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posted on 10th March 2021

Thousands of students are at risk of losing any chance of achieving the qualifications for which they have studied because of a government “blind spot” on ‘community’ languages.

A new report from the think tank Global Future and supported by the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE) today calls on ministers to make an emergency grant of no more than £3 million to allow them to sit exams privately in the absence of teacher assessments.

This urgent action is required to correct a gross injustice for individual students which disproportionately affects BAME communities. The report goes on to argue that failure to act will mean the Government is actively undermining the UK’s prospects of building stronger links with emerging economies after Brexit. 

  • In 2020, A-Level grades for ‘community’ languages ranging from Chinese, Bengali and Gujarati to Polish, Greek and Turkish dropped 41%. Those for GCSEs fell by 28%.
  • This meant over 12,000 fewer students were given the chance of a qualification compared to the year before. 
  • This occurred because students studied these languages outside mainstream schools and their teachers were not recognised by watchdogs as being able to make assessments to award grades. 
  • With no concrete changes proposed in the Government’s recent consultation response to exams for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 20211, thousands more are at risk of being denied their qualifications this summer. 

Today’s report, Silenced Voices, argues that this reflects a deeper, broader bias against ‘community’ languages in the UK which is having a lasting impact on students from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. 

These languages have been a vital component in social mobility and denying people the chance to obtain an extra qualification is damaging their chances to win places at university or be appointing to well-paid jobs.  

The bias against these languages extends to supplementary schools, which operate with no statutory funding and are mostly run by volunteers on shoe string budgets. Despite excellent pass rates, they are still being ignored or treated with suspicion. 

But these language speakers should be a phenomenal asset for the UK as it tries to maintain its global status and tradition of looking outwards to the world. Indeed, following Brexit, fully-qualified speakers of subjects like Urdu, Mandarin, Arabic and Japanese will be needed more than ever for trade, growth and exports.

These students are also crucial for national security and social cohesion. Valuing these languages as equals alongside others demonstrates respect for communities and creates a pool of talent to draw from for security operations both at home and abroad2.

The report calls on the government to guarantee that all students who have studied for a ‘community’ language GCSE or A-Level will be given the chance to earn a grade this summer. 

This means committing to make a maximum of £3million3 available in grants for those young people who have been denied access to entry by their mainstream school and who may not be able to afford a private alternative.

Longer term, the report makes five recommendations to end the bias against ‘community’ languages: recognition by authorities, connection to mainstream schools, training, quality development and investment.  

18-year-old Turkish A-Level student from East London Ria Isiksil4 said:

“It made me feel awful. I had spent years learning and weeks revising and it was all for nothing. I emailed and begged them to allow me to sit the exam. One teacher told me that a Turkish A-Level wouldn’t make any difference to my UCAS form anyway…. I see it as a form of discrimination or racism. The UK is ignoring a language that could help students get to where they want to be, but they are not allowed to do that.” 

Executive Director of the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education Pascale Vassie OBE said:

The massive fall in community language entries in 2020 has exposed not only the government’s lack of respect for ‘community’ languages but the outright discrimination against community-led learning.  This is shameful and, at a time when we need to pull together to ensure the country recovers after 12 months of disrupted education, massively damaging to our children’s future. The cancelling of the 2021 exams offers an opportunity to change direction and demonstrate fresh commitment to all languages and to finally acknowledge the important role of community-led supplementary schools as equal partners in the education of children.”   

Nuriye Mertcan, Vice Principal in Duke’s Aldridge Academy in Tottenham and Chair of the Turkish Language Culture and Education Consortium said:  

“It felt like a kick in the teeth. We are working hard. If you happened to come from a family that spoke German or French you would still get your grade in most cases but our children couldn’t. We were not spoken to by government…. There was no effort to reach out. I think we are looked at with mistrust. Other languages seem to be valued more; it’s a form of institutionalised bias.”

End Notes

  1. Decisions on how the GCSE, AS and A level grades will be determined in summer 2021
  2. These benefits have been outlined by the All Party Parliamentary Group on modern languages
  3. This figure is built on the assumption that half of the 30,000 students that take these qualifications each year may struggle to enter exams (a slightly higher rate than last year to be safe). If we therefore assume that 15,000 students need support and that the approximate cost of an exam in a private centre is £200, then we get £3m.
  4. Names of students have been protected on request and have been replaced with pseudonyms.

Notes for publication:

Interviews with students and teachers available on request.

Interviews from National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education executive director Pascale Vassie OBE are also available. 

For more information about the Global Future think tank, please visit www.ourglobalfuture.com   

For more information about the NRSCE, please visit:

www.supplementaryeducation.org.uk 

For all media enquiries please call Rowenna Davis on 07957981497 or email rowenna.davis@globalfuturepartners.com

ENDS

Read the full report