Mabli Siriol, Chair of Education Group, Cymdeithas yr Iaith
Cymdeithas yr Iaith have this week written to the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams MS, to express our deep concern at the Bill for the new Curriculum for Wales, which is expected to be published imminently.
The Bill in its current form makes English a compulsory element of the curriculum in all schools and education settings, and includes a clause that will make English and Welsh compulsory by default, but enable individual governing bodies to ‘opt-out’ of English before the age of 7 in their school. This will have a disastrous effect on Welsh-medium education across the country and embed the idea that English is the ‘norm’.
Why? It is because the proposals demonstrate a lack of understanding of immersion methods, which are so vital to Welsh-medium education, and endanger their use across the country. It means that it will be possible to change the teaching medium of a school at the whim of a governing body. As a result, it will block any strategic planning by local authorities and the Government to grow Welsh-medium education.
If we are serious about reaching the target of a million Welsh speakers, we need a significant increase in Welsh-medium education, teaching Welsh across one continuum and increasing Welsh-medium teaching in all schools across the country. This proposal will prevent that from happening.
Making English compulsory on the face of the legislation would have a negative impact on the ethos and practice of educational settings where it is already a struggle to make Welsh the norm as the medium of learning and communication. Keeping English in the legislation as a general requirement but making an exception for the ‘Welsh-medium sector’ is not sufficient. Given the Government’s policy for schools to move up the continuum to provide more Welsh-medium education, it is not an exception for some schools that we need, but to remove English entirely from the legislation.
At a meeting with the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan MS, earlier this week, the Minister confirmed the Government’s plans, telling us “if English wasn’t compulsory in the Bill, but Welsh was, the 80% of the population who don’t speak Welsh would make a huge fuss.”
No other reason was given for the decision, and we were stunned that this was the justification. It shows a lack of understanding of minority language teaching methods, the status of Welsh compared to English and a deeply condescending attitude towards people who don’t speak Welsh.
From decades of campaigning and speaking to people across Wales from all backgrounds, we know that the vast majority are supportive of the Welsh language, and want to see all our children growing up to speak it. We also know from a Freedom of Information request that not a single organisation, expert or member of the public recommended or asked for English to be made compulsory. So who are the mythic members of the public who would make a ‘big fuss’? As ever, the bogeyman of the non-Welsh speaking person is a useful scapegoat for politicians who don’t have the courage of their convictions, or don’t truly believe that the Welsh language belongs to us all.
People who aren’t (yet) fluent in Welsh are not a uniform mass with no understanding, education or awareness of the Welsh language. It is deeply concerning that politicians treat them as such, as we saw with the decision by politicians across the Senedd to oppose the original plans for a Welsh-only name as they apparently thought the people they are paid to represent did not have the ability to pronounce or understand a word that was already in common use.
There is, of course, a bigoted minority who oppose the Welsh language — but they are just that, a minority. And why should their bigotry direct public policy on an issue that will affect the educational experiences of a generation?
In practice, there is no need for legislation to ensure that pupils are fluent in English. English is bound to be taught in our schools, as is ensured through the Languages, Literacy and Communication component of the new curriculum, without the need for a specific legislative clause. Furthermore, in the current linguistic context, children will acquire English as it is such a powerful and ubiquitous language in the lives of everyone in the country.
The Education Minister has said that ‘the Bill treats English and Welsh in exactly the same way’, but that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the different positions of the two languages — they are not on an equal footing and no sensible legislation would treat them as if they were. It is clear that it is Welsh, and specifically Welsh-medium education, that needs legislative support, not English.
The Government has not offered any evidence to justify this proposal that was not part of Professor Donaldson’s recommendations for the new curriculum. That is quite different from the rest of the new curriculum, which is supposedly based on expert advice. The Government has also been unable to provide any legal justification, and when asked, referred to legislation that is either irrelevant or does not apply to them. Following the comments of the Welsh Language Minister, it seems that this is a purely political decision. Evidence-based policymaking indeed!
The Bill in its current form would undermine Welsh-medium education across the country and goes against the commitments of the Government to Welsh-medium education for all and a million Welsh speakers. Unless it is changed, this Bill will make it impossible to realise those aims.
The new Curriculum for Wales is a historic opportunity to establish a curriculum that will for the first time meet Wales’s needs and create an education system that ensures no child misses out on the inheritance that is their right ‒ our unique national language.
We urge the Government not to miss this opportunity.
You can call on the Government to change their plans here.