Ofqual is killing off modern foreign language education

GCSE pupils studying french language in a class at a secondary comprehensive school, Wales

‘Where’s the incentive to choose a language if you’re systematically made to feel rubbish at it?’ Photograph: Alamy

The education secretary is right that exams are “inherently stressful” – but for students taking a modern foreign language (MFL), the stress is disproportionate. They will have to sit excessively difficult exams and accept that their grade may well end up lower than their performance deserves. In a recent BBC survey, 76% of English schools reported that the perception of languages as “difficult” was the main reason behind the drop in pupils studying for MFL exams. Where’s the incentive to choose a language if you’re systematically made to feel rubbish at it?

National bodies ranging from the British Academy to the all-party parliamentary group on modern languages have called for action to address the languages crisis. Meanwhile Ofqual is killing off the subject in schools and universities by ignoring the evidence. Exams that are in some cases more difficult than first-year university language exams; severe and unreliable grading; and assessment statistics that take inadequate account of native speaker participation – these have long been critical in driving demoralised learners and teachers out of the subject. French A-level entries in England have plummeted from 15,000 to 8,000 in a decade, German entries are now under 3,000, and university languages departments are struggling or closed.

Having wrongly decided in November that all’s well with modern foreign language A-levels, Ofqual is now consulting about GCSEs – vital to the pipeline for A-levels, degrees and teacher training. This time, Ofqual must listen. We, the undersigned university teachers, call on Ofqual to urgently adjust grade boundaries and implement proper quality control for MFL exams. No rescue mission can otherwise stop learners voting with their feet.
Prof Katrin Kohl Professor of German, University of Oxford
Prof Claire Gorrara Professor of French studies, Cardiff University, and chair of the University Council of Modern Languages
Renata Albuquerque Widening participation manager (languages &community), Soas University of London
Prof Seán Allan Head of the School of Modern Languages, University of St Andrews
Dr Inma Alvarez Doctorate in education programme leader, The Open University
Beatriz Arias Neira Language tutor in Spanish, University of Bristol
Dr Rocio Baños-Piñero Associate professor in translation, UCL
Dr. Catarina Barceló Fouto Lecturer in Portuguese studies, King’s College London
Dr Ulrike Bavendiek Senior lecturer, University of Liverpool
Dr Judith Beniston Associate professor in German, UCL
Dr Rosa Bercero Spanish instructor, University of Oxford
Prof Henk de Berg Professor of German, University of Sheffield
Dr Jaine Beswick Associate professor of linguistics, University of Southampton
Prof Stephanie Bird Professor of German studies, UCL
Dr Federico Bonaddio Reader in modern Spanish studies, King’s College London
Prof Guido Bonsaver Professor of Italian cultural history, University of Oxford
Dr Carole J.A. Bourne-Taylor Tutor and fellow in French, Brasenose College, Oxford
Prof Catherine Boyle Professor of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin Americanstudies, King’s College London
Prof Rebecca Braun Professor of modern languages and creative futures, Lancaster University
Billy Brick Languages centre manager, Coventry University
Dr Alice Brooke Associate professor in Spanish, University of Oxford
Dr Abigail Brundin Chair of modern and medieval languages, University of Cambridge
Anne Buckley Lecturer in German and translation studies, University of Leeds
Prof Charles Burdett Professor of Italian, University of Durham
Stefanie Burkert-Burrows College lecturer in German, New College and Oriel College, Oxford
Prof Daron Burrows Professor of medieval French, University of Oxford
Dr Aude Campmas Lecturer in French studies, University of Southampton
Fatima Cande Teaching fellow in Portuguese language, University of Southampton
Dr Joe Carson Department of French, University of St Andrews, Chair UCML Scotland
Eleanor Chiari Senior teaching fellow, School of European Languages and Cultures, UCL
Prof Sarah Colvin Schröder professor of German, University of Cambridge
Prof Ingo Cornils Professor of German studies, University of Leeds
Dr Sebastian Coxon Lecturer in German, UCL
Marta Crosby Senior teaching fellow in Spanish, University of Southampton
