Concerns raised over progress towards Welsh Government target of a million Welsh speakers
Chris Haines – ICNN Senedd Reporter
MSs have raised concerns about progress towards the targets of a million Welsh speakers and doubling daily use of the language by 2050.
Jeremy Miles gave a statement to the Senedd to mark publication of an annual report on the Cymraeg 2050 strategy.
The education and Welsh language minister recognised that the latest census showed a decrease with 538,300 people aged three or older able to speak Welsh in Wales.
He stressed it is important to remember that the census doesn’t measure language use, saying: “The number using our language across the country and beyond … is as important to the vision of Cymraeg 2050 as is the number of speakers. We will not lose sight of that.”
Samuel Kurtz, the Conservatives’ shadow Welsh language minister, warned: “The number of Welsh speakers increased in the two decades before devolution but the number has declined in the two decades since – we must reverse this decline.
“The Welsh language belongs to us all, and we must take all the necessary steps to sustain progress towards the 2050 targets.”
Mr Miles told the Senedd: “The census results give us a clear indication of the areas we need to focus on in the future.
“There are two standout areas. The drop in the number of five to 15-year-olds able to speak Welsh. This is a reminder that we need to strengthen our approach to teaching Welsh in our English-medium schools, as well as expanding Welsh-medium education.”
Mr Miles said the second key issue was a decline in traditional Welsh-speaking heartlands.
The minister explained he has commissioned a sociolinguistic survey to better understand what lies behind the decline and inform interventions to reverse the trend.
Mr Miles highlighted the publication of a white paper on a Welsh Language Education bill.
He said it aims to ensure all pupils leave school as confident Welsh speakers, regardless of the medium of teaching.
Mr Miles told MSs: “That is an ambition that I would argue is just as ambitious as – perhaps more ambitious than – the million Welsh speakers.
“So, as we introduce that, we will need to understand the steps towards that exactly, as we are already doing with the trajectory of Cymraeg 2050.
“We have milestones on the pathway towards that, and I’ve said on a number of occasions that we need to secure progress throughout the period, not just towards the final target.”
Mr Miles also pointed to the disparity between census data on one hand and the Welsh Government’s annual population surveys on the other.
Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, said she does not fully accept the argument.
She told MSs: “The truth of the matter is, in terms of the gauges in Cymraeg 2050 to increase the percentage of year one learners taught through the medium of Welsh, the target is 26% by 2026.
“There’s been a decline from 23.9% in 2021-22 to 23.4% in 2022-23.
“In terms of year seven pupils studying through the medium of Welsh, a decline from 20.1% to 19.3%.
“These are the figures that count in terms of how many are in receipt of Welsh-medium education. So, we can argue whether the census results are accurate or not, but these are the figures in the targets for a million Welsh speakers.”
Mr Miles argued it is important to analyse the differences between datasets.
During the statement in the Senedd on Tuesday November 14, he said: “Looking ahead, despite the challenges presented by the census results, the narrative around the Welsh language has certainly changed and there is more support than ever for the language.
“The entire nation was disappointed with the census data, and we must all take hold of that energy and enthusiasm to work together to make a difference for the Welsh language.”
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