People are blaming the changes in the national curriculum made a few years ago that allowed kids to give up their language classes at the ago of 14 whereas, for the previous decade or so (since I left school, more or less), it had been compulsory to study at least one language to GCSE level (age 16). Naturally, this would feed A Level entries (age 18) and, now that GCSE language entries have also nose-dived in recent years there are fewer pupils with the necessary entry qualifications to move onto the more advanced programmes. Add to this the huge rise in university tuition fees, which would stack up even more greatly for those wanting to take language based degree courses (4 years in the UK as opposed to the standard 3 for most subjects), and you can see language studies becoming more the exception than the rule.
Another reason, of course, is that as folk have commented on one of the UK newspaper sites I just looked at to get more details on the stats, learning a foreign language is no easy thing and so folk are avoiding the work involved and falling back on the excuse that 'everyone else is learning English anyway'. Even if that were true, what kind of lazy attitude is that??! Even getting a decent selection of adult education classes in many parts of the country is no mean feat. Here in Sheffield, there are plenty of French and Spanish classes to attend and some basic stuff in German and Italian and, having the Confucius Institute attached to the university here, there are plenty of opportunities to learn Chinese, but there isn't much more on offer than that - and this is the 4th largest city in England! Compare that to the wide variety of languages being taught in the German Volkshochschulen and it makes me almost want to pack my bags and emigrate! Brits are just inveterately lazy linguists. Not that we can't, we just won't.
Sad! Just too sad.
On the good side, a language GCSE is necessary for a pupil to gain the controversial new EBacc certificate (one wonders how long that will last!), so that may cause GCSE entries to rise somewhat. Also, it was of keen interest to me to see that entries for A Level Chinese have risen over 35% on last year's figures.=)
How things go in the world of further and higher education over the next few years will be interesting to watch...