Election special 3: Send a message to Cardiff Bay

Jonathan Edwards says Plaid’s challenge is to convince the people of Wales that Welsh democracy is better rather than changing the ruling clan at Westminster

They say the polls never lie and therefore no one should be surprised at developments in the local elections on 3 May. The polls indicated that Labour would make a comeback from its dire results in 2008, and so it came to pass. With an out of touch and ideologically driven UK Government pursuing aggressive cuts, a Cabinet mired in sleaze, and a double dip recession – Labour couldn’t have asked for a better set of circumstances.

Welsh local elections 2012

In this series representatives from all four parties give their verdict on the poll on May 3rd. Tomorrow Conservative AM Suzy Davies says both sides of the coalition government in Westminster should do better at getting across their good news.

The key question for Labour is whether this is the beginning of a reversal in fortunes that will see the party sweep back into power at Westminster come 2015, or was it a mostly a protest vote.

Personally I don’t think Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministers should get over excited about high office yet. The key election battleground will be the economy, and despite the completely wrong direction being pursued by the Coalition with their huge austerity experiment, I can’t see the voters of middle England in those key swing seats that determine who holds power in Westminster putting their faith in Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. Both Eds were key players in the discredited Blair-Brown regime. Their irresponsible economic policy was based on housing and credit bubbles, light touch regulation of the financial sector, and the decimation of the production side of the economy. Labour can’t offer a Hollande type narrative of change with them at the helm.

In the elections, Plaid withstood the swing back to Labour far better than the Tories or the Lib Dems.  The last local elections in 2008 was a high point for us, and it was unrealistic to expect a similar sort of performance across the whole of Wales considering that this election was fought in a far less favourable environment. We lost 66 seats across Wales, and gained 25.  Nine of our gains were from Labour, such as in my home town of Ammanford. This shows that with a good candidate and an organised campaign we can beat Labour despite all the cards being stacked in their favour.

On the plus side, where we made in roads for the first time in 2008, such as in Torfaen we more than held our own. In the Vale of Glamorgan we held on to all our Councillors. In our traditional strong areas of Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire we emerged as clear winners. There was no Labour revival in my constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr where we put seven thousand votes on our rivals.

However, losing seats in the central valleys and Cardiff was a bitter blow, particularly in Caerphilly which was one of Wales’ better run Councils. Under a fairer voting system such as employed in Scotland for local elections, the number of Plaid Councillors would have better reflected our share of the vote.

At the risk of sounding like a Lib Dem, attempting to project a first past the post result on to a different voting system is, of course, difficult. However, in some areas we can say with certainty that the result would have been different. For example in the Cynon Valley Labour had 90 per cent of the council seats on 57 per cent of the vote, whilst Plaid only received 10 per cent of the seats after gaining 33 per cent of the vote. In Cardiff we polled 13 per cent of the vote but only have 3 per cent of the councillors. If that’s not a democratic deficit I’m not quite sure what is. Of course, with tribal Labour reasserting a vice like grip on Welsh democracy I’m not holding out much hope for progress.

Having been actively involved in Welsh politics since 1997 it seems clear to me that the fate of Welsh elections are largely determined by events in Westminster. When Labour are in power, the electoral environment is far more favourable to Plaid, and the other two unionist parties. When the Tories are in, the reverse is true. This protest vote style politics against Westminster comes as a result of a failure of the national movement to create a Welsh political context.

The blame is also shared by a weak civil society which is far too closely associated with one political party, and a Welsh-based media that, apart from the BBC, lacks political penetration. The Labour-Tory tag team have a deplorable record in Wales. The challenge for my party is to convince the people of Wales is that the real alternative is the growth of our democracy rather than changing colours of the ruling clan in Westminster.

During the campaign a journalist from the BBC in Wales asked, “What message will voters send the Prime Minister?” When Welsh journalists begin asking, “what message will voters send the First Minister?” we might be getting somewhere as a political nation.

Jonathan Edwards is Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

25 thoughts on “Election special 3: Send a message to Cardiff Bay

  1. “We lost 66 seats across Wales, and gained 25.” Just to clarify; you actually mean that Plaid lost 41 seats and therefore gained none. I think that there were 5 counties where Plaid kept the same number of councillors but none where they actually gained a seat (had more seats after the election than before). I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

    I’m also a little bemused by your closing paragraph:-

    ” During the campaign a journalist from the BBC in Wales asked, “What message will voters send the Prime Minister?” When Welsh journalists begin asking, “what message will voters send the First Minister?” we might be getting somewhere as a political nation.”

