A Minister spending his or her entire working life in the world of professional politics – from research intern onwards – will never have much need of a foreign language. After all discussing ‘Endogenous growth theory’ in Spanish is quite a turn off. For someone who has managed a business, however, a foreign language may be vital to success.
When, in 2004, this nincompoop government decided to make the study of languages optional, it struck most sensible people that this would inevitably lead to the extinction of language teaching in State Schools. Only the speed with which this prediction came true was not foreseen. In 1997 some 80% of pupils were taking a GCSE in French, Spanish or German. Even before the daft decision in 2004 to make studying a modern language voluntary this figure was in decline. Today just 48% of students are studying a foreign language. Just 28.7% of students aged 16 are doing French,11.5% German and the rest mostly Spanish or some other language.

There will be a number of consequences to this barmy decision.

Firstly most jobs which require a second language will soon only be filled by those from Independent Schools whose language students will be getting, by and large, good grades at GCSE and then going on to do at least one language at ‘A’ level. If the trend of declining language teaching in the State Sector continues at this rate, it will not be long before State School pupils are largely effaced from the list of applicants for jobs requiring a second language.

Secondly, once the infrastructure of language teaching becomes largely dismantled in the State Sector, how many language teachers will opt for what is left of it, given that they will inevitably be marginalized and faced with reduced career opportunities? After all, being Head of the Modern Languages Department is a good marker on a CV. Being a solitary language teacher in a Comprehensive is hardly the way to let your light shine.

The answer is: few. And those good ones who would have opted out of a sense of public service to teach in State Schools will now go into the private sector which will quickly skim off the cream of the crop. And once the infrastructure is gone it will be very hard to put it back, not lease because, again within a short period, the actual number of language teachers will have diminished to suit the market. Language teachers do not grow on trees.

Thirdly how are Universities going to view the large numbers of pupils who may have a good grade in ‘media studies’ or whatever, but have no knowledge of a language? Inevitably they are going to be more interested in someone who have some knowledge of and interest in a foreign culture. Again the Independent Sector will be advantaged. In addition the language schools of Universities will become largely state-school pupil free. How does that square with this government’s desire to get more state school pupils into university?

Fourthly some jobs, such as those in the Diplomatic Service, Banking, will largely become state school pupil free: how does that fit with the sort of meritocratic society which Labour would have us believe they espouse? How does it fit with their constant bleat that they want to have an education system which equips our people with all the skills for the modern world?

Fifthly how is this going to make us a nation which is best able to compete with the rest of Europe, indeed with the rest of the world? Those who would take advantage of the free movement of labour within the Union will now be restricted to those from Independent schools and those state schools that insist on staying in the modern languages game. The rest will become UK-bound wage slaves.

This particularly stupid decision was unbelievable at the time it was taken. It consequences are fast becoming obvious. It tells you so much about the modern Labour Party, so many of whose ministers have never existed in the real world outside the Westminster bubble where a foreign language is no real advantage and have never had to run a business where it is. It shows no sign of being reversed.

So much then for ‘education, education, education!’ which we now can see was just another empty slogan parroted to win power.