The leader of an independent school in Leeds has warned young people they will need to learn to speak another language or risk social isolation after Brexit.
Sue Woodroofe, principal of The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL), is calling on educators and the Government to act now if the UK is to flourish on the international stage when Britain leaves the European Union. Writing in the latest edition of Attain, a magazine for independent school parents, heads and teachers, she warns that the falling numbers of students learning a language in schools has left the country exposed and facing an uncertain future in the world of business, diplomacy and security.
Mrs Woodroofe, who joined the school 18 months ago after 10 years at the British School of Brussels, said: “To get round this skills shortage we have relied on other EU nationals to plug the gap and act as our translators when it comes to negotiating deals, or expected everyone else to speak English.
“However we can’t depend on this goodwill forever and there is an urgent need for the Government to re-think its policies on language learning in schools if we are to survive outside of the EU.”
The numbers of pupils taking a foreign language at GCSE dropped dramatically after the Labour Government ended compulsory language lessons for 14 to 16-year-olds in 2004 and this has had a knock-on effect at A-level and degree standard, Mrs Woodruffe said. During that time language learning has almost halved: in 1998, 85.5 per cent of all candidates took a GCSE in a foreign language but by 2015, numbers had fallen to 47.6 per cent.
Mrs Woodroofe believes that in the independent education sector, where languages continue to be offered at all levels, students will be better placed than most to take advantage of the opportunities speaking someone else’s language offers. However she says independent schools need ensure this is not just a privilege offered to the lucky few.