    A great closing sentiment but then how short your memory is; have a look at your opening two paragraphs:-

    “…..an out of touch and ideologically driven UK Government pursuing aggressive cuts, a Cabinet mired in sleaze, and a double dip recession – Labour couldn’t have asked for a better set of circumstances.”

    And these names you bandy about…..Ed Balls….Ed Miliband….Blair…Brown? When exactly did these people serve in a Welsh Government?

    I can’t blame you for trying to put a positive spin on Plaid’s poor showing but couldn’t you have come up with a more plausible effort? If, as you say, Welsh voters reject the ideological direction of the ConDem Government and wanted to “Send A Message” to that effect and if, as you suggest, Labour are as culpable as the Tories for the economic decline we are in; why didn’t Plaid benefit at the ballot box?

    Can you see nothing that Plaid might just have got wrong? Is there absolutely NOTHING that Plaid could have done better? Is it all out of your hands and the fault of circumstances beyond your control? You make Plaid sound like a goldfish in a bowl that can see everything going on around it but is powerless to have any influence on the inevitable unfolding of events.

    “It’s the voting system don’cha know…..” “The blame is also shared by a weak civil society….”. “This protest vote style politics against Westminster……..” There’s also a hint at blaming good old BBC Wales.

    And of course you can always blame the voters.

    But look at the advantage that Plaid had at this election: they had a new, fresh-out-of-the-box, leader who had had plenty of press coverage in the preceding months, as had Plaid as a whole. Never has Plaid had better stage for its policies and a better springboard from which to enter an election.

    So Jonathan try this for an analysis: “What Plaid want the people of Wales don’t. What Plaid don’t want the people of Wales do.”

  2. Jonathan Edwards makes an excellent point at the end about the Welsh media’s obsession with London politics. I can’t get over how many stories we heard about Boris and Ken, whilst some of the fascinating political battles in our country were completely ignored. Why are so many journalists here writing from an anti-Welsh perspective? Fifth-columnism at its very worst, I’d maintain.

  3. I am heartily sick of hearing about ‘the cuts’, ‘sleaze in Westminster’ etc! In my opinion all a distraction from what is really happening (or not) here in Wales. Apalling health service, with overpaid and feather-bedded employees, and the track record of a third world country. An education system that is in need or radical reform and which the current administration has failed to tackle until it’s almost too late. The domination of the Welsh language impacts on educational attainment, with the silent majority held to ransom by the ruling minority. On top of which an economy that is in reverse, with domination of the public sector and vain hopes that tourism (low value) will save all our souls. What a shambles – come on Jonathan Edwards – you can do better than this – the answers lie mainly in Welsh hands.

  4. Jonathon Edwards is a good representative of the ‘fantasy’ world that PC lives in, and that’s what makes them irrelevant to the vast majority of welsh people. Where he is happy to give a good ‘kicking’ to Blair/Brown his party was in GOVERNMENT (what a JOKE) in Cardiff,and benefited from the huge increase in funding because we were part of UK. This money allowed PC to spend on their pet projects i.e welsh language schools, flying arrangements for AM’s in remote areas, referendums for more powers etc. But did nothing about the huge imbalances in our economy by over manning in public bodies, whilst services are getting worse. The constant drive by PC to turn us inwards,and into irrelevance is already having an impact on happiness of our people, particularly the English only speakers who feel marginalised with nobody standing up for their interests. This constant ‘worrying’ about the impact of whats ‘occurring’ in England upon Welsh life only goes to show what a shallow group of people the Welsh nationalists really are. Whatever is said of political life in London, it is alive and has a world class media to complement it. Whereas in wales our WG is about as interesting as the North Korean assembly,and media even more insular and boring. If the Western Mail is supposed to be our national paper then that reflects on the supposed nation, as quite frankly it’s a rugby magazine and not a particularly good one. The funny thing is that I believe that Welsh people could manage their ‘affairs’ in a really professional manner, however the political situation here is desperate, with one part of it seeking to destroy our part in UK and the current leadership of the Labour Party ‘trimming’ to the nationalist/Welsh speaking minority. If JE wants to talk about ‘cuts’ he should refer to Greece and little children relying on ‘charity’ for medical advice That’s where we would be if PC had had their way in putting an independent Wales into the euro,and total European integration. Why is there never any gratitude by the nationalists for the financial help we get from the English? This is appreciated by the vast majority particularly those living on pensions.

  5. Oh I know Howell. I feel so sorry for English speakers in Wales because they’ve got no-one to talk to, and they can’t even go shopping or use any services or facilities because they wouldn’t be able to read the signs or talk to anyone in their own tongue. I think you and I should start an English Language Campaign to get road and shop signs written in English. Now that would be radical!

