David Reynolds says Education Minister Leighton Andrews has a mountain to climb
It would be difficult to imagine a more Herculean task than that confronting Education Minister Leighton Andrews in attempting to improve on Wales’ disastrous performance in last year’s PISA tests. The facts are well known. Wales’ performance is well below that of the other ‘home nations’ and on a par with educational lightweight countries such as Greece and Croatia.
His reaction to these facts is also well known. They were presented in his landmark speech in February with its spine chilling phrase of ‘systemic failure’. This was followed by his speech to the IWA in June. Both outlined a 20 point programme of what can only be called national renewal.
Virtually everything that can be done is being done. Welsh policy amounts to the agreed international recipe for systemic educational change. Can we truly improve on the disastrous 2010 showing when PISA 2013 reports, and reach the top 20 of countries internationally by 2016? It is a big ask of our schools. Will it work?
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Firstly, we need to recognise that many of the initiatives are only likely to have effects in the medium term, of say two to three years. Welsh children sitting the PISA tests in November 2012 have already had two of their three years of school experience that will be reflected in their 2012 performance, which predisposes us to do poorly. Direct action about PISA is essential. We need to make sure schools know and teach the new ‘skills based’ approach that PISA tests measure. ‘Playing’ the tests to exclude potentially low scoring children ( around 15 per cent) is axiomatic.
It may be said that this is ‘fiddling the results’. However, most other countries of the world are already ‘fiddling’. And if schools were to turn their noses up at such blatant ‘gaming’ then they need reminding that they themselves have been ‘gaming’ their predicted GCSE Grade ‘D’ children to achieve ‘C’ grades for a decade.
Secondly, somehow in Wales we also need to rid ourselves of our historical Welsh curses. There is the curse that teachers produce their own teaching practices – whereas virtually every other country on the planet brings to their teachers the evidence on ‘what works’.
And there is the curse that somehow the educational system needs to retain its historic focus upon what can loosely be called a ‘progressive’ educational mission. On the other hand, virtually every other country on the planet, whether socialist or capitalist, has moved on. Interestingly, the loudest applause at the Leighton Andrews June 2011 lecture was reserved for the questioner who wondered whether the educational reforms would drive out the children’s capacity to be inspirational in what they do. Serendipity favours the mind prepared for it – inspiration likewise happens or not in the paths prepared for it.
Thirdly, the emphasis, as Leighton Andrews is fond of suggesting, needs to shift towards delivery. The Education Department is itself shedding staff and reorganising, but it is unclear if that is generating the lean, mean educational machine that is needed. Perhaps one of Wales’ most sacred taboos – about the employment of private sector companies in State-provided services – needs to be challenged. And if policies are to be ‘scaled up’ through the winning of hearts and minds, then a much better communications strategy needs to be employed, with perhaps a softer emotional tone.
Paradoxically, it is within Wales itself that the solution to our massive educational problems may lie. That is, in the programmes and national policies used to help the Welsh language. No nation in the world except Wales has successfully used its State education system to rescue a minority language as we have done in Wales. How was it done? Tere was an international search for language programmes that worked – in this case finding immersion techniques from Israeli schools. Dedicated funding was found for Special Programmes and special training on a scale far above that now being attempted.
Mainstreaming of policies about the language through all public sector bodies was put into effect. The concern about the effects of all policies upon the language was a part of the legislative process for all proposed legislation. There was a fierce commitment to the language being a part of our national political discussion, and a concern that language policies ran through all policies about the families and communities of Wales.
How many of these characteristics of Welsh Language policies exist in our educational policies at the moment? Probably none. It would be extraordinarily symbolic if the policy area of greatest success post devolution were the solution and model in the area of greatest policy failure – the educational system.
16 thoughts on “Fourth term special 4: Confronting an historical Welsh curse”
I’m sorry, but this article is poorly written and researched.
‘No nation in the world except Wales has successfully used its State education system to rescue a minority language as we have done in Wales.’ No? How about the Basque Country (autonomous community of), Catalunya: also Quebec, Swiss Rumantsch, German in Italy and many more.
