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In 2002, 76% of pupils in England were entered for a foreign language GCSE qualification. In 2017, the figure was 47%. A level entries have also declined, as have the number of foreign language teachers in the school workforce. Section 1 of this briefing discusses foreign language skills in England in the context of these statistics. It explores the potential reasons for the decline in the popularity of foreign languages and its potential cost to the UK economy—estimated at 3.5% of GDP. The briefing also summarises the views of the business community concerning the interaction between foreign language skills and the export potential of UK firms, and considers the future language requirements of the UK.

Section 2 considers the potential impact of leaving the EU on language skills in the UK, particularly on attitudes to language learning and the recruitment and retention of foreign language teachers. The briefing provides a summary of EU policies and programmes concerning the promotion of language learning. For example, it discusses Erasmus+, the EU’s programme for education, training, youth and sport. It has been estimated that by the end of the Erasmus+ programme’s current budget cycle in 2020, €1 billion will have been allocated to the UK and 250,000 people from the UK will have undertaken study or training abroad under the scheme. The UK Government has expressed its aspiration to keep membership of the EU’s educational programmes, such as Erasmus+, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It is possible the UK may be able to negotiate future membership in the Erasmus+ scheme, as several non-EU countries are current members. Finally, the future status of English as an official language of the EU is considered. Following Brexit, the population of the EU which speaks English as a first language will decline from approximately 13% to 1%. This has provoked speculation about the future influence of English within the institutions of the EU, and whether English will remain an official EU language.

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