  6. Until recently, posts on IWA blogs were intelligent and engaged. The degree of mud-slinging here, along with the inability of people to spell, use capitals correctly or construct grammatically coherent sentences suggests that it is slipping into the mire. We are meant to be discussing policy, economics and culture, not the merits of football teams.

    I politely suggest that posts that are spiced with deliberately obnoxious language are actively removed.

    It is a desperate pity.

  7. Howell Morgan,

    What you have said clearly states what is wrong with British politics. In a union we all help each other. Yes, we are in a tax deficit in Wales, but that isn’t everything. Water, electricity, gas, Crown estates etc all count as British assets and not specifically Welsh even though they come from Welsh reservoirs, Welsh gas lines and from Welsh soil. We have no control over our natural wealth, which is plentiful, unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland. The media point is valid, but I’m sure that there would be even more public fury if the W.G were to subsidise an indigenous media, as is done in Denmark. The English NHS is also being destroyed, privatised and mutated into something that will enable big business to be made from our health. Whilst everything is most definitely not rosy here in Wales, the grass is certainly not greener on the other side of the Dyke.

    Mary Jones,

    Learning a language is not detrimental to any education system. The fact that children are learning Welsh from an early age is something that should be applauded. Studies show that bilingual children are far more intelligent than their monoglot counterparts and that Welsh is a far better language to springboard into other European languages as it has far more in common with French, Spanish and Italian than English does. The fact of the matter is that the English, wherever they went, tried their best to destroy the native language of the country. One need only look at the old British Empire and see how the native languages are struggling in most places to cope. English will soon not be sufficient enough as an only language. Spanish and Portuguese are again on the rise due to massive economic growth in the Americas. Pointing and shouting will soon not be enough.

  8. “with the inability of people to spell, use capitals correctly or construct grammatically coherent sentences suggests that it is slipping into the mire.” I couldn’t agree more David Lloyd Owen. Look at this example from Sion Jones above:
    “We have no control over our natural wealth, which is plentiful, unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
    The Natural Wealth of Scotland and Ireland IS plentiful…..but I suspect that he meant something else.

    “English will soon not be sufficient enough as an only language.” Sufficient is sufficient in this sentence and enough is enough.

    We must guard too against failure of logical thinking such as:-
    “Studies show that bilingual children are far more intelligent than their monoglot counterparts and that Welsh is a far better language to springboard into other European languages as it has far more in common with French, Spanish and Italian than English does.”

    There is no study which shows that bilingual children are “FAR MORE INTELLIGENT” than their monoglot counterparts nor any study showing that Welsh is a “FAR BETTER” language to “Springboard into” other european languages.

    The problem with studies that look at comparisons between bilingual and monolingual groups is that it is impossible to make a comparison. Was the child less intelligent before he became bilingual? Are more intelligent children more likely to become bi-lingual? Whatever the answers to these imponderable questions the “fact of the matter” is that Welsh/English bilinguals in Wales are “Far less likely” to take a GCSE in a modern foreign language than their monoglot cousins in England and “Far less likely” to excel at A level Modern foreign languages than those children educated to the east of us.

  9. I am entitled to my view that Welsh nationalists are a) delusional b) peddle half truths and need to be challenged at all opportunities, even in such a high vehicle as the IWA blog.
    Hows this for a degree of mud-slinging:-
    1. Out of touch and idealogically driven UK Government pursuing aggressive cuts.
    2. Cabinet mired in sleaze
    3. Double-dip recession
    4 Both Eds were key players in Blair/Brown regime,
    Perhaps in the PC world the facts of crisis in euroland and general economic problems throughout a capitalistic world don’t mean there are fundamental challenges to all governments that must be addressed to get us back to sanity. As far as ‘sleaze’ is concerned we had better wait, however all governments have close relationships with private companies and if laws are broken then prosecutions should follow. Sorry its so inadequate but just ordinary working class bloke,who will be still entitled to vote if PC get into power?

  10. The use of the parenthesis indicates that information contained within the commas is not completely necessary to the sentence. The important information of the sentence is ‘We have no control over our natural wealth unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland.’

    What I said with regards to the Welsh language was a response to what Mary Jones had said. Whilst I may have over exaggerated with far more intelligent etc Welsh cannot be considered a hindrance to an education. You cannot blame peoples poor achievement in school on the learning of Welsh as much as you can on R.E or P.E. Do you happen to have the figures on subject uptake in Welsh medium schools? As I would like to see the evidence on that.

