'If they are going to University, they are gonna need a language GCSE’: co-constructing the social divide in language learning in England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite increasing evidence of the UK language learning crisis, and the social divide between those opting for language study, or not, we know little about the language policies of individual schools might contribute to these phenomena. Little evidence exists on schools’ stakeholders’ views (senior management, language teachers, students) on the purposes for language study, and the relation of such views to language policies, in specific schools. This article reports on interviews and focus groups undertaken in four schools in the north of England, an area with low uptake of language learning beyond the compulsory age. In each school, focus groups with students (aged 13/14), and interviews with language teachers and senior management, were undertaken. Thematic analysis and corpus linguistics analyses were undertaken, using NVivo. Results reveal that students from all school types, including in areas of relative deprivation, rate and value languages. School management, however, may articulate a wide range of possible rationales for languages, but tend to devise and justify their language policy with reference to performance-driven pressures, academic and social background of their schools’ intake, and purported professional aspirations of their students. In this manner, language learning opportunities are shaped by social and academic school characteristics, rather than student preferences, contributing to the social divide in language learning in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-143
Number of pages15
Early online date22 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Language Policy

Cite this