Northern Ireland news

Irish overtakes French for first time as second most popular language at A-level

The study of languages in schools has declined significantly in the last decade

IRISH has overtaken French to become the second most popular language at A-level.

It comes amid a continuing rise in the number of pupils attending Irish language schools in the north, particularly in Belfast.

Spanish remains the most popular in terms of A-level entries, while Irish has now leapfrogged French into second.

The British Council in Northern Ireland acknowledged the change and urged schools to "prioritise language learning".

It has previously said language lessons in schools have been the hardest hit by Covid-19.

The study of modern languages has declined significantly in the last decade.

Just one in three primaries timetable languages while GCSE and A-level entries have plummeted.

At post-primary level, there is a wide variation in practice with the most favourable arrangements found in grammar schools. Post-16 provision has become increasingly vulnerable due to factors including very small class sizes and funding pressures.

This year's most popular subjects at A-level were maths, biology, health and social care, history and business studies.

Between 2010 and last year, entries for all the main modern languages declined at both A-level and GCSE.

French and German fell by 40 and 29 per cent respectively. Entries for Spanish and Irish also dropped by six per cent, while other languages saw numbers increase slightly.

But Irish entries are now rising again - from 315 up to 325.

French has fallen slightly from 333 to 322 entries.

Just 90 pupils took German, the same number as last year while Spanish dropped from 474 to 451.

Jonathan Stewart, director of the British Council in Northern Ireland, said the past year had been extremely challenging for schools and pupils.

Recent British Council research, he said, highlighted the disruptive impact of Covid-19 on the teaching and learning of languages.

"It's encouraging that numbers for A-level languages have remained relatively steady this year, but this has to be seen in the broader context of a huge decline over the past 20 years," he added.

"Spanish is still the most popular A-level language, but for the first time, Irish has overtaken French to become the second most popular language at A-level, which we predicted in our Language Trends survey earlier this year.

"As education begins to recover from the pandemic, it's essential that schools prioritise language learning and look to build back international opportunities and connections. The benefits of having language skills and an understanding of other cultures cannot be overstated, particularly as the UK renegotiates its place on the world stage."

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