|at GCSE has been described as a "catastrophe" for the country by headteachers.
Figures show the numbers plummeted by more than 64,000 this year, with French down 14.4 per cent to 272,140 and German 13.7 per cent to 105,288 as evidence grew of youngsters deserting core subjects for easier options. The take-up
of science subjects also fell by about 8,000.
Yesterday's results are the first
since ministers made foreign languages
voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds a year ago. An
even bigger slump is predicted next year when
the full impact on a two-year GCSE course
But this year's students
have scored the biggest rise in the percentage
of A* to C-grade passes awarded for 13 years.
They were up from 59.2 per cent to 61.2 per cent.
The number of A* and A-grade passes also rose,
by one percentage point to 18.4 per cent. The
overall pass rate went up by 0.2 percentage points
to 97.8 per cent. But the rise in top-grade passes
was partly due to weaker candidates in languages
being withdrawn from the exam.
This made the proportion of top-grade
passes in French and German higher, 60.3 per cent
compared with 53.7 per cent in French and 66.6
per cent compared to 59.6 per cent in German.
Dr Ellie Johnson Searle, the
chief executive of the Joint Council for General
Qualifications, the umbrella body representing
the exam boards, said: "The improvement [in
A* to C-grade passes] in part reflects the decline
in modern foreign language entries.
Less able candidates are increasingly less likely
to take these subjects."
Leaders of the country's two
state school headteachers' organisations and the
National Union of Teachers all demanded the Government
reverse its decision to make languages voluntary.
David Hart, the general secretary of the National
Association of Head Teachers, said: "The
collapse in languages is a catastrophe."
John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary
Heads Association, added: "Next year will
be lower. I think the figures are in free fall.
We are losing a generation of linguists."
Isabella Moore, THE director
of the Centre for Information on Language
Teaching, the national resource
centre for language teachers, said: "Language
learning has a unique contribution to make to
intellectual and social development. It enhances
employability and life chances."
Ministers are planning to boost
the take-up of languages in primary schools,
giving every child the right to study them from
the age of seven by 2010. But headteachers' leaders
said the results of this would not filter through
to GCSE until 2019. Heads also warned that schools
and pupils were "playing the system",
opting for softer subjects which would help their
schools do well in exam league tables by improving
their exam performance..
A rise in take-up of individual
science subjects such as physics, chemistry and
biology was more than offset by a drop of 65,000
in the numbers taking the GCSE double science
award. PE went up to 10,060 (7.5 per cent) to
144,194. Media studies also rose by 5,654
(13 per cent) to 42,483.
But ministers were heartened
by a rise in the number of top-grade passes in
the core subjects of maths and English. The A*
to C pass rate in maths went up by 1.7 percentage
points to 53.4 per cent, the largest rise for
five years. In English, it increased from 59.9
per cent to 60.9 per cent.
'I came out of the exam with a smile'
Armaan Genomal, 6, GCSE B-grade
A six-year-old boy who was celebrating
a GCSE in information and communication technology
said he wanted to grow up to be an inventor so
he could "touch clouds". Armaan Genomal,
from St John's Wood in north-west London, is said
to be the youngest recipient of a GCSE in the
country. He was awarded a B grade.
Armaan was in a class of eight
pupils aged just six and seven who took the exam
after studying with Ryde Teaching Services in
Bushey, Hertfordshire. He completed the course
in just nine months; it normally takes 16-year-olds
Armaan said: "It was quite
easy, actually. I came out of the exam with a
smile." He said he preferred the practical
parts of the course to the theory. "I really
liked the spreadsheets and things like that. I
checked my answers 19 times in the second exam."
Armaan now plans to turn his attentions to GCSE
French. "Then every time I go to France I
can speak their language."
Armaan's mother, Kavita, said
she was "very excited and proud" of
her son "whatever his grade". She added:
"He could read when he was two. Some kids
just have to learn things."
Mike Ryde, who tutored the boys,
said: ["The class] again demonstrated that
children of average ability can achieve academic
success regardless of age."
Girl who fought
to wear Islamic dress
Shabina Begum, 16, five GCSE
A Muslim girl who missed two
years' tuition and sued her school over the right
to wear full Islamic dress is celebrating five
top-grade GCSE passes.
Shabina Begum, now 16, completed
three years of GCSE study in just one year at
Putteridge High School in Luton after she was
sent home from her former school for wearing the
She took her fight to the Court
of Appeal where judges said the school had unlawfully
excluded her - denying her the right to practise
her religion or provide her with an education.
During the two years of legal
battles Miss Begum was kept away from school and
was only able to sit her exams when she moved
to a new school which allows the dress. Yesterday
she was celebrating a B grade in art and design
and C grade passes in English, maths, textiles
and religious studies.
Miss Begum said: "Considering
I missed two years and had to do everything on
my own, I am very proud. It was really difficult
for me, it was just down to hours and hours of
When she switched to Putteridge
High School, she was given the choice to drop
back a year to take her exams but decided to work
harder and complete them - thus staying with the
same age group.
She said she was "not too
sure" about her plans but added: "I
want to get into sciences, medicine or pharmacology,
something like that."