Moves to introduce Welsh language education to two schools
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Moves to introduce Welsh language education into two more primary schools in Carmarthenshire are under way.
No decisions have been taken as yet, but the council’s executive board will consider consulting on proposals for Model Church in Wales School, Carmarthen, and Llanelli’s Ysgol Y Felin, on February 8.
The proposals are to change the foundation phase of both schools to Welsh language education from September 2022. This would only affect pupils starting in the foundation phase, and pupils currently attending the school would be unaffected.
Councillors on a scrutiny committee approved the recommendations going before the executive board at a meeting on January 28, having raised questions about the consultation process and also the potential impact on pupil numbers at Ysgol Y Felin.
The meeting also heard that some Model Church in Wales governors weren’t aware of the proposal, although council officers had already talked it through with the governing chairman and head teacher.
Officers are due to meet with school representatives on Tuesday, February 2, and feedback will be considered by executive board members six days later.
The English language school is funded but not owned by the council and had 429 pupils – including nursery – as of January last year.
If the executive board takes forward the proposal, a consultation exercise will take place from February 22 to April 4, before the next steps in the process are considered.
Concerns were raised about holding a consultation during the coronavirus pandemic, and how extensive it would be.
On this first point, Cllr Glynog Davies, executive board member for education, said: “We are following stringently the guidelines that have been given to us by the Welsh Government.”
He said virtual sessions would be held as as well as letters and emails being sent out.
He added: “I can assure you that no decision (on the proposal) has been made.”
Education officer Simon Davies said the conversation with the chairman of the board of governors and head teacher was on the back of many discussions about the Welsh language, and that local councillors had been informed of the proposal.
Mr Davies said nothing more formal could be said at the time because there was no executive board decision to refer to.
Cllr Emlyn Schiavone, who represents Carmarthen Town West, said he felt something was missing in the consultation process. He said if he was a parent he’d want to be aware of the “direction of travel” at an earlier stage – but he didn’t oppose the Welsh language proposal itself.
“I think the overall (Welsh language) strategy is sound, but I have already got people in the community who are getting a bit dissatisfied with what’s going to happen,” he said.
Parents, pupils, staff and the public would be able to air their views a second time if council chiefs decide in late April to push on with the proposal.
The council is keen to increase bilingualism in Carmarthenshire, starting off with the youngest learners, and the Welsh Governments wants one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
The draft consultation document for the Model Church in Wales proposal said bilingual children tended to do better at school and then went on to earn an average of 11% more income than people who spoke one language.
Disadvantages of the proposal included potential resistance from among the community and the impact on job security for some staff.
After approving the recommendation, councillors heard that Ysgol Y Felin was a dual language school with 222 pupils as of January 2020. More foundation pupils there have been choosing Welsh ahead of English learning over the last three years.
As with Model Church in Wales, the proposal is for the foundation phase to be Welsh language from September 2022 onwards.
Cllr Bill Thomas, who declared an interest but was allowed to speak , said some parents might choose to transfer their pupils to English-language schools nearby.
Education officer Mr Davies said: “Parental preference has been around for a long time. There are a vast number of reasons parents would choose to move school.
“I accept that one of them may be moving from Welsh medium to English medium. Without delving into those individual cases, we don’t know.”