Very few leaving English-medium schools can speak Welsh


Josh Parry says Welsh-medium education for all is the key to language growth

Whatever one’s personal opinion about teaching Welsh as a second language to children, there’s no denying the status quo is ineffective and unacceptable. Not only because over 75 per cent are denied the ability to speak the language fluently, but also because the system tries to ensure all pupils are fluent, but completely fails to deliver. So, we have a system which has a very worthy aim, but does not work. That’s why there is a broad consensus amongst educationalists and across parties in favour of significant change.

No-one who has read Professor Sioned Davies’ report can come to a conclusion other than the system needs transforming, not retaining. The key problem with teaching Welsh as a second language, is that almost none of those leaving an English medium school can speak the language. In other words, the system is failing, despite the efforts of a number of talented teachers.

The benefits of bilingualism, or multilingualism, don’t need to be reiterated to the vast majority of the people of Wales. Cymdeithas’ view is clear: all children in Wales have the right to become bilingual because Welsh is a unique inheritance to everyone who choose to make Wales their home, not just a few of us. Welsh is an essential skill for all, because everyone should be able to contribute fully to our bilingual country, and thereby live in Welsh.

The Welsh language faces a crisis. The diagram above is a good illustration of this, 6,500 fluent speakers pass away annually, compared to the 5,100 children that acquire the language. Including the effect of migration patterns, there is an annual net loss of 3,000 speakers: there are not enough Welsh-speaking children coming out of the education system to offset the changing demographics. A fact that is even clearer looking in more detail at the census results: the young people who were able to speak Welsh in 2001 had fallen from around 85,000 to 37,500 ten years later.










Sioned Davies’ report is welcome because it makes serious recommendations, which need implementing immediately if we are to ensure growth in the language over the years to come. The report’s conclusions are striking, highlighting the serious problems which need solving urgently.  Amongst those highlighted are: Welsh teachers not being able to speak Welsh; oral language assessment being memorised word for word; and the host of failing standards identified by Estyn.

The reports states in no uncertain terms: “It is undeniably the eleventh hour for Welsh second language. … Estyn reports show that the overall standard has fallen annually; in fact, pupil attainment levels are lower than in any other subject. Had this been said of Mathematics, or English, a revolution would undoubtedly have ensued. But low attainment in Welsh second language has been accepted as the norm. If we are serious about developing Welsh speakers, and about seeing the Welsh language thrive, a change of direction is urgently required before it is too late.”

The key shift the report recommends is starting to deliver at least some of the curriculum through the medium of Welsh in every school in Wales. That supports the main message from our presentation to the review, namely introducing Welsh-medium education for all as well as teaching it as a subject, rather than teaching it as a second language. Indeed, the entire ‘second language’ concept needs to be abolished.

This view is supported not only by academics, but also, crucially, by the Welsh Government’s own Welsh Language Education Strategy which states: “Welsh-medium education from the early years, with robust linguistic progression through every phase of education, offers the best conditions for developing future bilingual citizens.” Sioned Davies’s report therefore reflects the consensus in civic society about how to realise the aim of the present system – namely Welsh language fluency for all. For instance, a wide range of people, including Robin Mcbryde, Adam Price, Susan Elan Jones MP and Ann Jones AM, signed a recent letter supporting Cymdeithas’ campaign for Welsh medium education for all.

The findings of report are also recognise that children do not understand the significant context or the reason they were being taught the language. For example, “pupils … do not have an understanding of the wider context of the language, both historically, culturally and politically.” So we are in the remarkable position of denying the rights of under 18s to speak fluent Welsh but requiring them to learn about the Battle of Bosworth.

The results of the census in 2011 should have acted as a catalyst to enact social change at every level of society in Wales. Unfortunately, and, despite the crisis facing the language and the report’s recommendation to act urgently, the Government has already decided to delay. It is an inaction that has manifested itself in every policy area concerning the Welsh language.

That inaction is why Cymdeithas have given Carwyn Jones until 1st February to respond to proposals in six crucial policy areas. One of these is to get rid of the failing system that is second language teaching.