‘There is the curse that teachers produce their own teaching practices – whereas virtually every other country on the planet brings to their teachers the evidence on ‘what works’.’ I’d like to see some qualification of this. All teachers produce their own teaching practices to some extent, and I’ve never heard that this is explicitly stated policy in Wales, and nowhere else.
‘the educational system needs to retain its historic focus upon what can loosely be called a ‘progressive’ educational mission. On the other hand, virtually every other country on the planet, whether socialist or capitalist, has moved on.’ Very unclear. Wales has a progressive mission (what does that mean? Since when? Evidence?), most other countries have ‘moved on’ from this (to what? Why?) but Wales needs to retain it (Why?)
Not entirely happy about the use of the language as a success story either. It may look like one, but it’s certainly not regarded as one within sociolinguistic and language revitalisation circles (i.e academics in the field), and more tellingly, neither is it by the Welsh-speaking community of Wales (of which I am a member).
Building on these conversations, I would be interested to learn about the Welsh language and its impact on education and socio-economic progress within deprived areas of Wales. I understand from recent UK-wide research that, surprisingly, reading progress in rural areas is generally lower than in urban environments. If this is so, does the Welsh language progress or impede educational standards in our poorer communities; indeed, is the Welsh language the preserve of a powerful middle-class, the intelligentsia, and does migration of their children into elitist and separatist education impede fair progress for other less well placed families?
Well Jeni, a good question. Firstly you have to cut through the hype and look at the Welsh Medium education statistics and link Welsh Medium education to deprivation levels in schools, generally measured by Free School Meal Entitlement. First the hype….Children in Welsh Medium Education outperform children in English Medium Education. True.
But here’s the rub using the 2011 PLASC figures:
There are 56 WM (including bilingual) secondary schools
There are 41,794 Pupils in WM secondary schools
On average 759 pupils per school
On average a Teacher pupil ratio of 1 to 15.5
On average a Free school Meal entitlement of 9.8%
On average 2.53% of pupils come from ethnic minorities.
On average 19.3% have Additional learning needs (Three grades of SEN).
English Medium Secondary schools have 159,416 pupils.
On average 960 pupils per school
On average a teacher pupil ratio of 1 to 16.9
On average a Free school meal entitlement of 17.2%
On average 7.6% of pupils from ethnic minorities
On average 20.20% have additional learning needs.
A very, very unequal picture. Within these statistics there are other factors; Welsh medium schools do NOT actively discriminate against Ethnic minorities, Traveller children, or children from a deprived background or who have additional learning needs. However, where pupils from an ethnic minority background do go into WM education they are likely to be English Language competent. I checked this by getting core data sets for two Secondary schools 200 meters apart, one WM and the other EM. The EM school had a much higher proportion of Ethnic Minority pupils than the WM (13% opposed to 3% in the WM school) but more tellingly none of the 3% were not competent in English whilst 50% of the EM school’s ethnic minority pupils were not fully competent in English.
In Wales, and particularly in south East and South Wales urban environments, Parents have become well aware that Welsh Medium schooling is effectively priveleged middle class education….much the same way that English parents have followed a Church school Education in England (despite in many cases, a complete absence of any faith).
In view of this, if you compare schools within a narrow environment rather than across the whole of Wales, you can identify a selection by medium process taking place. Take Cardiff for instance.
Cardiff has two Welsh Medium Secondary schools; Ysgol Glantaf and Ysgol Plasmawr.
FSMs 8% (three year average)
Ethnic Minorities 5.9%
Teacher pupil Ratio 1 to 13.8
Free school meals 7.6%
Ethnic minorities 7.9%
Teacher Pupil Ratio 1 to 14.8
The average figures for English medium Secondary schools in Cardiff are;
Free School Meals 21% (three year average)
Ethnic Minorities 23%
Teacher Pupil Ratio 1 to 16.4
“does the Welsh language progress or impede educational standards in our poorer communities; indeed, is the Welsh language the preserve of a powerful middle-class, the intelligentsia, and does migration of their children into elitist and separatist education impede fair progress for other less well placed families?”
