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Welsh Government is ‘robbing children of the chance to speak Welsh’

27 Sep 2023 4 minute read
Mabli Siriol. Picture by Cymdeithas yr Iaith

Martin Shipton

More than 140,000 school students are missing out on the chance to speak Welsh fluently because of a failure to make changes to the way it is taught, according to language campaigners.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith says there has been a “decade of feet-dragging” over abolishing the Welsh second language GCSE qualification.

Ten years ago a landmark report was published called One Language for All. It recommended abolishing the Welsh second language qualification and replacing it with one Welsh learning pathway for all pupils.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith has accused the Welsh Government of a lack of action which has resulted in the majority of Welsh pupils still leaving school unable to speak Welsh.

The report was produced by an independent group, chaired by Professor Sioned Davies, which had been commissioned by the Welsh Government to look at Welsh second language provision.

Its recommendations included abolishing the division between Welsh first language and Welsh second language and establishing one single continuum of teaching Welsh for every pupil, and setting targets for providing more Welsh-medium education across the curriculum in English-medium schools.

Despite this, a decade later the qualification is still taught, and thousands of pupils sit Welsh second language exams each year. According to research by Cymdeithas yr Iaith, 142,351 children received a grade in GCSE Welsh Second Language in the period since publishing the report, and as a result have missed out on the opportunity to become fluent Welsh speakers. Only 49,657 received a grade in GCSE Welsh First Language in the same period.

Feet-dragging

Mabli Siriol, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Education Group, said: “A decade of feet-dragging by the government means that another generation of young people have lost out on the opportunity of learning Welsh.

“Ten years ago, a report commissioned by the Welsh Government itself concluded that “it is the eleventh hour for Welsh second language”, and despite the commitments and rhetoric since then, there has been no real progress to abolish Welsh second language and establish in its place one learning pathway and one qualification for all.

“Despite the efforts to re-brand it, the new curriculum and qualifications maintain the division between Welsh first language and second language, which places an artificial ceiling on the potential of 80% of young people, and goes against the accepted principle of one teaching and assessment continuum, and equal opportunities for all.

“Each one of the 142,351 young people represents an individual that could have developed the ability to communicate confidently in Welsh, and experience all the opportunities that come with it. The Government and education agencies’ have failed these young people through their inaction. We must now use the opportunity of the upcoming Welsh-language Education Bill to ensure that every child grows up being able to speak the language that they have a right to.”

Prof Davies, the author of the original report, has also expressed her frustration with the Government’s lack of action.She said: “If the state of Welsh second language was dire ten years ago, it is desperate by now. The vast majority of our children in English-medium schools still leave statutory education without being able to hold a conversation in Welsh, and the number that go on to study Welsh at A Level or degree level has seen a disastrous decrease.

“If we are serious in our ambition that Welsh belongs to everyone, the Government must take action immediately. This must include a revolution in terms of investment and workforce planning to ensure a sufficient supply of teaching staff to ensure that every child in the future becomes confident Welsh speakers.”

Cymdeithas yr Iaith says it aims to ensure that every young person leaves school speaking Welsh confidently, and is currently campaigning for a Welsh-medium Education for All Act that would ensure, over time, that every child in the country receives Welsh-medium education.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The Curriculum for Wales is based on a ‘continuum of learning’, so that learners who start with little or no Welsh language skills develop towards becoming confident speakers.

“This approach reflects the recommendations of the One Language for All review to have one continuum of learning for Welsh with clear expectations for pupils learning Welsh in English-medium, bilingual and Welsh-medium settings.

“Between March and June this year, we consulted on proposals that will form the basis of a Welsh Language Education Bill. The Bill will take steps to enable all pupils in Wales to become confident Welsh speakers through the statutory education system.”


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hdavies15
hdavies15
9 months ago

The Bay regime is characterised by an array of gesture policies, of which the survival and growth of the language is just one. Says one thing but rarely delivers the resources or infrastructure to secure meaningful results. Then changes its yardstick for performance measurement. Common behaviour across all of UK governments but we should be better than that.

Gwyn Hopkins
Gwyn Hopkins
9 months ago

With very few exceptions English-medium schools fail spectacularly in producing pupils who on leaving school are thoroughly – or even marginally – bilingual. A tacit aim of the 1870 Education Act was to destroy the Welsh language by producing individuals who were essentially illiterate in Welsh. English medium schools today still participate in the implementation of this policy. Welsh-medium schools – and they alone – produce individuals who are thoroughly bilingual in both Welsh and English.  

