In February, the British Academy unveiled its report Languages: The State of the Nation, which warned there was “strong evidence” a growing deficit in foreign language skills was present in the UK. Meanwhile, the European Survey on Language Competences released research by the National Foundation for Educational Research, which found English schools’ performance in foreign language skills fell someway behind that of other countries. As the internet increasingly opens up doors of communication with organisations, businesses and individuals based overseas, language skills have never been more in demand. Unfortunately, both of last month’s reports uncovered a lack of skills to meet this need. Could the solution to this problem lie in UK schools? Commenting in an article for the Guardian’s Teacher Network at the time, Professor Nigel Vincent – vice-president of The British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences – claimed the current supply and demand of language skills in the UK is “worrying”. However, the British Academy is on a mission to promote languages as essential skills, not only in business, but in politics, education and research as well. In fact, speaking another language is something that can benefit anyone living in a multicultural society. In a separate article for the Guardian’s Teacher Network this week, Tom Sherrington, head teacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford, says that there are a number of difficulties that need to be addressed in order to improve language education. By doing this, the UK may yet nurture the linguistic talent it requires to fulfil the country’s demand for language services. Last week, the CfBT Education Trust released the results of a nationwide survey on language teaching in primary and secondary schools, and revealed a “very wide spectrum of practice” and “lack of consistency” in results and teaching methods. However, since the English Baccalaureate table was introduced, education establishments have stepped up their commitment to languages. Increased uptake in languages among Year 10s was first noted in 2011 and it has been sustained since then. Despite this, no further steps have been taken to boost this take-up. It was revealed numerous schools had made language lessons compulsory up to GCSE, while many were also actively encouraging students to take up a language. Furthermore, teachers have backed examination reforms that would inspire more pupils to develop language skills and also hope to see greater promotion of the value of having these talents when entering the workplace. Yet change is still required, as at 23 per cent of primary schools staffs’ language qualifications did not exceed GCSE level, while in 8.5 per cent of cases there were no employees with any foreign language competence. More than a quarter of the schools surveyed also admitted they were not confident about providing language lessons to Key Stage 2 students (aged seven to 11). Because Key Stage 3 (Years 8, 9 and 10) has been reduced to two years in approximately 25 per cent of state secondary schools, students here are only taught languages for a couple of years if they do not decide to stick with the class for GCSE. Mr Sherrington says that more time needs to be dedicated to language lessons in the curriculum. At the moment, the Department for Education stipulates that two hours a week must be spent on foreign languages, but the head teacher claims “this just isn’t enough”. In addition to allotting more time to learning languages, Mr Sherrington says that the method of teaching needs to be revamped so it is not as formulaic. “Too often I’ve seen lessons in very good schools where students might learn a list of colours in isolation but could not say ‘the sky is blue’,” he explains. The Department for Education has said: “We are addressing the chronic lack of attention paid to foreign languages in schools.” However, Mr Sherrington says it’s not only restrictive guidelines that stand in the way of language learning, but also many teachers. “I’m sorry to say this but, for a lot of heads, language learning is not high on their list of priorities,” he notes. That’s why the British Academy has launched its second Schools Language Awards, which rewards educational establishments that have successfully encouraged great results in language learning among their students. In 2013, judges will be searching for schools that have come up with activities that motivate more of their pupils to take up languages and stick with the subject in higher education. Last year’s winner, Dallam School in Cumbria, was praised for practices that included teaching certain humanities classes in another language and setting up bilingual groups from year 7 up to GCSE age. As the world feels ever smaller, now is the time for the UK to start to catch up in the language race.