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British Academy comments on GCSE results and the need to strengthen the UK’s data and language skills

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The British Academy has welcomed discussions around the supply of maths teachers, sparked by the 2015 GCSE results, and expressed concerns over take up in foreign language GCSEs.

Improving the quality of quantitative skills teaching in schools and colleges was one of the key recommendations in the British Academy's recent report Count Us In. In a letter published in The Times, Professor Sir Ian Diamond FBA urged the government to address the numeracy crisis by transforming our approach to building numeracy, statistics and data analysis skills, in light of the discussions around maths teaching.

Sir Ian, Chair of the British Academy’s High Level Strategy Group on Quantitative Skills said:

“The current crisis in the supply of maths teachers is a real threat to the UK’s strengths in data skills – and ultimately to our global competitiveness as a nation. The British Academy was pleased to see this issue being aired, following its publication last month of Count Us In, an analysis of the supply of, and demand for, quantitative skills in the UK and an exhortation for the UK to rise to the challenge of developing skills for a data-driven economy.”

The Academy also expressed concern over foreign language GCSEs, where French showed the steepest decline since 2014 (after English Literature) for subjects with over 100,000 entries.

Professor Nigel Vincent FBA, language lead for the British Academy, said:

“It is disappointing to see a 6% overall decline in entries for language GCSEs this year – particularly in French and German, where the decrease is significant.

The outcome for other modern foreign languages however is somewhat mixed: there are declines in, among others, Russian, Bengali, Panjabi and Turkish but increases in entries for Arabic, Chinese, Polish and Urdu. Claims that, for those who have grown up with these languages, they offer an ‘easy route to a top grade’ and implications that this is in some way unfair are simply not true. There is a big difference between everyday spoken usage in the home and the ability to read and write a language, which is of course why all pupils are required to take, and if necessary retake, a GCSE in English.”

He added:

“Evidence too has shown that bilingual children often perform extremely well in other areas of the curriculum, such as mathematics and English, due to increased executive function – one of the many benefits of bilingualism. Furthermore, these languages are strategically important both within the UK and abroad, in terms of security, diplomacy, trade and business, and for social cohesion. We need to recognise that the rest of the world does not speak only English, so it is in our nation’s best interests to promote the study of all languages.”

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