In fact dual medium education does more than that; It segregates and discriminates at all levels of society and cripples the society as a whole.
It would be interested to know the answers to Jeni’s questions. I do suspect some educationalists have taken a look at this. It ought to be an interesting study irrespective of one’s views.
I would add another: Does a bi-lingual education improve or impair a child’s intellectual development and how does it affect their ability to learn other languages, say at secondary school?
‘Jeni’ (9th Sept.) asks if ‘the Welsh language is the preserve of a ‘powerful middle class, the intelligentsia and does the migration of their children into elitist and separatist education impede fair progress for other less well-placed families?’ It seems that she’s asking about Welsh-medium education, rather than the Welsh language as such. I certainly don’t believe it to be the case that the language itself is the preserve of the middle classes; a lot of my Welsh-speaking family in west Wales is rural working class and going back a generation or two almost all of them were working class, sadly for them, no Welsh-medium education was on offer; indeed, at the time speaking Welsh in school was actively discouraged. As to whether Welsh-medium education today is elitist and separatist and the preserve of the middle classes – not to mention an impediment to fair progress to less well-placed families, well, if it was private and fee-paying it would most certainly be, but the last time I checked, it is paid for by the state and so is free and open to anyone, whatever their socio-economic background. Some years ago the Institute of Welsh Affairs produced a report about Welsh-medium education in relation to English-medium education, in order to see if there was any basis to the widely-held perception that Welsh-medium education produced better results than English-medium and if so, why. I think ‘Jeni’ would find it an interesting read.
“Some years ago the Institute of Welsh Affairs produced a report about Welsh-medium education in relation to English-medium education, in order to see if there was any basis to the widely-held perception that Welsh-medium education produced better results than English-medium and if so, why. I think ‘Jeni’ would find it an interesting read”
Yes, It was a study that launched a propaganda offensive from the WLB and most LEA’s carried the WLB posters extolling the virtues of WM schooling; If jeni is interested she can read it here;
But as you can see from my figures above there are more factors having an effect on Schools performance than just Free school Meals and times change but she should also lok at this from Straightstatistics;
Last year I traced the rate of improvement of GCSE results from Welsh Medium schools against English medium schools since 2004; at every benchmark results from EM schools have improved faster than WM schools so that in 2010, using level 2 threshold including English/Welsh and maths, the results are as follows;
Up to 10% FSMs WM 62% EM 65%
10%to15% FSMs WM 55% EM 53%
15% to20%FSMs WM 44% EM 44%
20% to30% FSMs WM 27% EM 38%
So, comparing like with like not a lot of difference, and close analysis suggests that taking into account different values for WM and EM schools within bands, EM schools had better results on this measure than WM schools last year. The benchmark figures aren’t out yet this year.
It’s only when you look at the gulf in deprivation levels between EM cohorts and WM cohorts that you get a feel for the very divided national picture;
85.4% of all WM GCSE pupils are in schools with less than 15% on FSMs
43.3% of all EM GCSE pupils are in schools with less than 15% on FSMs
At 20% to 30% FSMs only 123 pupils took GCSE from one WM school….Ysgol Caergybi, which is now no longer WM.
At 20% to 30% FSMs 6,945 pupils took GCSE from EM schools and a further 3,193 pupils were in schools with more than 30% on FSMs…..there are no WM schools in this band.
The great sin of Welsh Education is the gulf between the attainment levels of pupils in schools with less than 10% on FSMs and those in schools with more than 30% on FSMs;
In 2004 the difference in percentage attaining (using CSI as the measure) was 35%. By 2010 the gulf had INCREASED to 37%.
As for the much vaunted advantage which bi-lingualism brings to the acquisition of MFL’s; Wales has the lowest number of pupils taking a MFL of all the UK countries and the percentage taking a GCSE MFL from WM schools is far lower (Comparing like with like on FSM benchmarks) than EM schools.
