In a dramatic U-turn, the government has announced it is working to save “community language” qualifications from being axed, including Gujarati, Punjabi, and Bengali.
The move follows the decision by exam boards AQA and OCR to scrap GCSEs and A-Levels in Polish, Modern Hebrew, Turkish, Portuguese, Dutch and Persian, as well as the three Asian languages.
A-Levels in Bengali and Punjabi were set to be abolished but would have still been offered at GCSE level. However, Gujarati was due to be dropped at both levels.
Education ministers have urged AQA and OCR to reconsider the move.
School reform minister Nick Gibb said all pupils should have the opportunity to study foreign languages as part of a core academic curriculum that prepared them for life in modern Britain.
He added: “There are some community languages which exam boards have said they need to discontinue at GCSE or A-level. We are now taking action and working with them and Ofqual to determine how these qualifications can continue.
“In an outward-facing country such as Britain, it is important that we have high-quality qualifications not just in French, German and Spanish, but also in languages such as Polish, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi and Turkish.”
Both boards responsible for the measure said they were making the cuts by 2017 because of changes to exam assessments and a shortage of experienced examiners needed to set and mark papers.
Daxa Parmar, a Gujarati and Sanskrit teacher based in Leicester who has been campaigning on the issue, told Eastern Eye: “I feel this is still a work in progress.
“At present there is confidence in these languages being sustained but I don’t know in what format that will be. There is a temporary relief that it is okay until 2018, but what about after that? We have no concrete way forward as yet.
“Language qualifications increases opportunity for courses and degree qualifications as it counts towards the UCAS points scheme. Employers also look for multi-lingual employees from the lesser used languages to enhance their businesses locally, nationally and internationally.”
In total, 625 students sat a GCSE exam in Gujarati in 2014, while only 19 pupils achieved an A-Level in the subject. With Punjabi A-Levels, 167 students were entered for the qualification, and 42 Bengali A-Levels were gained last year.
New methods of testing for modern foreign languages, including French, German and Spanish, are being introduced in September 2016.
The reforms are designed to make GCSEs more “robust and rigorous”, and will include more opportunities to speak and write spontaneously in the language, and a clearer focus on grammar and translation.
In addition, changes to A-Levels will take place which gives students more opportunities to speak and write spontaneously in the language, and offer greater engagement with themes directly relevant to the countries where the language is spoken.