School drops French for Spanish

Declining importance of language reflected in decision.

Spanish is to replace French as the compulsory language at a leading Midlands independent school – after more than 450 years. The controversial decision by Solihull School highlights the relative decline in the importance of the French language.

David EJJ Lloyd, headmaster of the independent co-educational school for 7 to 18 year olds, said that 400 million people around the world spoke Spanish, compared to just 130 million who use French. “Of course, we are very well equipped to teach French – an official language in more than 32 countries – and enjoy much success at both GCSE and A Level, but Spanish and German are also thriving and French is no longer the compulsory modern foreign language here.”

The headmaster admitted that the decision may not be popular in all quarters, but said that he was not prepared to retain the status quo simply because of what other schools taught or the readier availability of French teachers. “The essence of the debate is a rationale for learning one specific language over another. French has its place for a number of valid and justifiable reasons, but aren’t those same arguments for Spanish every bit as true, if not more so? Other than creating a generation of polyglots, which did not happen even when GCSE languages were compulsory, it is timely to have a discussion about which languages we offer and when and why we offer them.

“In my opinion, one thing is certain: because the infrastructures in the maintained and independent sectors strongly favour French, subtle turns of an institutional juggernaut will have little or no impact. What may well work, on a local level, is to contemplate doing it differently from the bottom up so that we look ahead to a time when our pupils leave school more ready than ever to thrive in an ever-changing, globalised way of life.”

As from September, Spanish will be compulsory for all pupils in the Junior School. Then, from September next year, it will replace French for Year 7 pupils and afterwards be introduced year on year further up the school.