Sion Jones’ conclusion that “dual medium education…segregates and discriminates at all levels of society and cripples the society as a whole” needs to be substantiated as it is a pretty serious allegation to make. Unfortunately, no evidence is presented as to how this process is supposed to happen and so there may be a subjective element in this conclusion.
We also need to consider how and why people pick one school in preference to another. Any study of Welsh social history post 1536 will conclude that one does not aspire to speak Welsh for social advancement. It may appear to be that way, but as anybody who has lived in England will be able to testify, it carries little social cachet in the United Kingdom which we are a part of.
This conclusion also has interesting implications. Either one bans the teaching of Welsh / Welsh medium education in Wales which strikes me as a somewhat contentious move or you make it the norm rather than the exception. If Welsh-medium education becomes the norm in its own country and everybody of school age in Wales gains the right to learn their own language, then the scope for divisiveness will be removed.
To continue the theme. Does the existence of Welsh Medium schools, alongside English medium schools lead to a migration to WM schools and a reduction in attainment levels in English Medium schools?
The short answer is yes. The figures show that the higher the proportion of Children on Free School Meals within a school, the lower the attainment of each individual pupil on FSM within that school. That is to say that a child from a deprived background in a school with only 6% of its pupils on FSMs will, on average, achieve better than the same child placed in a school with 30% on FSMs. The graph for attainment levels at various levels of FSM in schools is a curve which steepens rapidly towards the lower deprivation end of the scale. Thus each non-FSM child who goes into a WM school (Well funded, fewer pupils on FSMs, fewer Ethnic minority pupils) actually has an effect on the EM school that that child would have gone to……the percentage of deprived children in the EM school goes up and average and individual attainment goes down.
If, as is the case in Cardiff, the LEA undertakes to provide a WM school place for any child, then the cost implications are huge. In most places outside Wales we see a “Rationalisation” process taking place which reduces the number of small schools and increases the number of pupils in financially efficient larger schools. There is a social “stress” to this rationalisation but nothing in comparison to what is happening in Wales.
In the face of falling school populations an LEA such as Cardiff continues to open Welsh Medium “Micro Schools” whilst seeking to close and amalgamate much larger English Medium schools. In an extreme case the gross inequality resulting is stark;
Take Gabalfa Primary school in Cardiff…. This is an EM school with a falling school population; 224 in 2010/2011 and 215 in 2011/2012.
Under the same roof at Gabalfa is a Welsh Medium micro “School” of 8 pupils and 1.2 teachers, Glan Ceubal. This is the second year of its existence, and both years it has had 8 pupils….mainly overspill because Melin Gruffudd is full.
The funding for this school was “hidden” last year in the allocation to Melin Gruffudd (the Head is common to both schools) But this year the figure is clear; £19,708 is allocated to each of the 8 pupils for their education. In the same building £3,959 is allocated per pupil to each pupil in Gabalfa.
Of course this sum will not be spent and will become accumulated reserves but nevertheless, over time, there is considerable benefit to the pupils in this WM school….a benefit which will not be missed by the very aware middle class parents of Cardiff.
The gross inequality is a result of Cardiff’s Welsh Medium funding policy;
“4.6.8 Welsh Medium Education
Schools teaching through the medium of Welsh incur additional teaching and
resource costs. The formula recognises these costs and reflects existing policy
by enhancing the number of teachers generated by the formula for all schools
teaching through the medium of Welsh.
ı Primary schools will receive the equivalent of one half of the formula
amount for an additional teacher
ı Secondary schools will receive the equivalent of two additional formula
amounts for a teacher”
In addition to the £25,000 per WM primary school there is an additional “Bonus” of £35,000 allocated to each new WM micro school under the “Small school” policy. Effectively these schools are funded to “Buy” an extra teacher-and-a-bit.
Are Welsh Medium schools attractive to Middle Class parents?
What toilet facilities do bears use?
