First Minister criticised for ‘regressive’ comments about Welsh-medium education after census results
Language campaigners have criticised the First Minister for saying that he said that he did not want to see all children in Wales being educated through the medium of Welsh in the future.
Speaking in the Senedd, Mark Drakeford had said that compulsory education for everybody through the medium of Welsh was not the answer to the Welsh language in Wales.
“It will alienate people who are sympathetic to the Welsh language,” he said. “It will set the language backwards, not forwards.”
He was responding to disappointing Census results which showed a further drop in the number of Welsh speakers in Wales, with the biggest fall among 3-15 year olds.
But Catrin Dafydd from Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s education group said that the First Minister was saying that he was happy to exclude most children from being able to learn Welsh.
“We are amazed that a politician like Mark Drakeford who believes in social justice chooses to ignore the injustice of the current situation by rejecting the reasonable calls to give all children Welsh-medium education over time,” she said.
“As things stand, 80% of our young people are deprived of the Welsh language by the education system itself.
“Through these regressive comments in the Senedd, it’s clear the First Minister would choose to exclude the majority of our young people from the Welsh language for generations to come, instead of opening the door for everyone to have access to the language.”
The 2021 Census language figures were published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics, and show a drop in the number of Welsh speakers to 538,000, or 17.8% of the population, despite the Government’s target of increasing the number of speakers to a million by 2050.
Catrin Dafydd called for a Welsh Language Education Act that opened up the language to anyone who wanted it.
“Given Tuesday’s Census figures, these comments raise the question of whether Mark Drakeford’s Government is serious about the million target at all,” she said.
“Setting a goal is not going to achieve anything without taking action to ensure growth.”
“Right now, thousands of children are missing out on the opportunity to become fluent in Welsh, and we know that the situation is not going to change overnight. But a long-term goal of placing all schools on the journey towards Welsh-medium education by 2050 is more than reasonable. It appears from his comments that the First Minister is actively choosing to prevent 80% of Welsh children from becoming fluent and confident Welsh speakers.”
She added: “The Welsh Language Education Act should be an Act for those who are being left behind, a law that will ensure that every young person who leaves school in future will have a real choice of which languages they want to use in their daily lives.
“Decisions like this should be made from a child-centric perspective, but unfortunately these comments show that the First Minister is willing to block the interests of future generations.”
Yesterday a lobbying group said that there were “signs of hope” in the Welsh language census data despite an overall fall.
Dyfodol i’r Iaith said that a look at where the number of Welsh speakers had risen and fallen painted a rosier picture.
They said that the fall since 2011 was mainly in the 3-15 age group where children’s Welsh language ability would be reported by parents rather than the individuals themselves.
Meanwhile, there was an overall rise of 2,500 speakers across the 16-64 age groups. Among 20-44 year olds, there was a rise of 3,100 from 15.6% to 16.5%.
“The negative attention as a whole is based on a fall in the percentage of 3-15 year olds it is claimed speak Welsh,” Heini Gruffudd, the Chair of Dyfodol i’r Iaith, said.
“But those percentages are more of an interpretation by parents that a real test of whether children can speak Welsh.”
Dyfodol i’r Iaith pointed to the fact that amid 16-64-year-olds there was a rise in almost every county, with a small drop in Denbighsire, Pembrokeshire and Neath Port Talbot.
It was only in Carmarthenshire that there was a significant drop in that age group, they said.
“The growth is quite positive considering that the patterns of emigration and immigration are so negative towards the Welsh language,” Heini Gruffudd said.
“The growth is a positive sign that schools are producing an increased number of Welsh speakers.
“We need a complete program of community action throughout the country, including solving the crisis in housing, promoting the Welsh language in the home and in the community, together with ensuring the rapid growth of Welsh education and teaching Welsh to adults.
“Ultimately enjoying using the Welsh language personally and communally is key, and the positive messages need attention.”
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