It has been revealed that only 48% of schoolchildren taking their GCSEs this year took exams in either French, German, or Spanish. This is down from 83% in 2000, and the fall in numbers has caused concern in some quarters. The Lib Dems, who, to their credit, unearthed the information, have been particularly vocal in their condemnation.
And rightly so. Languages (especially French) have been among the mainstays of the school examination system for decades. The fact that fewer than half of all pupils are now taking any of the major European languages even as far as GCSE should be cause for concern for all of us, particularly when one considers that a number of other traditionally important subjects (notably history) are now studied to GCSE level by only a minority of pupils. Ignorance is never a virtue, and I doubt that anyone will argue that the massive collapse in the learning of foreign languages (the extent and speed of which really is quite shocking) is a good thing.
But another story I read this evening caused a question to pop into my mind: why is it that the fact that most English schoolchildren are no longer taking exams in any foreign language (which, let's face it, most of them would have virtually no occasion to use during their adult lives) is generally acknowledged to be cause for concern, but that the idea of expecting skilled immigrants to this country to demonstrate their ability to speak English has been denounced as "racist" by a number of pro-immigration organisations?