In East Wales the middle classes have to some extent taken up WM education with the divisive results catalogued by Sion Jones. However if, as he suggests, the superiority of WM schools is declining, the middle classes should cease to be attracted and the problem will resolve itself. Meanwhile David Lloyd Owen implicitly asks the right question: what is the alternative? Is SJ arguing for the abolition of Welsh Medium education and the extinction of the language or that social-class quotas be applied to WM schools? In Gwynedd all primary schools are WM and there some middle-class parents take their kids OUT and send them to private EM schools. Should we restrict that too to avoid divisiveness? Is a monoglot Wales with fewer social divisions to be preferred to a bilingual Wales where the social divides are greater but permeable? As Boyd Williams pointed out WM education is free and available to most people who want it.
You should not seem so sanguine about the relative decline in attainment of pupils in Welsh Medium schools. As far as education is concerned we are all in this together and decline in one medium relative to the other is not to be celebrated. It would be a good idea though to explore why the decline in standards in WM schools might accelerate in the future.
Firstly there is the supply and demand factor; demand for WM schooling is increasing in most of Wales (It cannot increase in the fro Cymraeg since saturation point has been reached). What limiting factors might there be on supply? Well the most obvious one is Welsh Medium Trained teachers. 25.2% of newly qualified teachers are WM trained (389) but about 30% of schools are WM, teaching about 21% of pupils. It is already the case that the number of applicants for a WM teacher’s job is much lower than the number of applicants for a job teaching through the medium of English so we have to ask will you get the best teacher? A school picking from a selection of 10 applicants or one picking from 30 applicants? And the situation will get worse.
And how might this situation change? How do you get WM trained teachers from a pool of about 5,400 taking GCSE Welsh first language, (and remember potential teachers need to be scoring a minimum of “B” pass level).
The second potential reason for a decline in attainment levels in WM schools is the profile of the intake. Not just the socioeconomic profile but also the linguistic profile. My children all went through WM schooling but didn’t speak Welsh outside school and apart from Welsh (subject) took no GCSEs through the medium of Welsh. This is changing though. Up until now, in Gwynedd, any child who scored less than level 4 at KS2 was accepted as a Welsh Second language pupil…..no longer. Gwynedd has decided that even those failing to achieve at level 4 (expected level) will continue to be taught through the medium of Welsh as long as they are capable of level 3.
At the moment 44% of GCSEs in WM schools are taken through the medium of English but if the standard of Welsh Speaking, Reading and Writing doesn’t improve in those schools it is foolish to push pupils to take more subjects through the medium of Welsh.
As for; “Is SJ arguing for the abolition of Welsh Medium education and the extinction of the language or that social-class quotas be applied to WM schools?” SJ made no such suggestion and of course it is mischievous to float this as a logical outcome of what I am saying.
If, as is suggested, we must apply the kind of measures to education as a whole in Wales as we applied to Welsh Medium schools then we have to accept that there is a cost implication. What I am suggesting is that schools with 30% of pupils on FSMs and 25% of pupils having English as an additional language needs much more funding and more teachers than a Welsh Medium school where FSMs are low, half the parents are educated to degree level and new immigrants are like hen’s teeth.
It is strange in Wales that we sneer at the class ridden English with their middle class Church schools, Academies, Grammar schools, Free schools and Independent schools yet see nothing wrong in engineering social segregation by language in our own schools.
There is no disputing Sion Jones’ facts but they flow from an insoluble dilemma. Without positive discrimination, WM education will not draw linguistically marginal families and will not grow. Welsh will not survive (it may not anyway of course). But positive discrmination is taken advantage of by more aware parents who tend to be middle class. Thus an element of social discrimination is introduced. Undeniable. Eliminate the social divisiveness and you shrink WM. There is just an unpleasant choice to be made. I was not at all ‘sanguine’ about this. On the contrary I fear you can’t be ‘fair’ and save Welsh. You have to choose the lesser evil.