  11. I’m baffled. Everyone agrees that Welsh speakers are a minority. We have universal suffrage which means English speakers dominate the franchise. Most Welsh ministers and AMs are monoglot English – like their constituents. More than 7 out of every 8 civil servants have no Welsh and indeed many of them are actually English. There are almost no jobs across most of the country (ie outside Gwynedd) reserved to Welsh speakers and it is perfectly possible to live and work in Wales without hearing a word of Welsh. Yet numbers of correspondents on this blog and others are convinced there is a Welsh speaking elite running the country and disadvantaging the majority. Not only do they believe it but they are very angry about it and express themselves very fiercely.

    Most Welsh people are uninterested in Welsh but feel a vague benevolence towards it, perhaps because Granny spoke it, perhaps because they recognise it was an essential element in national history and culture. They can’t be bothered to learn it themselves but don’t mind the government spending a bit of money to support it and they recognise the fairness of allowing the Welsh-speaking minority and others to educate their kids in Welsh if they want to. But a minority in the English-speaking majority don’t feel benevolent like that; they feel threatened and affronted by Welsh.

    Of course, many Welsh speakers are passionate about the language as one can only be about something threatened. They don’t want it to die on their watch. Once gone it’s gone so they can surely be excused a certain vehemence in defending it (though you can call it Poujadist if you want to be rude).

    But neither the language, nor the prosperity nor the livelihood of the English-speaking majority is threatened so it’s the vehemence of the anti-Welsh minority in its midst that is puzzling. I think it can only be explained as Freudian projection. They feel inferior for not speaking Welsh, can’t face up to the feeling so project it on to Welsh speakers whom they imagine are looking down on them. Since you tend to detest people looking down on you, they detest Welsh speakers and by extension the language. So lighten up folks, get wise to yourselves, live and let live.

  12. Tredwyn – spot on! Classic Freudian inferiority complex that manifests itself as an aggressive assertion of superiority – from the monolingual anglophones. As you say, only a small proportion suffer from it, but unfortunately they are very vocal on forums like this one.

    What they miss is that the love of the language, and the determination to preserve it is no longer a political issue – all the main parties in Wales are agreed on that. In fact, the Tories 2011 manifesto was far more ambitious on the development of Welsh education than even Plaid’s!

    We have to read yet again the lie that Welsh medium education is more expensive than English medium education. Those that perpetrate that propaganda fallacy should educate themselves better on the matter.

  13. “Plaid’s challenge is to convince the people of Wales that Welsh democracy is better rather than changing the ruling clan at Westminster.” Absolutely.

    So let’s look at Plaid’s record in government doing this then? Since Leanne Wood became leader she has had six opportunities at First Minister’s Questions. Has she helped grow Welsh democracy, or focussed on the ruling clan at Westminster?

    20 March – regional pay, responsibility of the Westminster government
    27 March – devolution of energy consents and the Crown Estates, responsibility of the Westminster government
    24 April – Salaries of large banks and of Russell Roberts (then leader of RCT council), responsibility of the Westminster government and RCT council respectively
    1 May – downgrading of district hospital closures, Welsh government responsibility
    8 May – introducing a living wage, Welsh government responsibility
    15 May – energy consents, Westminster responsibility

    So, by my count, two-thirds of Leanne’s questions so far have been on issues that are not the responsibility of the Welsh government. If Plaid Cymru is truly to grow Welsh democracy then they should ensure that all their time and energy is focussed on that, rather than on London.

    Imagine the Plaid Cymru outcry if Andrew RT Davies or Kirsty Williams talked about “London” politics everytime. Somehow, when Plaid do it, it’s not a slap in the face for Wales at all.

  14. “eight fewer milliseconds”

    “You have to use both languages all the time. You won’t get the bilingual benefit from occasional use.”

    “Musicians appear to gain a similar benefit when rehearsing, say the researchers.”

    “Exercising and challenging our brain – by learning new skills, doing puzzles such as crosswords, and even learning a new language – may well also help.”

    “But the strongest evidence we currently have for reducing the risk of dementia is around having a healthy lifestyle – eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and remaining socially active.”

    Thanks for the long list Alun Griffiths but nowhere does it say:
    “Studies show that bilingual children are far more intelligent than their monoglot counterparts”
    Which was the statement made by Sion. As I have already said it’s an impossible statement to back up with a study because it has no meaning. For instance what does it mean in relation to the young men who work at my local builder’s merchants? They are bilingual but if a monoglot professor of mathematics walks in for a kilo of nails are we saying that the the workers are more intelligent than the professor? And, as Prof Bialystok says, any benefit derived from bi-lingualism is dependent on constant practise of that ability.
    Let’s just look at what it means for Wales: Able to speak Welsh – 20% of the population. Fluent in Welsh – 12% of the population. Using Welsh all the time exclusively – 4% of the population. So we can say that any benefit of bi-lingualism is felt by 8% of the population who are perpetually switching between languages. Is that 8% “Far more intelligent” than the other 92% of the population? There is no evidence to suggest this. This is the problem with Welsh Language zealots, what intelligence they have, superior or not, is swamped by their desire to recruit any “evidence” that they can muster to their cause…no matter how ill founded or tenuous.

