BBC News is reporting that teaching of French and German in UK schools has dropped by half since 2013. (www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47334374) In 2017, the study shows that in thirty seven English local authorities there were fewer pupils taking GCSEs in foreign languages than at just one public school – Eton.

However this trend isn’t causing too much concern for the UK intelligence services  that rely on foreign language ability. This is for several reasons. First, the drop in teaching is mainly in French and German. While knowledge of these languages can be useful in demonstrating linguistic aptitude during the recruitment process, most officers are assessed and then re-trained in more useful languages once they have joined. Second, rates for Mandarin and Spanish remain healthy. These are arguably two much more useful languages given likely targets for recruitment and interception. Third, the recent influx of immigrants to the UK, which was one of the prime negative factors in the recent Brexit decision, has actually had some positive effects. Speakers of Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages are much more readily available for recruitment than they were even thirty years ago. This is providing a valuable pool of both linguistic ability and ethnicities for cover roles.

However, senior management of the services is unlikely to be affected. More than 70% of senior management is still drawn from the UK’s private school system.

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