“On the contrary I fear you can’t be ‘fair’ and save Welsh. You have to choose the lesser evil.” And which is that r.Tredwyn?
There are other threads here on “Click” that look fleetingly at the methods used to encourage Parents into Welsh Medium schools:
And, of course, there is a legal requirement put on Councils to survey parental preferences which generates research like this in Wrexham:
And this in Newport:
And if you look at the WLB site you can see an innovative approach to persuasion where midwives are trained to point expecting mothers towards Welsh Medium education. I don’t know whether the WLB has a scheme for in-vitro indoctrination but I’m sure it will be in the pipe line somewhere.
So you can’t fault the effort, commitment and innovation applied to the preservation of Welsh and the push to increase Welsh Medium Education. But you might ask yourself whether there is a moral dimension involved. The Welsh Language Board is a serial offender when it comes to mis-leading the public and, amazingly, although there is an enormous amount of literature world wide on Immersion Language teaching there is very little truly objective, critical evaluation of Welsh Medium Education methods in Wales.
So, saving Welsh, at what cost to the youth of Wales and to the cohesiveness of Welsh society?
Or is it such an emotive subject that we can’t actually ask the question?
The question of whether Primary school “Immersion” in Welsh actually benefits a child’s education is rarely addressed in Wales. The present system is that Key stage 1 pupils live their school life through the medium of Welsh. Both in the classroom and at playtime. The teacher does not “translate” but assumes that a pupil will absorb meaning by context in the same way that a child absorbs its first language.
In Key stage 2, English is gradually introduced alongside Welsh but the language of the classroom and playground remains Welsh; that is to say that a child who asks a question of the teacher in History, asks in Welsh.
Immersion teaching is a particular skill and in several countries is a specialism in teacher training. In Wales, however, we do something different; we mix children of different first languages in the same school and the same classroom and playground and attempt to make pupils whose first language is English use the language of the other group of pupils whose first language is Welsh. In other words, only pupils whose first language is English are in an “Immersion” environment whilst Welsh first language pupils are in a normal school environment where English is introduced to them gradually as a second language.
In fact there are three different types of education method being used here:
Immersion…a pupil whose first language is English has a Welsh school environment (Voluntarily)
Maintenance….a pupil whose first language is Welsh has a Welsh school environment (Maintaining a minority language)
Submersion…..a pupil whose first language is English is forced to receive education through the medium of Welsh and his first language is squashed by constant refusal to allow him to use that language in social and classroom situations in the school. He is treated as of lesser ability to first language Welsh speakers.
In my experience, where parental choice is removed by having 100% Welsh medium schooling, as happens in Ynys Mon and Gwynedd and much of Ceredigion, submersion effects on children are a real possibility.
Unfortunately I don’t see Welsh Assembly Government funding being made available to research schooling methods in Wales.
It is perfectly proper to ask whether resources in Welsh education are being efficiently used. I don’t know but I doubt it. It is also proper to ask what costs we are prepared to impose to promote Welsh. My own preference is unimportant since I have no position or influence in education and the just the one vote like everyone else. Since you ask though, I reflect that no medieval cathedral would have been built if the church had levied lower tithes in the interests of poor peasants. Similarly we would not have the works of Leonardo et al if Renaissance princes had been worried about fairness and given all the money to the poor. As the son of God is reported to have said, ‘the poor are with us always’. Future generations may thank us for saving their language and once gone it is gone for good. So the various unfairnesses that Sion Jones lists do not seem insupportable to me if the subsidies to Welsh are well-directed and fit for purpose.
“So the various unfairnesses that Sion Jones lists do not seem insupportable to me if the subsidies to Welsh are well-directed and fit for purpose.”
Chidren’s lives are sometimes blighted……but hey…a price worth paying(?)
Emotive language Mr Jones. No child’s life is “blighted” because less money is spent on their school than on the one next door. You should distinguish between marginal, though unfair, disadvantage and irretrievable disaster. Perhaps the loss of Welsh would not be a disaster – a matter of taste perhaps – but it would surely be irretrievable.
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