Socio-Economic Factors, School Type and the Uptake of Languages. Northern Ireland in the Wider UK Context

Leanne Henderson*, Janice Carruthers

*Corresponding author for this work

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The turning point for ‘languages for all’ is widely associated with the end of compulsory language learning up to age 16 in England (2004). Uptake has since dropped dramatically at both GCSE and A-Level where these examinations are used, i.e. in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (henceforth NI). There is also significant evidence that languages uptake is characterised by socio-economic inequalities but the evidence is strongest in England and particularly poor in NI. This paper opens by outlining the broad picture for languages around the UK, including the differing policy contexts and levels of uptake in England, Wales and NI relative to the size of the cohort in each jurisdiction. The core of the article uses new school-level entry data for NI in 2018 to explore the question of variations in uptake at GCSE and A-Level in relation to school-type and social deprivation indicators, notably ‘free school meal entitlement’ (FSME). Our findings show that stark inequities in access to language learning at Key Stages 4 and 5 are indeed attested in NI and take a very clear shape that is related both to school type and socio-economic profile. The paper also discusses the nature of these inequities and their implications for policy-makers in the devolved government.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)712-731
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage Learning Journal
Issue number6
Early online date10 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


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