Council considers plans for new Welsh language immersion centres
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
£1.1m plans to establish more Welsh language immersion centres have been welcomed by councillors in Gwynedd.
Members of the authority’s Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee backed the establishment of new centres in Bangor and Tywyn while also improving current resources in the Porthmadog area.
Covering both primary and secondary schools, the centres support non-Welsh speaking pupils by immersing them in the Welsh language and develop their skills before enrolling in the county’s schools, which mainly provide their education through the language.
If given cabinet approval, the intention is for the new system and facilities to be in place by September 2022 and supported by £1.1m of Welsh Government Welsh medium education capital grant funding.
But while new centres will be set up in Bangor and Tywyn – which were areas found to be in need of further support – the existing facility at Penrhyndeudraeth will come to an end with children to attend centres in Dolgellau or Porthmadog in future.
The classes will run four days a week for between eight and ten weeks.
Such centres, described as “flagship” when established over 35 years ago, have welcomed more than 7,000 children from other parts of the UK and abroad who move into the county unable to speak the area’s indigenous and most widely spoken tongue.
But in 2019, following an outcry from both councillors and language groups, plans to cut the number of Welsh language immersion centres were deferred to allow a 12-month pilot of a reduced staffing structure.
The planned £96,000 worth of cuts was expected to result in the possible closure of one of the five existing centres or that the facilities would be staffed by fewer teachers.
But despite offering general backing to the newest plans, reservations over some aspects were also raised by committee members on Thursday.
Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd raised fears that plans for children to attend their local school for one day a week, before attaining a grasp of Welsh via the centres, could make it difficult for fluent fellow pupils to speak Welsh with them in future out of habit.
With questions raised over the contributions of individual schools towards the running of the centres Cllr Dewi Owen, who sits on the board of governors at Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn, also sought assurance that the school wouldn’t be expected to maintain the costs of its proposed new centre on its own if central government funding dried up in future.
The report noted that while pupils would attend their local school for one day a week, it would “ensure continuity of contact” with immersion education system staff available to assist them in their schools.
Speaking on the proposals, education portfolio holder Cllr Cemlyn Rees Williams, said: “The council has led the way in developing a Welsh education system and supporting all pupils who move to the area so that they can benefit fully from the range of cultural and economic opportunities that bilingualism brings.
“Our intention is to build on this excellent work in developing a modern immersion system that will prioritise the needs of learners and ensure that the system is suitable for years to come.
“I am confident that we have exciting plans that will ensure support and experience of a high standard, developing Welsh language skills and enabling pupils to succeed and thrive in our schools and become confident bilingual speakers.”
If approved, the county’s six immersion centres will be based at Bangor, Eifionydd (Porthmadog), Tywyn, Maesincla (Caernarfon), Llangybi and Dolgellau.
The cabinet will discuss the plans over the coming weeks.