Boys studying modern foreign languages at GCSE in schools in England

This new report from UK think tank Education Policy Institute looks at foreign languages at GCSE.

The uptake of modern foreign languages at GCSE is the only English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subject to have a distinct gender gap. This research from EPI finds that only 38 per cent of boys had taken GCSE languages in 2018, compared to 50 per cent of all girls. The divide is now so large that gender has become a greater predictor of success in GCSE languages than the disadvantage gap: a female pupil from a poorer background is more likely to outperform a male pupil from a more affluent background. With the ambitious government target of ensuring 75 per cent of students study the core group of academic EBacc subjects, the gender gap in language entries needs to be addressed. The report also examines which schools are ‘beating the odds’ by seeing boys perform well in GCSE languages. 37 schools were identified by the study as beating the odds in 2017/18 by boosting the performance and participation level of boys for language entry at GCSE. Although these schools were expected to have lower language attainment, due to their pupils’ backgrounds, they had performed considerable well. Schools had been successful in ensuring higher entries of boys into languages through their curriculum structure, senior management practices and teaching approaches. It was found that inclusivity in language learning is key to improving boy’s entry levels into modern languages; including language learning for pupils of all abilities. The report suggests that further research is required to recognise the overall benefit of studying a language at a young age, particularly when addressing its cross-curricular benefits in helping to improve literacy and numeracy rates. The report also calls on the government to clarify its position in the large gender gap of modern foreign languages, and if they wish to address it in the future.

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