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Welsh speaking children face uncertain future amid ‘discriminatory’ secondary school selection criteria

02 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf. Photo by Dai Lygad is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A father from Cardiff has slammed the “anxiety-inducing and mismanaged appeals process” he and other families are facing after their children were not accepted to the Welsh medium high school of their preference.

Cian Ciarán, keyboardist for world-renowned Super Furry Animals, is currently awaiting a school selection appeal, nearly three months since being told that his son hadn’t been given a place at his first choice school – Ysgol Glantaf, Cardiff, despite living within the catchment area.

Ciarán claims there has been little communication between local government and parents, leaving pupils with an “uncertain future”.

Concerns

Around 40% of pupils at Ysgol Hamadryad in Cardiff Bay who wanted to go Cardiff’s oldest Welsh medium high school have failed to receive a placement, leading to concerns that children from poorer parts of the city are being discriminated against – with a bus journey to the next available school taking up to 90 minutes.

Nation.Cymru reported the family’s plight back in March 2024, and the family have raised concerns yet again as they wait to hear news of their appeal.

Speaking to Nation.Cymru, Ciarán said: “The entire process has highlighted the dire state of education in Cardiff.”

“Kids shouldn’t have to be treated as numbers on a spreadsheet, waiting to fall victim to ‘wastage’. Their voices have been ignored once again.”

Letter

Mr. Ciarán is currently awaiting a reply from Deputy Leader & Cabinet Member for Education, Sarah Merry regarding a communication dated 19 April 2024.  He said: “The lack of transparency and due process is appalling.”

In the unacknowledged letter, he questioned the cabinet member over the Equality Impact Assessment and Child Rights Impact Assessment and their input into council policy, and what action was taken in regard to the public sector duty of equality.

He continued: “There seems to be a distinct lack of consideration of the guidelines given from the Welsh government in addition to numerous recommendations on child wellbeing when considering the transition and admissions processes.

“Their application is seemingly non-existent when considering the allocations process and given the treatment of the children involved to date.”

At the heart of Ciarán’s concerns around the council’s selection processes is the discovery that current policy appears to be guided by a report from 2017 where Professor Taylor has given little consideration to Welsh Medium Education in the vital and influential research. This research led to the council deciding not to reintroduce fairer feeder-based criteria.

The reason cited for this was that ‘these would potentially disadvantage families moving to Cardiff to take up job opportunities as the local economy grows’, which Ciarán claims prioritises their needs over children who already live in Cardiff, amongst established family and friend groups.

Despite no ‘feeder school’ protocol in the actual admissions process, arrangements must follow the published regulations, which identify schools as ‘feeder schools’, for the purpose of transition arrangements.

Mr Ciarán told Nation.Cymru: “The council’s plans, or lack of,  for secondary Welsh medium education going forward desperately needs attention.

“Using birth rate patterns is an illogical metric to make the point.

“What if every parent in three years’ time decides they want Welsh Medium Education? The council is gambling on the future of our kids.

“Merely providing the opportunity of WME does not provide equality of outcome or equity versus equality, and must be a contributory factor in the admissions policy.”

Errors

Additionally, Mr Ciarán has drawn attention to a council administrative error from correspondence, and mistaken closing date deadlines, as evidence of lax data management.

He has also raised additional concerns regarding catchment area boundaries overlapping and misinformation on the council’s own website.

To add insult to injury, Mr Ciarán states that parents who have reluctantly opted for their second preference have reported significant issues in finding appropriate support in ensuring safe, timely and affordable public transport options for their children.

He said: “Not only is it bad enough that our distraught and stressed children haven’t been allocated their anticipated first preference within catchment, the closest school to both the primary school and their home address, but we now find out that we can’t get a free bus pass.

“The only free bus route offered is itself a nightmare, a 90 minute journey time in normal traffic to Bro Edern.

“Why are our Hamadryad kids being penalised and discriminated against over other catchment schools? It seems that the majority of kids from other schools don’t have to catch public buses or pay for transport, so why should we?”

“We need to remember that the challenges we are facing are the thin end of the wedge when it comes to the deep and widespread problems facing families with respect to access to secondary education in Butetown; the situation as a whole is nothing short of a disgrace and self-evidently discriminatory.”

Further offence

Mr Ciarán also shared part of a letter received, offering his son alternative schools which he said caused further upset and offence – and is something they feel is of national importance.

Letter sent to the family of Mr Ciarán

In the letter, which highlights the allocated school, Ysgol Gyfun Plasmawr, the family has been offered three further alternatives, with only one of these (Ysgol Gfun Bro Edern) being Welsh medium.

The two other schools offered to Mr Ciarán’s son, namely Willows High School and Cantonian High School, are both English medium.

Not only does the family find this insulting, but they have raised concerns that this has already lead many families in Cardiff to take have no choice but to choose a closer English medium school for their children out of concern for safe distances travelled, joining classmates or other reasons.

Butetown councillor, Helen Gunter echoed the family’s concerns, saying: ‘It’s important that all children have access to the same educational opportunities wherever they live in the city, and that they have the same freedoms to safely walk or cycle to school.

“I’m deeply concerned that this is not the case for a higher than average number of children who live in Butetown.”

Council response

A spokesperson for Cardiff Council previously told Nation.Cymru: “In common with many local authorities nationally, Cardiff is experiencing high intakes to its secondary schools as a result of high birth rates in the period 2008 – 2016. The council has supported families by permanently or temporarily expanding ten of its secondary schools in recent years, ensuring that there are and will continue to be sufficient places for all applicants in a Welsh-medium or an English-medium, whichever is their preference. At present, there are 275 places remaining surplus between four English-medium and two Welsh-medium schools.

“If a place is not available at a secondary school of an applicant’s preferred language medium within three miles of their home address, all learners are offered free home to school transport to their nearest alternative school of that language medium.

“When applying for secondary school places, parents are strongly advised to make full use of the five school preferences available to them. This way if their first choice is unavailable, their second choice will be considered and so on, until a place is confirmed. We try to offer parents their first-choice preference, but this is not always possible. By putting more than one preference parents are more likely to get a place at a school of their choice.

“Some 98.7% of children applying for a Community Secondary School place including Welsh Medium schools have secured one of top three preferences up from 98% last year and 88% of children have secured their first preference for a Community Secondary School place up from 86% in 2023.

“This year there has been a significant decrease in the number of refusals made in catchment. Each of the applicants refused admission within catchment who stated another preference for another Welsh medium school have been offered a place and are already included in the allocated figures for those schools.”


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