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Opinion

Universal Welsh medium education: It’s possible

26 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Teacher in class. Image: University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Toni Schiavone Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Education Group

Put simply, we want every pupil to become a confident Welsh speaker through the statutory education system.

That is the aspiration at the forefront of the Welsh Government’s proposals for a Welsh Language Education Bill, which is expected be introduced to the Senedd in the coming months.

Why then isn’t giving Welsh-medium education to all children – the only way to create confident speakers – included in these proposals?

We know that learning Welsh as a second language does not offer a path towards fluency, something confirmed by the findings of Professor Sioned Davies’ 2013 ‘One Language for All’ report.

Pupils leave school unable to speak Welsh fluently, and too often it leads to guilt or doubts surrounding the child’s own ability, or even antagonism towards the language in the worst cases

Toni Schiavone

If we really want to reach a situation in 2050 where every child can speak the language confidently, there is no place for learning it as a second language.

Step forward

Increasing the percentage of children attending Welsh-medium education from the current 20% to the 50% proposed by the Government would be a significant step forward, but it would still be inadequate to reach the Government’s own aspiration.

Why then isn’t giving Welsh-medium education to all children part of the Government’s plans? Would it be too expensive? Too difficult?

Not at all, according to our research.

In the Senedd on 18 April, we launched ‘Welsh Education for All: Reaching the Objective’, based on the statistical research work of Huw Prys Jones.

Launch of the report ‘Welsh Education for All: Reaching the Objective.’

It details the progress that would need to be seen in each county every five years to ensure that every child in Wales receives Welsh-medium education by 2050.

It shows that – although it is an ambitious challenge – the aim is completely attainable.

We have previously published our own Welsh Language Education Act, which would give the Welsh language to all of Wales’ children, drawn up on behalf of Cymdeithas by Law Fellow at the Wales Governance Centre, Keith Bush.

That Bill could be introduced to the Senedd tomorrow if the Welsh Government chose to. We have also published a strategy to completely transform the Welsh-speaking ability of the teaching workforce, which would cost £20 million, in a 5-to-10-year plan.

Challenge

Obviously, the scale of the challenge varies from one part of Wales to another.

The western counties would be able to provide Welsh-medium education to 100% of children comfortably within a decade.

In some of the southern and eastern counties, more long-term planning is needed.

At our launch, Nia Jenkins, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Early Years, noted that no Welsh language school had opened in the county for three decades.

That stagnation must be reversed, and we must ensure that every school starts on the journey to being a Welsh-medium school.

The answer is a new model, of strong will and funding from the centre and smart planning at a local level. That is what is possible through the Welsh Language Education for All Act.

Heledd Fychan. Picture by Plaid Cymru

As Heledd Fychan MS said before our launch, “We don’t need empty words but action and investment in the workforce, as this report indicates.

“This is the only way to ensure equal opportunities for our children and young people become confident Welsh speakers, wherever they live in Wales.”

The model of crossing fingers and hoping that Welsh-medium education will grow by chance, is not working.

The opportunity to introduce legislation as historic and transformative as the Welsh Language Education Act is rare, and we may not see anything like it for decades.

This Bill therefore offers a once in a generation opportunity to genuinely transform our education system, and we must take advantage of it.

What is needed now is the ambition, the political will, and the funding from the Government to ensure that it happens.


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A.Redman
A.Redman
26 days ago

How much has the Welsh Government given to promote Welsh language teaching so far since it has been in power?

Gareth
Gareth
26 days ago
Reply to  A.Redman

I would bet that its not as much as the £37 billion wasted on a failed covid app by Boris, or the £4.3 billion written off by the UK Gov, covid money lost to fraudsters supplying dodgy PPE.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
26 days ago
Reply to  A.Redman

Not enoigh!

Caradoc
Caradoc
26 days ago

The Unionists won’t have it, on ideological grounds. The Welsh language must remain a minority language living off handouts. 40% of Welsh kids must attend English universities. Our sacred Union depends on it.

Annibendod
Annibendod
26 days ago

Rwy’n hollol cefnogi hwn. Amdani bois bach! Nawr, beth am ymrwymiad i gyllido’r celfyddydau a’r cyfryngau 50/50 i’r naill iath lle bo’n priodol? Mwy nag un sianel teledu Cymreig ‘fyd OGYDd.

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas
25 days ago

The quality of teaching needs to be there, my godson and goddaughter are in Blaenau Gwent. One is at Secondary and the other still in Primary. Both enjoyed Welsh at Primary but the old now in Secondary school doesn’t enjoy it at all, his mum, an enthusiastic supporter of him learning Welsh says it’s due to poor teaching.
We need to address that.

Nemesis
Nemesis
24 days ago

Sorry but targets like this are ridiculous and unobtainable. I am a teacher in a secondary school with an ever shrinking Welsh stream. I teach science (English stream) and over the last 3 successive years I have seen 100% of the Welsh stream in either year 8 or 9 join the English stream. The students see no value in learning Welsh and are so far behind their peers in Stem subjects by year 9 it is a huge concern . All of this year’s 9 s just like last year’s will be in the English stream for GCSE courses. All… Read more »

Gwyn Hopkins
Gwyn Hopkins
16 days ago

Since the establishment of the first Welsh-medium school (Ysgol Dewi Sant, Llanelli 1947) there is overwhelming evidence that only Welsh-medium education produces fluent Welsh-speakers. English-medium schools still comply with a major aim of the 1870 Education Act – undermining the Welsh language by producing monoglot English speakers. The government must, therefore, plan to convert all schools into Welsh-medium schools if it is really is serious about restoring the Welsh language in Wales.

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