    Sion Eurfyl Jones says “We have to read yet again the lie that Welsh medium education is more expensive than English medium education.”

    Read it again Sion Eurfyl… Local Authorities fund Welsh Medium schools more advantageously than English Medium schools by various means. The most straight forward is Cardiff that gives an extra £100,000 to each WM secondary school and £21,000 to each WM primary school as a Welsh Medium Supplement.

    What you mean is that EM schools are more expensive to fund than WM schools over all. Funding formulae vary between authorities and are complex but schools, Welsh and English medium, are more expensive the more SEN pupils there are and the more pupils come from deprived backgrounds. English medium schools have more SEN pupils and far more pupils from deprived backgrounds than WM schools and attract funding to cope with that. It remains the case that if there were two schools identical in every respect except that one was EM and one WM, the WM school would have better funding.

    R Tredwyn:
    “More than 7 out of every 8 civil servants have no Welsh and indeed many of them are actually English”

    I can’t comment on whether many are English and I doubt there is any data on the nationality of civil servants. I did however give you the data from a FOI request in 2009 showing that 17% of National Assembly employees were Welsh speaking and since another figure gave Welsh learners employed by the National Assembly you can assume the 17% were fluent Welsh speakers. This is a much higher proportion of fluent Welsh speakers than the working age population nationally.

    Sion: “Do you happen to have the figures on subject uptake in Welsh medium schools?”

    I do for 2010 (you mean modern foreign languages do you?) and I have a study done by estyn that I can quote from:

    Modern Foreign Languages in Welsh-Medium Schools

    2. Main findings

    – The proportion of pupils taking a modern foreign language in Welsh medium
    schools is lower than in other schools;

    – In the Welsh medium sector, there are wide differences not only between
    schools but also between LEAs;

    – The number of pupils studying a second foreign language in key stage 4 is
    very low in both English and Welsh medium schools.

    – There are a few factors that appear to affect Welsh medium more than English
    medium schools. These factors include location, local attitudes and the school

    – Some pupils are confused when they have to deal with a mixture of three
    languages in lessons; and

    – Several schools have had difficulties in recruiting well-qualified Welsh
    speaking foreign language teachers;

    However, Sion, Welsh pupils do do well in Modern Foreign Languages at GCSE but much less well at A level (in comparison to England). The problem is that 40% of pupils in England take a GCSE in a MFL and 27% (of 15 year olds) in Wales. It is possible that the small percentage taking a MFL in Wales are an “elite” and that good pass rates would fall if Wales entered 40% into a MFL.

  15. Gethin, with respect you are completely missing the point. It is Plaid Cymru policy for the things you have listed (energy consents, public sector pay, crown estates) to be devolved to Wales and become part of Welsh democracy.

    So when you argue that “by my count, two-thirds of Leanne’s questions so far have been on issues that are not the responsibility of the Welsh government”, this is because Plaid Cymru wants those issues to be the responsibility of the Welsh Government. In fact on energy consents all three other parties in the Assembly agree in principle with Plaid Cymru, and on public sector pay Labour partially agrees with Plaid Cymru.

    “If Plaid Cymru is truly to grow Welsh democracy then they should ensure that all their time and energy is focussed on that, rather than on London.” No, if Plaid Cymru is to grow Welsh democracy they need to make the case for more powers to be brought to Wales including powers over energy, pay, and so on.

  16. Jon Jones. The numbers you quote are simply incredible if applied to civil servants engaged in the formation and implementation of policy. To get such numbers they must have included interpreters, translators, everyone engaged in the printing of Welsh versions of documents and the scrapings of heaven-knows-what barrel. Take the top level of civil servants below the Perm Sec, that is the 7 Directors General of government departments. They are on the WG website for inspection. Two are Welsh, Gareth Jones and Emyr Roberts. Roberts is Welsh speaking. I don’t know about Jones. June Milligan is a Scot, the other four are English. James Price has a Welsh name but comes from Somerset. 5 out of 7 are non-Welsh and if you look down the organigram you will see this pattern is repeated at lower levels. I have already pointed out that our governing politicians are largely monoglot English so it is evident that public policy in Wales is made by people who do not speak Welsh. Personally I regard that as natural given the linguistic make-up of the country but you would not suspect it from the level of paranoia about “Welsh elites”. Where is this Welsh elite? How do you sign up for it?