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

Yes, and here lies one problem – how these schools are labelled. Parents often think that sending their child to a ‘Bilingual school’ means that they will become bilingual, but they leave instead barely able to string a sentence together in Welsh. Conversely, some parents chose not to send their child to a Welsh school as they think they won’t get taught any English. But in fact, the only ‘bilingual schools’ are the Welsh schools because only these produce fully bilingual young people. A re-branding is needed in my view.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rhufawn Jones
Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
9 months ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

I think also part of the problem is that Welsh doesn’t exactly have a high profile when it comes to the world of work. People know that it’s ‘sort of’ useful in the public sector, but, as anyone who tries to use local authority services, it can be patchy to say the least. Personally I think that a few things have to change in order to improve the optics of the language as far as young people in school are concerned. 1. Get them involved in the process of creating culture relevant to them in Welsh, 2. pass legislation that… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
9 months ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

Forster’s 1870 Education Act did not have a ‘tacit aim’ of destroying the Welsh language and nowhere within that act will you see so much as a mention of Welsh. I know, because unlike those who continue to spout this utter nonsense, I have read the Act, and also know that many schools taught mainly in Welsh, but introduced English. Lest those who wish to construe the lack of mention of Welsh in the act as evidence of a denial of Welsh, English law just doesn’t work in this way: what isn’t specifically proscribed is allowed, so there was no… Read more »

Gareth Wyn
Gareth Wyn
9 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

The 1870 Education Act covered England and Wales and treated them as one country, so Cymraeg did not merit a mention. The damage to the psyche of the Cymry had already been done by the 1847 public inquiry leading to the publication of the Blue Books.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Gareth Wyn

Agree, Treason of the Blue Books so significant in destroying the use of the Welsh language thanks to Westminster. So too the public image of Welsh people.

David Davis
David Davis
9 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

I cannot remember the part where it set out to destroy the Welsh Language? If I am wrong please can you refer me to the relevant paragraphs so I can read them again.

Gareth Wyn
Gareth Wyn
9 months ago
Reply to  David Davis

Try rereading Part 2(Brecknock, Cardigan, Radnor and Monmouth) paragraph 9, page 66 of the 1847 commissioners report. It starts with “The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales, and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to over-estimate its evil effects.” The three book report was written by three Anglican commissioners (who could not speak Cymraeg) and is full of arrogant insults and disparages the language and morals of the Cymry. This had an extremely damaging effect on the nation’s psyche and led to the concerted and persistent efforts… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
9 months ago

About 16 years ago, I wrote to the, then, Education Minister, Leighton Andrews expressing my concerns about the inadequacy of the 2nd language qualification, especially the ‘short course’, as was.

I never even received an acknowledgement.

Damian
Damian
9 months ago

As a Welsh person who does not speak Welsh I have seen my boys really struggle in a Welsh language school. The children who are from first language Welsh homes have a very big advantage over the ones who are first language English. There needs to be both I’m afraid, otherwise children will suffer and not be happy in school. Parents don’t want to send they’re children to school if they’re not happy because they seem excluded because they can’t speak Welsh. But then parents are forced to send they’re children to school otherwise they could end up in court… Read more »

Steven Owen
Steven Owen
9 months ago
Reply to  Damian

I understand what your saying, my uncle struggled in Welsh medium school, his family was entirely English speaking. However, my nephew is fine and the big difference is he went to Welsh language nursery and primary school first. Now the only problem is homework, his parents can’t help him much, but in school he’s fine.

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas
9 months ago

From the experience of my godson I suspect the major barrier is getting teachers of a sufficiently high standard. He loved his Primary school Welsh lessons, his parents both English and with minimal knowledge of Welsh, were keen to encourage him, and I was too from before school, buying him the Welsh a speaking Teddy bear. He was so enthusiastic. High school has ruined it. He still enjoys the other lessons, he likes school in general, but Welsh is taught without interest by a teacher who is probably only there because there are so few other fluent speakers in the… Read more »

David Davis
David Davis
9 months ago

One of my children hates having to learn Welsh at GCSE level. It has been pushed on them and they do not have the choice but to take it as a GCSE and I am told this view has been echoed by many in their school. It should be a choice not compulsion.

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