Cymdeithas will be holding a rally in Aberystwyth on December 14th calling on the First Minister to unlock the barriers preventing our people from living their lives in Welsh. If you agree the education system needs to be transformed so that every child gets to live their life in Welsh, join us at the rally.

Josh Parry is the Vice-Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s education campaign group, and is an undergraduate student from Cardiff

29 thoughts on “Very few leaving English-medium schools can speak Welsh

  1. Wake up and smell the coffee!

    “Why, though, should a British establishment, firmly placed at the top of the education tree (“Outstanding in all areas” — Ofsted), choose to transplant its culture and philosophy to a country on the other side of the world?”

    “Conducting all lessons, and all school life, in English, rather than Korean.”

    Well – I guess it wouldn’t be very welcome in Josh Parry’s Cymru, would it? Might as well stick with a forward-looking winning team like Korea and leave the Welsh language dinosaurs to inhabit their shrinking collapsing little world. It’s hard to explain how pathetic you look and sound to people in Wales let alone to the rest of the developing world where people go to extraordinary lengths to become fluent in English!

  2. here we go again! Sioned Davies report has already been pulled apart for it’s bias on this site. We’re still waiting for a report by (and sample of) people who are actually involved in English medium education in Wales. We don’t really need a report to tell us what Welsh speaking nationalist academics would like… we could guess that!

    With reference to the figure…. are you sure out-migrant Welsh speakers don’t move anywhere other than England?!? I know one who has! CYI seem obsessed with England

  3. Also….

    I’m not trying to be deliberately offensive but the authors definition of ‘a wide range of people’ suggests they definitely need to get out and about a bit more! and no that’s not just a cheap shot but an important point which carries through into the subject we are discussing…
    My EM school in Wales had a vast range of teachers from all over the UK and even one from France/one from Ireland. That is a wonderfully diverse range to inspire children and expose them to a range of different opinions and backgrounds. For all it’s advantages, one of the major disadvantages of WM schools (that is never discussed) is that it cannot possibly be ‘horizon broadening’ to only be taught by a group of teachers who all went to the same school, urdd and teacher training themselves.

  4. Not enough qualified teachers to do this. Pilot it in the Fro before even thinking of rolling out a programme across Wales. One, make sure it works, two give enough time to train more teachers if it does. Welsh can’t afford another failed initiative with under-equipped teachers and indifferent pupils.

  5. Piece of friendly advice from one still well disposed toward the Welsh language: if Wales is indeed a democracy, or at least trying to be one, then simple mathematics dictates that the fate of the language depends on gaining the goodwill of the 70-80% of the Welsh population who do not speak it

    And one of the ways to destroy that goodwill is for the self-appointed advocates of the language to use lines like “Cymdeithas have given Carwyn Jones until 1st February to respond to proposals in six crucial policy areas.”

    Whatever one thinks of Mr Jones, his party, his policies, or his office, the fact still remains that he is an elected public official. Who do Cymdeithas think they are to lay down deadlines to him?

    Welsh-language lobbyists might also reflect whether the policy of compulsion in schools is winning them friends among the majority. Although they like to emphasise the popularity of Welsh-medium schools, the vast majority of people go or went to English-medium schools. Based purely on personal recollection of an English-medium school where Welsh was fairly well taught by dedicated teachers, it was a very unpopular subject among pupils and – this was the days for the national curriculum – nearly everyone dropped it as soon as they could. Those pupils are now voters. Many also have children of their own. Are compulsory Welsh lessons winning the goodwill of those children and their parents?

  6. I think the argument is fundamentally flawed. It stresses the benefits of bilingualism or multilingualism, but it doesn’t follow that having one of those languages as Welsh is going to benefit everybody.
    It then claims Welsh IS an essential skill for everybody because everybody needs to be able to contribute fully to Wales as a bilingual country.
    But Wales is not a bilingual country, and one can live and contribute fully to Wales without speaking Welsh.
    The underside of the argument is that Wales SHOULD be a bilingual country, and that people should NOT be able to contribute fully to Wales unless they can speak Welsh, and that is a highly oppressive programme.
    So the argument is not that everybody should be able to speak Welsh because Wales is a bilingual country, but that we must MAKE Wales a bilingual coutnry by forcing children to learn Welsh, and make sure that if peope don’t speak Welsh they are not full members of the Welsh nation.
    I find this approach highly problematic morally and politically.