  17. To Jon Jones again. I think we may agree the Welsh education system is a shambles that is becoming a disgrace. I don’t know that there is any point to be made about Welsh versus English. Most of the kids I know are EM. To argue low standards are because Welsh is taught as some do is ludicrous, though I accept that much Welsh taught in EM schools is a waste of time. The time wasted is not sufficient to explain generally lamentable standards. I am happy to accept there is positive discrimination in favour of WM in some part of Wales. This appears to affront you greatly but I can’t see why. It is a necessary condition for the survival of the language. If you will the ends you must will the means. Your position seems to be that you would prefer Welsh to die than that a minority of people in Gwynedd are inconvenienced. Sorry, can’t join you there. They must know Gwynedd is the only place on earth where Welsh is the community language. If that’s so intolerable, why go there? That Welsh is badly taught so that much of the effort to sustain it is counterproductive may be true. I take your word for it. That argues for improving the way positive discrimination is exercised, not abolishing it.

  18. Jon,

    I have found figures with regards to language uptake in Wales from the CILT website. I found that roughly 15,000 were entered in 2010 for Welsh and an approximation of around 8,500 study any MFL, I have joined the stats for French, Spanish, German and the ‘other’ language category. In comparison, schools in England entered roughly 300,000. They also state that language uptake is around 25% and even fewer for AS and A-level where as for GCSE England has roughly a 50% uptake.

    Traditionally, by pupils, Modern Foreign Languages are seen as some of the more difficult subjects and this could have something to do with the decline in numbers. Personally, I think it is more to do with the obsession of teaching French in schools. French has been traditionally taught in the U.K as the first foreign language a child is introduced to. In the past French was an extremely important international language, but due to the fall of Francoism, the growth of tourism and a better economic situation in Latin America, Spanish should now be the first language to be taught in schools. It is a phonetic language, like Welsh and unlike French and English, and is the second most widely spoken language in the word after Mandarin, and has the greatest number of countries where it is the official spoken language.

    In regards to Welsh helping other foreign languages, I am a fluent Welsh speaker and I am also a linguist. In my time in education I have learnt the four main languages that are on offer in the U.K; French, Spanish, German and Italian. If a person is able to speak Welsh, as well as English, it does give them a better grounding. Spanish and Italian both need rolled Rs, a characteristic of Welsh and not English. The Spanish letter J is pronounced as the Welsh letter Ch. French, Spanish and Italian vowels are open and not closed like English. English grammar is simple and if people learn a language that has more complex grammar, such as Welsh, before tackling more sophisticated languages, such as German, you can get your head around the thinking process behind grammar systems with far more ease. Although, I shall admit, English is of greater vocabulary help for Germanic languages as it comes mostly from Saxony, albeit by also being roughly 20% of French origin.

    When learning a language it is best to be submerged into the culture. What good does two or three hours of French do when you won’t get the chance to speak it with native speakers very often. In Wales, children are able to speak Welsh with native speakers which can improve their communication skills, confidence and can help towards further learning of Modern Foreign Languages.

    The point that you made regarding the fact that some schools are finding it difficult to recruit good Welsh speaking language teachers could be down to the fact that for the majority of people in Wales the access to a WM education is, more or less, in its first generation. My mother, a Welsh speaker, wasn’t able to go to a Welsh medium school because in her area it didn’t exist. Which means the number of people who have been taught their MFL through the medium of Welsh will be low and not everybody who studies languages would like to be a teacher.

    Language confusion is common but generally speaking only in similar language groups such as Romantic which includes French, Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Portuguese etc or Germanic which includes German, Dutch, Swedish, Flemish and English. Welsh, on the other hand, is a Type B Brythonic language which has been influenced by many languages such as Latin, French and words of Germanic origin, such as English and German, and therefore confusion should be less of a problem as many of the words do not have the same root and cannot be easily confused, although there are words such as Cwngingen in Welsh which are similar to the Spanish Conejo, Italian Coniglio and the German Kaninchen, all meaning rabbit.

  19. Hi Sion,
    In 2010 Welsh medium schools had 7,156 pupils and 1,890 entries for one MFL or another.
    In 2010 English medium schools had 28,193 pupils and 7,785 entries for one MFL or another.
    So 27% is a fair enough estimate. The split between WM and EM schools is not very different; 26.4% to 27.6%.

    In fact the situation is that all GCSE entries go down as the percentage of pupils on Free school meals goes up so, to take French as an example:
    WM schools with less than 10% on Free school meals 621 GCSE = 16.6%
    WM schools 10%-15% 420 GCSE = 17.5%
    WM Schools 15-20% 135 GCSE = 14.7%
    WM schools 20-30% 12 GCSE = 9.7%

    EM schools less than 10% on FSMs 1555 GCSE = 26.2%
    EM schools 10%-15% 1,428 GCSE = 22.47%
    EM schools 15%-20% 1,098 GCSE = 19%
    EM schools 20%-30% 819 GCSE = 11.8%

    Overall MFL entries in GCSE MFL’s fell 14.6% between 2010 and 2011 in Wales.

