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Girls ‘more likely to gain good foreign language GCSE grade than boys’ – UK Study

Chris Radburn/PA Wire

By Alison Kershaw

Girls are more than twice as likely to take a foreign language GCSE and get a good grade than boys, a new UK report has said.

Being male, from a poor background or having special educational needs makes a pupil less likely on average to gain at least a grade 4 (equivalent to a C under the old grading system) in languages, the study calculates.

The British Council, which commissioned the research, said action is needed to change the view that foreign languages are courses that only bright or rich children should take.

Researchers used UK government data for England to examine trends in the entry and attainment of boys in languages GCSEs and the schools where male pupils are beating the odds.

It concluded that a girl is 2.17 times as likely than a boy to achieve a grade 4 or above in a modern foreign languages GCSE, once factors such as disadvantage and previous achievement are taken into account.

"Being male, being disadvantaged or having identified special educational needs makes a pupil less likely, on average, to achieve a grade 4 or above in a modern foreign language GCSE," it says.

The report also claims that a pupil who is not identified as being disadvantaged is 1.75 times more likely to get at least a grade 4 than a disadvantaged youngster.

The study goes on to look at state-funded schools in England that are "beating the odds" - those that were predicted by the researchers to have lower language achievement among boys than the national average for all pupils but that, in reality, had achievement rates that were 10 percentage points higher for both boys, and disadvantaged boys.

It calculates that 574 schools out of 2,253 included in the research beat the odds for boys' GCSE entry and achievement at least once between 2013/14 and 2017/18.

Some 117 (five per cent) did so for three or more of the five-year period, and 11 did so for five years running.

British Council schools adviser Vicky Gough said: "By learning a foreign language, pupils develop skills to work with other cultures and people. These skills are essential for the UK's future in an increasingly interconnected world.

"Everyone should have the opportunity to learn a language and we are determined to break down the image of foreign languages being something only bright or well-off pupils should take."

Bobbie Mills, report author and senior researcher at the UK Education Policy Institute, said: "Foreign languages stand out among the government's core English Baccalaureate (EBacc) group as the only subject with a large gender divide.

"Boys trail girls on entries into GCSE languages while those that do take up the subject remain far behind on performance."

The EBacc is a measure that recognises pupils who take a suite of core academic GCSEs - English, maths, science, history or geography and a language.

Geoff Barton, UK general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Despite the best efforts of schools to dispel gender stereotypes, the fact remains that more girls choose creative arts and language GCSEs, more boys choose computing and technology subjects, and the attainment of boys lags behind girls in general.

"Schools are doing their utmost to address these issues and we welcome the research findings in this report in respect of languages."

Overall, the number of teenagers taking languages GCSEs has declined in recent years, particularly subjects such as German.

A UK Department for Education spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring more pupils are studying languages, which is why it is now compulsory in the national curriculum for all children between Years 3 and 9.

"The introduction of the EBacc also halted the decline in take-up of GCSE languages (with 47% taking a language in 2019, rising from 40% in 2010). The proportion of boys taking modern foreign languages at GCSE level has remained broadly stable over the period."

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