Girls more likely to pass GCSE in foreign languages

Tuesday 28th January 2020 15:49 EST

A recent report has suggested that girls are twice as likely as boys to pass a GCSE in a modern foreign language. According to the report which was commissioned by the British Council just 38% of boys in England took a foreign language at GCSE in 2018, compared with about 50% of girls.

By using statistical modelling, the Education Policy Institute study found when factors like background and ability were accounted for, boys were 2.17 times less likely to succeed. 

Researchers used a set of characteristics to model the likelihood of different types of pupils achieving a pass in a language GCSE, finding different results for different groups. 

According to the research n most areas of education, the biggest achievement gap is between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers. A pupil's gender has the biggest effect on the likelihood of whether they will succeed in languages.

Boys, overall, had an odds ratio of 0.46, where one means success, while disadvantaged pupils had a ratio of 0.57.

The report also found that a girl from a poorer background was more likely to outperform a boy from a more affluent background in modern languages.

The report also notes that many schools enter large numbers of boys for modern language GCSEs for accountability reasons, but only a small percentage of them pass.

Researchers also highlighted that there was a need for a more inclusive, all-abilities approach as the reason behind the increase in boys studying and succeeding at languages in some successful schools. Overall entries in languages have seen a significant decline in recent years. The English Baccalaureate, a wrap-around qualification which requires pupils to sit GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, a humanities subject and a modern foreign language, aimed to address this decline.

The report urged the exams watchdog, Ofqual, to address the difficulty of languages at GCSE.  It has already said that French and German will be marked more favourably from 2020, after a review of grading. It should look at whether changes are required in other modern foreign languages, the report said.

The Department for Education said the introduction of the EBacc had helped halt the decline in take-up of GCSE languages, with 47% of pupils taking a language in 2019, up from 40% in 2010, and the proportion of boys remaining "broadly stable".

"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," an official said.

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