    So you can see that, for whatever reason, WM schools do not provide a “Springboard” to other Modern Foreign languages through Welsh. Why this is probably touched on by the Estyn study; attitude and a shortage of tri-lingual teachers. When you consider that maybe 350 pupils a year take A level Welsh first language, to get a WM French teacher for instance you would be looking amongst those 350 for those who go on to take a MFL degree.

    When you compare A level results for all Welsh schools with English schools: (JCQ tables 2011)
    A*+A French….Wales 30.6% England 40.5%
    A*+A German…Wales 32.4% England 42.4%
    A*+A Spanish Wales 26.6% England 38.0%
    Welsh A*+A (first and second language) 19.7%

    It is clear that, as a country, having Welsh taught from early primary to GCSE as a compulsory subject has done nothing for our linguistic ability. You can argue about the reason for this but just quoting studies about bi-lingualism and the uptake of other languages is pointless when in Wales we are the worst in the UK at languages.

    I’m not a linguist but this:
    “there are words such as Cwngingen in Welsh which are similar to the Spanish Conejo, Italian Coniglio and the German Kaninchen, all meaning rabbit.”
    Isn’t the best example since the English word for the same animal is very similar “Coney”. I think that we only started calling them “Rabbits” (the young of the species) in Victorian times. Still, I’m just being pedantic.

  20. Tredwyn,
    “Jon Jones. The numbers you quote are simply incredible if applied to civil servants engaged in the formation and implementation of policy.” Well yes, I did draw on a much wider definition of “Civil Servants” than you are now using but look again at what you said;

    “More than 7 out of every 8 civil servants have no Welsh and indeed many of them are actually English.”
    I didn’t apply it to the limited number of civil servants engaged in policy formation… but then neither did you.

    I don’t think that I have ever said that all the problems with education in Wales are down to Welsh language teaching or Welsh Medium education and as for this:
    “Your position seems to be that you would prefer Welsh to die than that a minority of people in Gwynedd are inconvenienced. Sorry, can’t join you there.”

    Permit me the privelege of stating my position:
    As for the minority that would like the option of an EM school for their kids in Ynys Mon and Gwynedd just bear in mind that many are like me, born and bred here but English speaking… we haven’t just moved here. Around me there are three and four generation English speaking families so don’t imagine that all non-Welsh speakers in the fro Cymraeg have just arrived from England.

  21. Tredwyn, If you are interested in what I think has gone wrong with education in Wales, I can tell you.

    Firstly Wales shares many of the shortcomings of the rest of the UK when it comes to attitudes to children; teachers and the establishment are obsessed with “Blame” and not positive about improvement in schools outside of “political dogma”. England is well on the way to ruining its school system because the Government is fixated with the “Private Sector” as if the urge to make profit was the only driving factor in Education, Health and life. Wales, on the other hand, ruined an already good system by deliberately diverging from the English model of schools. Confused?

    Wales decided that it was unnecessary to put teachers to the trouble of SATs tests and stopped doing it. Every school assessed at Key stage 1 and 2 in Primary school and reported against an expected attainment level (level 4) at the age of 11, year six. So far so good, but schools were receiving “Core data set” analysis of their performance in comparison to other similar schools which actually ranked them in a mini-league table. Not long therefore before teachers and Heads realised that their performance was measured against other schools on KS2 level4 results. What happened next? Schools gradually “got better” in terms of “Level 4”. Only trouble was that no one had foreseen the wide divergence in what each school called “Level 4”. The expected level in one school was different to the expected level in the next, with each school looking over its shoulder at its neighbour to see how they ranked.

    Incredible though it may seem it was only three years ago that Estyn realised the mistake and put “Moderation” into action to standardise assessment and, even then they, quite perversely, chose to start with Key stage 3, a stage when damage to children’s literacy was beyond recovery.

    By now even reports from the Minister and to the Minister refer to a “Lack of Confidence” in KS2 assessment. Why? Because Secondary schools, fed up with being whipping boys over GCSE results, have actually started monitoring their year seven intake and establishing the level of literacy and numeracy of those pupils. Guess what? Secondary Heads are finding high numbers of pupils arriving with poor reading and basic maths skills from schools who claimed that those kids were at the “expected level”.

