Speaking French, German or Spanish like a five-year-old will win pupils GCSEs – as topics are dumbed down to ‘phrasebook’ learning under government reforms, critics say
French, German and Spanish GCSEs are being dumbed down to ‘phrasebook’ learning under government reforms to make them more accessible, it was claimed yesterday.
Teenagers in England will be expected to learn up to 1,700 frequently used words in a curriculum overhaul.
The Association of School and College Leaders says that pupils should have a 2,000-word ‘basic threshold’ after learning a language for five years in order to feel they are making progress, The Telegraph reports.
Ministers hope the move will boost the take-up of languages in schools, making it ‘clearer’ what pupils will need to know in their exams.
French, German and Spanish GCSEs are being dumbed down to ‘phrasebook’ learning under government reforms to make them more accessible, it was claimed yesterday
But private school head teachers warned of a widening ‘academic step up’ for pupils who wish to take the subjects at A-level.
And Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, attacked a ‘dilution in standards’. He said: ‘We’re back to phrasebook language learning which might enable children to order an ice cream in Benidorm or in Paris but little more than that.’
He added: ‘This is a massive dumbing down. In comparison with what’s going on in other countries, we are miles behind.’
The Department for Education (DfE) yesterday announced the updated curriculum, designed to make language subjects ‘more accessible and attractive’.
Teenagers in England will be expected to learn up to 1,700 frequently used words in a curriculum overhaul
Revised French, German and Spanish GCSEs will test teenagers on common conversational and written vocabulary, as well as grammar and pronunciation.
Pupils will be assessed on 1,200 ‘word families’ at foundation tier and 1,700 at the higher tier, which is sat by the brightest.
An example of a word family is ‘manage’, ‘managed’ and ‘manages’. At least 85 per cent of phrases will be taken from a language’s 2,000 most frequently used words.
A DfE consultation on the proposals, which received more than 1,600 responses, highlighted concerns around introducing a prescribed list of words.
Many respondents were worried youngsters ‘would not be exposed to a large enough vocabulary… to be able to communicate effectively’. Others were concerned that stipulating numbers of words would ‘disadvantage’ English teenagers compared with their European peers.
But the DfE consultation document argues: ‘The definition of word families is broader than that of individual words… this change means the number of words on which students can be assessed is higher.’
Ian Bauckham, chairman of the modern foreign languages review and also of regulator Ofqual, defended the overhaul. Writing in the Times Education Supplement, he said that ‘being clear about vocabulary that needs covering will make sure that students know the most commonly needed words’.
The reformed GCSEs will be taught from September 2024, with first exams in 2026.