Prof Julie Curtis Professor of Russian literature, University of Oxford
Dr Stuart Davis Director of school liaison and outreach, University of Cambridge
Prof Marion Demossier Modern languages and linguistics, University of Southampton
Prof Stephanie Dennison Professor of Brazilian studies, University of Leeds
Dr Sheila Dickson Programme director and senior lecturer in German, University of Glasgow
Prof Joanna Drugan Professor of translation, University of East Anglia
Prof Martin Durrell Emeritus professor of German, University of Manchester
Prof Carolin Duttlinger Associate professor of German, University of Oxford
Judith Eberharter Teaching fellow in German, University of Leeds
Dr Tim Farrant Reader in French, University of Oxford
Dr Jo Fayram Senior lecturer in languages, The Open University
Dr Federico M. Federici Associate professor of translation studies, UCL
Prof Allyson Fiddler Professor of German, Lancaster University
Dr Helen Finch Associate professor in German, University of Leeds
Dr Mara Fuertes-Gutiérrez Head of Spanish, The Open University
Carmen García del Rio Learning and teaching languages coordinator, University of Dundee
Laurence Giraud-Johnstone Lecturer in French, University of the West of Scotland
Olga Gomez-Cash Head of department, Languages and cultures, Lancaster University
Dr Andrew Gosler Human sciences, University of Oxford
Prof Michael Gratzke Professor of German and comparative literature, University of Hull
Prof Nicholas Hammond Professor of early modern French literature andculture, University of Cambridge
Prof Seán Hand Deputy pro-vice-chancellor (Europe), University of Warwick
Xavière Hassan Lecturer in French, The Open University
Dr Derek Hird Senior lecturer in Chinese Studies, Lancaster University
Dr James Hodkinson Head of German, Warwick University
Dr Chris Homewood Lecturer in German and world cinemas, University of Leeds
Prof Claire Honess Professor of Italian studies, University of Leeds
Dr Geraldine Horan Senior lecturer in German language, UCL
Prof Stephen Hutchings Professor of Russian studies, University of Manchester
Prof Jennifer Jenkins Chair of global Englishes, University of Southampton
Dr Rasha Kadry-Soliman Lecturer in Arabic language, University of Leeds
Wolfgang Keinhorst Teaching fellow in German, University of Leeds
Prof Catriona Kelly Professor of Russian, University of Oxford
Prof Debra Kelly Professor of French and Francophone literary and cultural Studies, University of Westminster
Dr Simon Kemp Associate professor in French, University of Oxford
Andrea Klaus Senior teaching fellow in German studies, University of Warwick
René Koglbauer Dean (elect) of lifelong learning and professional practice, Newcastle University
Dr Michael Kranert Lecturer in sociolinguistics, University of Southampton
Prof Tom Kuhn Professor of twentieth-century German literature, University of Oxford
Dr Emmanuelle Labeau Head of French, Aston University
Prof Henrike Lähnemann Professor of medieval German, University of Oxford
Prof Adam Ledgeway FBA, Chair of modern and medieval Languages, University of Cambridge
Prof Karen Leeder Professor of modern German literature, University of Oxford
Dr Fernando León Solis Head of languages, University of the West of Scotland
Dr Javier Letrán Senior lecturer in Spanish, University of St Andrews
Prof Margaret Littler Professor of contemporary German culture, University of Manchester
Prof Jonathan Long Head of the school of modern languages and cultures, Durham University
Dr Imogen Long Lecturer in French, University of Hull
Dr Laura Lonsdale Associate professor of Spanish literature, University of Oxford
Prof Martin Maiden FBA, MAE statutory professor of the romance languages, University of Oxford
Prof Stefan Manz Professor of German and global history, Aston University
Anne Markovic Teaching fellow in German, University of Leeds
Prof Philippe Marlière Professor of French and European politics, UCL
Florence Maw Non-stipendiary lecturer in French, St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Prof Patrick McGuinness Professor of French and comparative literature, University of Oxford
Dr Ana de Medeiros Director of the modern language centre, King’s College London
Silke Mentchen Senior language teaching officer in German, University of Cambridge
Prof Michael Moriarty Drapers professor of French, University of Cambridge
Dr Joanna Neilly Associate professor of German, University of Oxford
Dr Emily Oliver Leverhulme early career fellow, Modern Languages, University of Warwick
Dr Vivienne Orchard Lecturer in French, University of Southampton
