Pupils ‘lost confidence in their ability to speak Welsh’ during lockdown says schools watchdog
School children’s Welsh language skills declined during the pandemic lockdown because those from non Welsh-speaking families had limited opportunities to practice at home, according to a new report by Wales’ schools watchdog.
According to the Estyn Annual Report 2022 Welsh-medium schools “faced particular challenges during the academic year”.
“Nearly all Welsh-medium schools reported a decline in pupils’ range of Welsh vocabulary and their use of spoken Welsh as they had limited opportunities to hear and practice the language,” the report said. “This was especially the case for pupils who do not speak Welsh at home.
“Many pupils lost confidence in their ability to speak Welsh and were therefore reluctant to speak Welsh when they returned to school.”
In response, many of these schools focused heavily on oracy skills when pupils returned, the report by Chief Inspector Claire Morgan said.
“For example, one school held a speaking and listening week, another appointed a fulltime language support teacher and another reintroduced drama lessons.”
The report also notes that due to the pandemic “Welsh-medium schools also experienced significant challenges when trying to recruit new staff.”
However among younger children the situation was more positive, and the report said that they had “seen young children and many primary aged pupils regaining their Welsh language skills rapidly on return”.
Discussing children under five, the report says that “in Welsh-medium settings, where many of the children speak Welsh at home, leaders identified that lockdowns had made little or no difference to children’s language skills”.
“Although the Welsh language skills of those from non-Welsh speaking homes regressed when they were away from the setting for sustained periods, most still had a reasonable understanding of the language on return.”
The report warns that the pandemic widened the gap between those from more privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The divide between pupils from disadvantaged and more privileged backgrounds became more pronounced over the course of the pandemic,” the report says.
“The former group were less likely to have access to Wi-Fi, digital devices and support with their schoolwork at home. Their families were more likely to be impacted financially by the pandemic and larger families needed to self-isolate more frequently.”
The need to teach both in person to the children of key workers and on-line to children at home also led to “an unprecedented degree of pressure on staff”.
“This often resulted in raised levels of anxiety in staff,” the report says.
“Some felt isolated and exhausted, and it was not always clear who was providing emotional support for them.”