    So we have two political dogmas ruining education in opposite ways. Tories and Tory lite Blairites burdened schools with testing and monitoring and a quasi socialist regime in Wales set those “trustworthy teachers” free of all monitoring and moderation. Initially it was Wales that suffered most, it remains to be seen if England has now sent education into a downward spiral with too much interference.

    There is one other aspect of Education in Wales that was highlighted by Pisa and has gone largely unremarked upon; Wales fails to educate pupils from deprived backgrounds and fails equally to stretch pupils who come from “Educated middle class” backgrounds. It’s something that I see in primary schools frequently; teachers obsessed with just making the grade… getting as many pupils as possible to level 4 at KS2 but ignoring the pupils that should be level 5 and level 6. So this is the class room attitude (of course I exaggerate and generalise). Some kids are: “No Hopers…control them….nothing we can do…it’s all the parents fault…hope for the best.” “Most kids can reach level 4…concentrate on those at the margins.” “…Some kids are bright (PHEW!) sometimes they are a nuisance…control them, but… generally speaking we don’t have to do much with them.”
    Now Teachers will be outraged by that analysis because it’s not universally true (of course) but I believe that those attitudes exist in all Primary schools somewhere.
    That is a small part of what I think is wrong with schools in Wales. It isn’t a matter of blaming everything on the Welsh Language but we have to break free of political dogma and unfortunately obsessing over Welsh/English bi-lingualism has been at the heart of Education dogma for too long. Someday someone will wake up and ask “What is best for our children…what works in the best interest of EVERY child?” If they don’t then Wales’ education system cannot recover.

  22. I agree with most of what you say about our education system. In an over-reaction to attempted micro-control in England we opted to ‘trust the professionals’. In practice this slipped from not telling them how to do their job to not monitoring results or holding them to account at all. As an old leftie I regret to say the influence of the teaching unions was malign. Instead of acting like a professional organisation they protected their members’ right to a quiet life and never mind the kids.
    I also agree that there is a lot of pointless Welsh-language tokenism which is a waste of time. We’ll have to disagree about the best solution in Gwynedd. I recall a school study which showed that if there is a linguistic minority but the majority also speak the minority language the minority will conform and speak the majority language in the playground when they number around 10 per cent or fewer. Once the minority reaches 30 per cent, their language will oust the majority language in the playground. Somewhere in between comes the tipping point. The harsh truth is that a tender concern for individual rights and preferences can result in the loss of the majority language as the one used in the community, an outcome that most people concerned do not want. It’s easy for me, I admit, because I have no children in Gwynedd but I support the local government’s right to offer Welsh-only schooling. Young children (below 9) pick up languages very fast and so as long as the schooling is good no-one is harmed. The quality of the education may not be good enough but that is a problem shared with EM schools across Wales and WM schools should be subject to the same disciplines and programmes for improvement. I also agree that even in WM schools at secondary level it is probably sensible to teach certain subjects in English, if only because you can’t find adequate WM teachers.

    On civil servants I confess the number of 6 per cent Welsh-speakers I originally quoted, if correct at all, must include staff in non-devolved functions like unemployment and benefit offices and vehicle licensing. They are more numerous than the devolved civil service. From the numbers you quote and my own inspection of the WG organigram I’d guess the number is indeed in the 15 per cent area, which is still less than the proportion in the population at large. There are issues around what constutitues a Welsh speaker in terms of literacy and fluency but I don’t think the data exists to settle those. What would surprise most people, though, is the large number of non-Welsh Brits in the Welsh civil service including a non-negligible number of Scots. I don’t find that unwelcome but, given it’s true, I’m sick of Englsih-speaking Welshmen moaning about a Welsh-speaking elite.

  23. Jon Jones,

    One could easily say that the teaching of languages has become worse. I am all for having languages turned into a core subject, just like they used to. Languages are an important part of life and need to be taught, be they Welsh, French, Spanish or Arabic. Learning a language broadens ones horizons and can make you see the world through a different light.

  24. Tredwyn:

    “but I support the local government’s right to offer Welsh-only schooling.” I quite accept the local governments right to offer Welsh Only schooling but not its right to offer ONLY Welsh only schooling. There is a minority in Gwynedd that would welcome the opportunity to move their child out of WM schooling. There is a larger minority in Ynys Mon and Ceredigion where most children come from an English speaking home. In Wales we recognise the “Minority rights” of Welsh speaking parents in Cardiff or Flintshire but turn our backs on the minority rights of English speaking parents in the Fro Cymraeg.

    Sion: I haven’t minimised the importance of teaching foreign languages; I think that good language teaching is very valuable. What I have said is that Wales is poor at teaching MFLs at GCSE level and that WM schools fail to enter pupils into MFL GCSEs for one reason or another. The WM schools and EM schools perform to the same standard in those exams.

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