Too few teenagers are gaining the very best grades in foreign languages, England’s exams regulator has suggested.
Ofqual has raised concerns that “relatively few” A* grades are being awarded in subjects such as Spanish, French and German, when compared with other subjects where a high proportion of A grades are given.
There are also “variations” in the proportions of A* and A grades awarded each year in different subjects, the regulator said in its new corporate plan for 2013-16.
It said it planned to address both issues, and make improvements “so that standards are as comparable and consistent as possible”.
Ofqual’s plan comes just days before about 300,000 sixth-formers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results.
The report, which sets out Ofqual’s aims up until 2016, looks at Government plans to reform GCSEs and A-levels in England, and how the regulator will implement the changes.
It says that Ofqual does not plan to “recalibrate” standards when new A-levels, expected to be in subjects such as English, science, maths, history and geography, are introduced in September 2015.
But it adds: “There are two features of performance standards at present that we plan to address.
“First, relatively few A* grades are awarded in modern foreign languages when compared with other subjects with a high proportion of A grades. Secondly, there are variations in the proportion of A* to A grades awarded at A level each year in subjects.
“We plan to evaluate both of these features and to make improvements so that standards are as comparable and consistent as possible.”
Last year’s A-level results showed a larger gap between the proportions of students getting an A* and an A in foreign languages than other subjects.
The data showed that 39.4 per cent per cent of entries for A-level French last summer were awarded an A* or an A last year, with 6.8 per cent of entries getting an A*. In Spanish, 36.5 per cent of entries got an A* or A, with just 6.8 per cent of entries getting an A*. And in German, 41.4 per cent got at least an A, with 7.9 per cent awarded an A*. In comparison, in maths, 43.9 per cent of entries got an A* or A, with 17.4 per cent of entries awarded the top A*, while in further maths 57.4 per cent of those taking the subject got at least an A, with 28.6 per cent of entries getting an A*.
Relatively high proportions of students were awarded the top grade in physics, the figures also showed. Some 31.9 per cent of all entries for the subject got at least an A, with 9.9 per cent of all entries getting an A*.
Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University said: “The explanation is relatively straightforward, it’s in the nature of the subjects. When it comes to foreign languages, there’s an element of interpretation. You can be very good and get an A, but you may not have the fluency of a native speaker.”