Getting an A grade in A-level languages just became easier

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Sixth-formers stand a better chance of scoring a top grade in A-level languages courses this summer after an adjustment was made to grading.

As part of an attempt to help non-native speakers, England's exams regulator Ofqual has asked exam boards to alter the grade boundaries for A grades and above by one percentage point.

The move, which has been welcomed by school leaders, applies to French, German and Spanish.

In a letter to headteachers earlier this summer, the regulator said: "We have recently published research on the effect of native speakers in A-level French, German and Spanish.

"The evidence is not conclusive, but it does suggest that the proportion of native speakers taking these qualifications may have increased in recent years, as the overall entry has declined.

"Informed by this research, we believe there is a case for making a small upward adjustment to the predictions used to set grade A, and we will implement this for the summer 2017 A-levels."

The decision means, for example, that, all things being equal, if an exam board predicts that around 25% of German A-level students would be expected to get a grade A or above, the awarding body should be looking at around 26% of candidates achieving this result.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: "Essentially we see this as the first step to addressing an issue which we have been concerned about for some time, which we have termed the 'severe grading' in modern foreign languages (MFL). 

"We believe the evidence indicates that it is much more difficult to get a high grade in modern languages at both A-level and GCSE than in other subjects.

"It shouldn't be significantly more difficult to get a top grade in French, German or Spanish than in geography, history or sociology."

He added that ASCL is anticipating that there would be an increase in top grades in these languages this year as a result of the adjustment.

The move comes amid concerns that not enough young people are learning foreign languages.

A Press Association analysis shows a decline in the numbers studying languages traditionally offered by schools, such as French and German, to GCSE and A-level.

It does indicate that Spanish has grown in popularity in recent times along with other courses, such as Arabic and Chinese.

The analysis of A-level data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) shows the numbers of entries for French and German A-level dropped by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2016 (French down 26.7% and German down 25.6%).

There has been an 11.2% rise in the numbers taking Spanish over this period, while entries for other modern languages rose 2.9%.

Available figures show increases in languages such as Arabic and Italian at A-level in the past three years.

Teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to receive their A-level results next week.