lack of opportunity for students to listen and communicate in the target language at secondary school. In particular, students had insufficient opportunities to talk in the chosen language in a realistic way. Inspectors also found teachers making insufficient use of authentic written material such as foreign language websites. Secondary schools were also not always building effectively on the progress made by children at primary school.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:   

“Young people can gain tremendously from learning an additional language, acquiring invaluable skills for their lives ahead, so it’s good to see the progress made in our primary schools over the last few years. However, too many students are failing to reach their potential, and do not choose to undertake more advanced study beyond 16, because of the way they are taught languages in many secondary schools.”

“To raise standards and increase enthusiasm for languages further, schools should address the areas of concern highlighted in this report. In particular, secondary schools should ensure their students get regular opportunities to speak and read realistic material in the target language so they build the confidence to use their skills in the world beyond the classroom.”

By 2010, primary schools should have provided an entitlement for Key Stage 2 pupils to learn a language; and we saw evidence this was happening. During the period of the survey, studying a language has been compulsory in Key Stage 3; in Key Stage 4, students are not required by law to study a language. Since languages were made non-statutory in 2004, the proportion of students at Key Stage 4 taking a language qualification has gradually declined from 61% in 2005 to 44% in 2010.

Schools had better take-up in Key Stage 4 when they gave their students a purposeful and enjoyable experience of learning a modern language in Key Stage 3. Students relished the opportunity to express themselves in the target language and to talk to or work with native speakers. The best schools also made productive use of websites, blogs and podcasts to build listening and reading skills and made good use of foreign language assistants.

Inspectors found primary schools were doing well in developing the teaching of modern languages and, as a result, their children really enjoyed the opportunity to learn a language. These children were often very enthusiastic, understood why learning an additional language is important, and developed a good awareness of other cultures. Inspectors saw that primary schools were improving their efforts to introduce languages to pupils, and in approximately two thirds of the schools visited they were making good or outstanding progress towards providing an entitlement for Key Stage 2 pupils. An increasing number of primary schools are providing languages, with the large majority of schools teaching French. In half the schools visited, pupils’ progress was at least good, particularly in speaking and listening.

Notes to Editors:

1. The report will be available on the Ofsted website

2. This report draws on evidence from survey visits conducted between 2007 and 2010 in 92 primary schools, 90 secondary schools and one special school. The primary and secondary schools were located in urban and rural areas across . More secondary schools with sixth forms and specialist language colleges were visited in 2009–10 than in the first two years of the survey. Evidence has also been drawn from primary school inspection reports, and from five further education and sixth form college inspections in 2009–10.

3. In 2008 Ofsted published The changing landscape of languages: an evaluation of language learning 2004/2007: The current report follows up the achievements since then and examines the remaining challenges.

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 5866 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359. Alternatively, please email



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