£1.1m plan to immerse non Welsh speaking children in the language
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet has backed plans worth £1.1m to establish more Welsh language immersion centres for school children not already fluent in the language.
The Welsh Government funding will see the improvement of existing resources at Porthmadog, with plans to set up within Ysgol Eifionydd, as well as new centres at Tywyn and a yet to be determined venue in Bangor.
Covering both primary and secondary aged pupils, the centres support non-Welsh speaking children by immersing them in the Welsh language and helping develop their skills before enrolling in the county’s schools, which mainly provide their education through the language.
Welcoming the opening of a new centre in Bangor, local councillor Catrin Wager said: “With Bangor’s demographic being quite different with more movement back and forth in terms of population, opening a centre in the city provides the best opportunity of learning the language and is excellent to see.”
While the funding will allow the setting up of two new centres, it will also see the closure of the existing facility at Penrhyndeudraeth with children to attend centres in Dolgellau or Porthmadog in future, although no staff losses are expected.
In another change, it’s expected that the classes will run four rather than five days a week, for between eight and 10 weeks, with pupils to attend their designated school for the remaining school day.
This had prompted concerns by some councillors during the scrutiny process, with Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd fearing it could make it difficult for fluent fellow pupils to speak Welsh with them in future out of habit.
But officers, during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, said that teachers had generally backed the move, also feeling it would make it easier to reassure parents of the merits of sending their children to the centres if a link was maintained with their school during that initial phase.
Decision makers were also told that immersion centre staff would be on hand to assist pupils during their days spent at school, until they sufficiently pick up the language.
According to Gwynedd Council, the revamped service will also support those who need an extra boost to increase their confidence using Welsh at school, extend the provision to more users and help parents and guardians to understand the value of Welsh-medium education.
Cllr Cemlyn Rees Williams, the cabinet Member for education, said: “There is no doubt that we in Gwynedd have led the way over the past decades in ensuring that children and young people who move to the county acquire the Welsh language and succeed in integrating into Gwynedd’s bilingual education system.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to recent conversations on this vision, including elected members, school headteachers, staff and pupils. The comments and experiences that have been shared have been so important as we shape the vision for the future.”
As a result of the move, the county’s six immersion centres will be based at Bangor, Eifionydd (Porthmadog), Tywyn, Maesincla (Caernarfon), Llangybi and Dolgellau.
Cllr Williams added: “The aim now is to develop a state-of-the-art immersion system and prioritise the needs of learners and ensure that the system is suitable for years to come.
“The new system will enable pupils to develop Welsh language skills, succeeding and thriving in our schools and becoming confident bilingual speakers.
“We have very exciting plans that will ensure pupils benefit from the best possible support and experiences. We will now move ahead with the important detailed work on the proposals to introduce new modern facilities in the Bangor and Tywyn areas.”
The intention is for the new system and facilities to be in place by September 2022.