Prof Mary Orr Buchanan chair of French, University of St Andrews
Dr Dora Osborne Lecturer in German, University of St Andrews
Prof Wen-chin Ouyang Professor of Arabic and comparative literature, Soas University of London
Prof Hilary Owen Professor of Portuguese and Luso-African studies, University of Manchester
Dr Darren Paffey Senior lecturer in Spanish and linguistics, University of Southampton
Prof Stephen Parker Professor in German studies, Cardiff University
Dr Jonathan Patterson Career development fellow in French, St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Prof Georgina Paul Associate professor in German, University of Oxford
Dr Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana Lecturer in languages, The Open University
Dr Stephan Petzold Lecturer in German history, director of German, University of Leeds
Helen Phillips Staff tutor Languages, The Open University
Prof Giuliana Pieri Professor of Italian and the visual arts, Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr Christine Pleines Lecturer in German, The Open University
Dr Elena Polisca Senior teaching associate in Italian, Lancaster University,vice-chair of UCML
Dr Hilary Potter Teaching fellow in German-English translation, University of Leeds
Prof Christopher Pountain Emeritus professor of Spanish linguistics, Queen Mary University of London
Prof Julian Preece Head of modern languages, Translation and Interpreting, Swansea University
Dr Kirsten Rathjen Lecturer in German, University of Leeds
Ana Reimão Lecturer in Portuguese, University of Liverpool
Prof Matthew Reynolds Professor of English and comparative criticism, University of Oxford
Dr Annie Ring Lecturer in German, UCL
Prof Ritchie Robertson FBA, Taylor professor of German, University of Oxford
Dr Birgit Röder Associate lecturer in German, University of St Andrews
Dr Klaus-Dieter Rossade Senior lecturer in German, The Open University
Dr Mark J.L. Sabine Associate professor in Lusophone studies, University of Nottingham
Christine Sas Head of department of Dutch, UCL
Dr Helmut Schmitz Reader in German, University of Warwick
Dr Rachel Scott PDRA – Language acts and worldmaking, King’s College London
Prof Naomi Segal Visiting Professor in French and German studies, Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Catriona Seth FBA, Marshal Foch professor of French literature, University of Oxford
Prof Ingrid Sharp Professor of German cultural and gender history, University of Leeds
Dr Linda Shortt Associate professor in German, translation and transcultural Studies, University of Warwick
Dr Indra Sinka Senior lecturer in education and language studies, The Open University
Dr Carlos Soler Montes Lecturer in Spanish, University of Edinburgh
Dr Scott Soo Head of French studies, University of Southampton
Jane Sowden Progamme leader BA Hons MFL and education, University of Sunderland
Prof Giuseppe Stellardi Associate professor in Italian, University of Oxford
Dr Ursula Stickler Senior lecturer in German, The Open University
Sascha Stollhans Senior teaching associate in German Studies, Lancaster University
Dr Katherine Stone Assistant professor in German studies, University of Warwick
Dr Helen J. Swift Director of undergraduate studies in modern languages, University of Oxford
Prof Stuart Taberner Professor in German, University of Leeds
Dr Ruairidh Tarvet Teaching fellow in German, University of Edinburgh
Prof Hannah Thompson Royal Holloway, University of London
Prof Isabel Torres Professor of Spanish golden age literature, Queen’s University Belfast
Prof David H. Treece Camoens professor of Portuguese, King’s College London
Prof Ianthi Tsimpli Chair of English and applied linguistics, University of Cambridge
Prof Annette Volfing FBA, Professor of medieval German studies, University of Oxford
Dr Caroline Warman Associate professor in French, University of Oxford
Prof Julian Weiss Professor of medieval and early modern Spanish, King’s College London
Prof Edward Welch Carnegie professor of French, University of Aberdeen
Prof Joachim Whaley FBA, Professor of German history and thought, University of Cambridge
Prof Seth Whidden Professor of French literature, University of Oxford
Prof Nick White Professor of nineteenth-century French Literature and Culture, University of Cambridge
Dr Ute Woelfel Programme director German, University of Reading
Jocelyn Wyburd Language centre, University of Cambridge
Gabriele Zagel-Millmore Teaching fellow in German, University of Leeds


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