John Osmond considers the main recommendation of an IWA study:
The Assembly Government should enforce its requirement that Welsh local authorities should undertake parental surveys to assess demand for Welsh medium education, says a new IWA report, Creating a Bilingual Wales: The Role of Welsh in Education. The report says that despite an Assembly Government requirement, now more than five years old, so far only three authorities have carried out systematic surveys.
The report surveys the 14 Welsh counties with fewer than 20 per cent Welsh speakers – those identified by the Assembly Government as requiring surveys – and finds that advances have been made where the surveys have been undertaken:
- Newport carried out a survey in 2002 and as a result the city’s second Welsh-medium primary school, Ysgol Ifor Hael, opened in September 2008.
- A survey in Wrexham, published in October 2007, revealed that 43 per cent of parents would choose Welsh medium education if there was a school reasonably close to their homes. As a result a plan for the expansion of Welsh-medium education is now under discussion.
- Swansea has also carried out a parental survey revealing that 28 per cent of parents who responded wanted a Welsh-medium education for their children regardless of its proximity to their homes. If it were available within reasonable reach the demand rose to 38 per cent.
Former South Wales AM Owen John Thomas, who carried out the survey of the 14 local authorities for the IWA report, said: “The greatest potential for gaining new Welsh speakers lies in the latent demand within these counties and this is substantiated by the growth of Welsh medium education across Wales.
“However, although several years have elapsed since they were first required to assess the demand for Welsh-medium school places, most of the local authorities have made little progress.”
In his contribution to the report Meirion Prys Jones, Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board, notes that although the number of children in Welsh-medium schools has increased by 16 per cent over the past decade, to more than 53,000, there has not been a corresponding increase in Welsh-medium schools.
“Therefore, we must come to the conclusion that more children have gone to the same schools, “ he says. “This proves that an intentional policy of maximising the increase in the numbers of children and opening more Welsh schools was not implemented. This would have offered Welsh-medium education closer to the homes of an increasing number of children, and within their natural communities, and Welsh-medium education would have been far more accessible.”
He argues that the main difficulty facing the enhancement of Welsh-medium education is the lack of a national policy. This he puts down to a lack of political will, adding: “There has been no effort to ensure that the civil service, which is responsible for Welsh-medium education, has developed an understanding of this part of the education system. This is despite the fact that one in every four primary schools teaches pupils through the medium of Welsh.
“If you looked at the Welsh Assembly Government’s education department today, you would see that the number of people there who are familiar with the Welsh-medium education and training sector is very limited. How, therefore, can this Department plan for the Welsh-medium sector with trust and confidence?
“It is time for the Welsh Assembly Government to adopt the role of a body responsible for planning the development of Welsh-medium education and training. The elected government of Wales needs to ensure that it has the capacity to plan the future of education in Wales in its entirety, not only the English-medium element. The sad truth of the matter is that that is all that has been done so far.”
Other contributors to the report explore problems facing teachers in classrooms where pupils have varying degrees of Welsh language ability and innovative Welsh teaching approaches in the Rhondda, Ceredigion and Gwynedd.
Under the terms of the 2007 One Wales coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru agreement the Assembly Government is due to produce a consultation document on a strategy for developing Welsh-medium education early in 2009. The commitment in the One Wales agreement states:
“We will create a national Welsh-medium Education Strategy to develop effective provision from nursery through to further and higher education backed up by an implementation programme.”
John Osmond is Director of the IWA. Creating a Bilingual Wales: The Role of Welsh in Education is available from the IWA at £15 (discount to IWA members).