Welsh classes seen as ‘a waste of time’ at Monmouthshire school
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
Welsh language classes are seen as a “waste of time” at a border secondary school with a “large number” of pupils from England, it has been claimed.
The comments have been made as a plan to boost Welsh language use, and skills, in Monmouthshire has been discussed.
To do so will require improvement in how the language is taught in the county’s four secondary schools, which are all English medium – and it must appeal to those pupils, said Cllr Ian Chandler.
The Green Party councillor said he is a father of three children at Monmouth Comprehensive and said: “A lot of the children in Monmouth Comprehensive come from England so there is a culture that pervades, even to children that actually live in Wales, that actually the Welsh classes they have are a bit of a waste of time and there’s a fair bit of resistance to it.”
The Llantilio Crossenny member asked: “How are we trying to inculcate in our children the desire to speak Welsh and improve the quality of provision that is being given that is, dare I say, patchy in terms of how it’s delivered?”
Sharon Randall-Smith, the head of Monmouthshire County Council’s children and young people’s directorate, said it has sought to promote the benefits of bilingualism as it will help pupils learn a third language, and said: “I don’t think we’ve done enough on that in the past.”
The council is also producing publicity material aimed at parents, to promote the benefits of learning Welsh and is working with secondary schools to “help pupils understand the value of the language to them” and how it can boost employment prospects in Wales.
Cllr Chandler said he wanted to know how the council would track the appeal of Welsh to pupils, and said many may not yet be thinking about careers, and asked: “How are we being informed by our consumers of Welsh education?”
Cllr Peter Strong, a retired teacher, said he agreed Welsh needs to be “seen as meaningful” but feared the benefits outlined were more likely to appeal to pupils of “above average attainment”.
The Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP) – which guides provision in the county and work to support the Welsh Government’s aim of one million speakers by 2050 – includes a goal of increasing the opportunity for pupils to use Welsh.
Ms Randall-Smith said there is currently one Welsh medium youth club in the county, and the plan considers what other opportunities pupils want and which could “inspire them” to use Welsh.
She also said she wants children “to learn to love to speak Welsh” as all pupils in schools in Monmouthshire learn the language, and she said there is a benefit to that.
The officer said: “One of our ambitions would be to keep more of our pupils in Monmouthshire when they start work and set up their families and without Welsh language skills they will find that more difficult to do.”
Cllr Martyn Groucutt, the cabinet member for education, said the new curriculum for Wales will “for the first time” mean Wales has a “radically different” approach to education than England, and he hoped parents in Gloucestershire would see the attraction of that and continue sending their children over the border.
Future provision of Welsh medium education in the county was also raised at the scrutiny committee. A seedling Welsh medium primary, initially with one class, will open in Monmouth in September, but at present there are no Welsh medium secondary schools in the county.
Instead pupils have to travel to Newport and Pontypool to continue their education through Welsh after 11.
The committee was told the council continues to monitor numbers to ensure there are sufficient places for Monmouthshire children, and there are no concerns before 2028, while it is also in discussion with other neighbouring councils over potential future provision.
Cllr Groucutt said there could be demand in Abergavenny, in the north of the county, as well as Crickhowell in Powys and the valleys of Blaenau Gwent, but warned establishing a secondary school is “complex”.
Chepstow councillor Sue Riley said her daughter had attended Ysgol Gwynllyw, in Pontypool, but that is currently in special measures, which she said could be a “deterrent” to parents considering Welsh medium education.
The committee said it supported the council’s Welsh in Education Strategic Plan for 2022/23 which will now be submitted to the Welsh Government.
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