Welsh-only education plans could ‘disadvantage’ pupils says Conservative Senedd Member
Plans to teach pupils in the Welsh language only in Powys could “disadvantage” them, a Conservative Senedd member has said.
Russell George said that the move from having an English-only stream at a school in the county to Welsh only could “remove choice” from those who want an English-only education and “sadly disadvantage some pupils”.
He was responding to the intention of Machynlleth’s Ysgol Bro Hyddgen to take its first steps down the path of becoming a Welsh medium school.
Councillors had voted unanimously in favour of the proposal, and language campaigners Cymdeithas yr Iaith have welcomed the change.
However, Russel George said that while it “was fantastic” that many wanted a Welsh education, “removing the choice from those who wish to or need to learn through the medium of English will continue to be a huge concern for many”.
“I had urged Powys County Council to reconsider their proposal and to listen to the community and their representatives on this matter,” he said,” he said.
“I had been contacted by many people from Machynlleth who objected to these proposals. People felt very strongly that there should be a choice on offer for children, so all pupils in the Machynlleth area have a reasonable opportunity to learn either through the medium of English or through the medium of Welsh.
“I am very concerned, as are many of my constituents, that this decision will have a huge impact on the local community.
“I think this decision will sadly disadvantage some pupils and will lead to young people having to travel to attend schools miles away from their homes and potentially out of county, which may remove their opportunity to learn in a bilingual environment.”
‘Fear of the unknown’
The proposal is that from September 2022, the reception class at Machynlleth’s Bro Hyddgen will be taught in Welsh, in a move that will eventually see all classes from reception to sixth form taught in the language. The legal period to lodge objections took place from June 17 to July 15.
Cllr Elwyn Vaughan who represents nearby Glantwymyn and is chairman of the school governors said: “Whenever any changes are proposed it is inevitable that some are opposed to such changes, fear of the unknown is understandable.
“Bilingualism is the norm in the world – monolingualism is not – and that is what an English stream is – fluency in one language.
“Bilingualism provides the basis to learn other languages and become truly multilingual – a important asset for the future.”
“Only three pupils have started in the English stream this September – that is totally unsustainable and not fair on them.”
He added that he will “extend” the hand of friendship and would be available to “discuss, advise, encourage and assist wherever possible.”
Over 1219 people had signed a petition against the proposal, just over 278 signed a petition in favour, the council received over 252 other objections with four supporting the proposal. Machynlleth town council had also objected to the language category change.
The original consultation on the proposal took place from December 8, 2020, to January 26.
Of the respondents, just over 61 per-cent were in favour, while 37.5 per cent were against the proposal and 1.5 per cent didn’t know.
Figures from 2020 show that out of a total of 477 pupils at Bro Hyddgen, 332 are educated in Welsh and 145 in English.
Cllr Mike Williams said: “Over 1200 people signed a petition against the proposal, that’s 66 per cent of the adult population of the town.
“I would urge cabinet to take full cognizance of the volume of objectors and those for, as it’s crucial that the views of the Machynlleth townspeople are taken on board.”
“This is a very big issue for the town and the Dyfi Valley.”
‘Very difficult locally’
Education portfolio holder, Cllr Phyl Davies told cabinet that he’d been to Machynlleth to receive a petition and understood: “it’s very difficult locally.”
Cllr Davies said: “The issue is that there aren’t the numbers in that (English) stream.”
He added that the cabinet had to be “consistent” in its approach to school reorganisation and that all the objections had been responded to in the officers report.
Finance portfolio holder, Cllr Aled Davies said “It’s a positive move and the more opportunities for our children to be truly bilingual so much the better.
“This will be phased in over a number of years. It will be almost the end of the decade before it impacts the secondary phase.”
Cllr Davies pointed out that feeder primary schools for Bro Hyddgen: Glantwymyn, Carno, Llanbrynmair and also Pennal and Corris in Gwynedd where some pupils come from, are all “Welsh medium schools.”
“I wish I had an education through the medium of Welsh, my skills would be far better if that had happened,” said Cllr Davies.
He added that he was sure the cabinet were on the “right path” by supporting the changes.
Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the proposal.
Language campaigners Cymdeithas yr Iaith had welcomed the move.
Osian Rhys, from Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Education Group said: “This is very encouraging news, and gives hope to so many other people and communities. Many thanks to the school governors, campaigners and politicians who have supported this very positive change.
“Welsh-medium schools are the only way of ensuring that children are able to communicate fluently in both Welsh and English. Moving schools along the language continuum is one of the main ways in which we as a society will reach one million Welsh speakers and more.
“This is why we are calling for a Welsh-medium Education for All Act that will encourage and facilitate the conversion of schools across the country into Welsh medium schools, with much easier new processes and statutory targets for all county councils.”
Additional reporting by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
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