More than a quarter of WA's public primary schools no longer teach students a foreign language, even though four years ago all of them did.
Despite a Federal Government push to revive languages education in schools, Education Department figures revealed that 135 of the State's 516 primary schools had dropped language programs by last year. Language teaching used to be considered compulsory because the department's curriculum policy specified schools had to report outcomes from languages learning.
But the Education Department changed this policy in 2010 to allow primary schools to focus more on literacy and numeracy, which meant they could be "more flexible" on whether they had a languages program.
WA Primary Principals Association president Stephen Breen attributed the sharp decrease in schools teaching languages to budget cuts, difficulty finding language teachers and more focus on national literacy and numeracy tests.
"The high-stakes testing means there is more priority now on literacy and numeracy," Mr Breen said. "Therefore, principals would rather put another literacy program in than resource a language."
Modern Language Teachers Association of WA president Fulvia Valvasori said it was a "tragedy" so many schools had dropped languages.
Education Department Statewide services executive director Lindsay Hale said students should have a chance to study another language at some stage of their schooling. "The reasons schools may not deliver a languages program will vary from school to school," he said.
About 59,400 students studied an Asian language at a public primary or high school last year, compared with 61,000 the previous year. More than 48,000 took a European language, down from 50,000. About 5000 students studied an Aboriginal language.
Independent and Catholic school chiefs said almost all private schools offered a language.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed to increase the proportion of Year 12 students taking a foreign language to 40 per cent within a decade.
About 6 per cent of Year 12s in WA are studying a language at exam level this year.