Japanese language scholars have expressed concern at proposed plans that threaten to marginalize the teaching of Japanese at schools in England.

At issue are proposals to focus on a narrow range of foreign languages in English elementary schools and possibly remove examinations in Japanese for 16-year-olds, currently called GCSEs.

Japanese teachers and the Japan Foundation — an independent administrative agency that promotes international cultural exchanges between Japan and the rest of the world — have written to the Department for Education expressing concerns as part of the consultation process.

Under the plans, which relate only to English schools, pupils aged between 7 and 11 will, for the first time, be compelled to study at least one language from a list of six — French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish or a classical language, specifically Latin or ancient Greek.

Schools will still be free to teach other less-popular languages, including Japanese, but experts fear that by not including Japanese on the mandatory list could lead to a perception it is no longer important.

The changes are due to come into effect in September 2014.

Japanese scholars are also anxious about plans to change the GCSE exam system for 16-year-olds.

In its consultation document, the government questions whether it is still economically viable to have examinations in 24 separate languages.

The document lists nine foreign languages, which it implies should be retained, but Japanese is not included. Scholars argue scrapping examinations in Japanese would inevitably lead to schools dropping the subject.

There are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 pupils studying Japanese in more than 300 British schools, and more than 1,100 students each year take GCSE exams in Japanese.

The Japan Foundation asserts Japanese lessons and qualifications should be maintained in schools because they have proved popular and useful for students.

The organization notes that over the last 15 years the number of pupils taking GCSE Japanese has doubled.

Japanese currently ranks as the sixth most popular modern foreign language in schools and is shown to boost job prospects and salary levels in later life.

Tsuyoshi Takahashi, director general of the Japan Foundation, said it “makes little sense to restrict the choice of languages” between the ages of 7 and 11 because schools should be allowed to “teach to their strengths and make use of their existing teachers’ language abilities.”

Helen Gilhooly, who teaches Japanese at Aldercar Community Language College in Derbyshire, northern England, said restricting the choice of languages offered to young people “limits their horizons.”

She said Japanese has proved to be “amazingly motivating for pupils where European languages don’t always hit the spot. In addition, students with Japanese have done well in securing jobs.

“Young people often already have an understanding and interest in Japan through technology, culture, local friendships, art and fashion to name just a few, and so their enthusiasm to learn the language is a natural progression.”

Helen Langsam, who teaches Japanese at Hendon School, north London, has written to the Department for Education stating any plans to drop Japanese as a GCSE exam will have a “devastating impact” on her school, where 400 pupils currently study the subject.

“Japanese has been a life-saver and an inspiration for our students, many of whom come from very challenging backgrounds,” she said.

In a statement, the Department for Education said it is currently reviewing the responses it has received over the two proposals and will “set out next steps in due course.”