  7. Obesity is a big problem in Wales. And, especially so amongst the young. Young parents and young children. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a word for ‘obesity’ in the Welsh language. Could this be part of the problem? And how many other problems are we storing up for ourselves by going backward in terms of language rather than forwards?

    As for our culture, I’m more than happy with my Welsh culture as expressed through the Welsh language of English. Welsh speaking Welsh culture is absolutely meaningless to me and always will be. I regard it as a foreign culture!

  8. please use this one

    I think Welsh medium education should be voluntary but currently, it is limited. Let the 40% who want it have it, not the current 25%. I agree that 100% might be counter-productive

    Below the Landsker: regarding “getting out and about” I’ve lived in 3 countries in the last 28 years and do business in around 40. I also speak Welsh and have found it valuable in business inside and outside Wales. It seems to me that the anti-Welsh lobby is just as narrow minded as the pro-Welsh lobby while donning the cloak of internationalism. I’m also getting a bit fed up of the “Everybody speaks English now so what’s the point in learning foreign languages let alone Welsh” line. This does a disservice to the millions of people around the world who are not attached to their language and culture for financial gain (family, friendship, tradition are no doubt the worthless reasons). But, even if you think American English has won, an that what matters is money, you should remember that English is now a mere given and has value for the bilingual but less for the monolingual.

    Business (and other rewarding areas of life) are carried out in other languages and if you can’t learn more than a fraction of them, it’s important to appreciate the importance of language. If I tried to sell using English speakers in most of the countries I deal in I would sell much much less. Equally. I don’t need to hire monolingual English speakers because bilinguals are a better option. And whatever people say about learning “useful” languages, not learning Welsh doesn’t seem to have generated much interest in “useful” foreign languages. While it’s clearly more useful to be an English monolingual than a Welsh monolingual, bilinguals of any language + English have additional skills which add value in the market and provide personal and professional reward

  9. The one voice of sanity in all of this is R Tredwyn. The report is to be welcomed for its candour regarding the service being provided, or lack of it, to school students wanting to learn Welsh as a second language. However few questions have been asked regarding the rigour of the current system. How on earth can someone obtain an educational qualification which purports to represent their ability and yet they are taught to pass it, according to Mr Parry, by memorising word for word? Rather it represents a failure to properly design and monitor a Welsh language educational qualification. The point has also been made elsewhere that if the current system is unable to provide suitably qualified and capable teachers to deliver a reasonably succesful cohort of young Welsh speakers, where on earth is the supply of teachers for an expanded service going to come from.

    There is another point here which is both economic and educational. The need for Welsh as a job qualification is already increasing and will continue to do so. If therefore you are parents with a child in an English-medium school, it is quite logical to encourage your child to take Welsh as a second language to improve their job prospects. However, if that qualification fails to provide that child with the requisite level of ability, it has failed that child and their parents. That child is then left having to return to adult education in order to redress that failure if they are to gain access to the biliingual jobs market.

    There is therefore an injustice in the current system in that students at Welsh medium schools will leave with the requisite skills while those studying W2L will not. That is a political issue, one which the Minister for Education should respond to publicly.

    The way forward is as Tredwyn suggests the use of pilot schemes. However, I would not confine those pilots to the Fro. Several pilots should be run in different areas of Wales to see how social factors influence their ability to learn; learning Welsh in Caernarfon is a very different prospect to that of learning Welsh in Monmouth.

    But extending the service, as the report suggests, cannot be seriously considered until a proper analysis of the failures in the current system have been properly carried out.

  10. @Phil,if that is the case, explain the existence of Welsh, Englih and other languages in this country? Wales is not bilingual, it is multilingual with two languages dominating, one more than the other. Deal with it.

  11. “The way forward is as Tredwyn suggests the use of pilot schemes”

    Thanks Rhobat! I’m glad you’ve taken it upon yourself to decide that ‘experimenting’ on our children is the best thing for them! and what if these trials don’t work? Have you got a time machine to give these guinea pigs their childhood education back?

  12. Yvonne claims that she views the Welsh speaking Welsh culture in Wales as foreign. Please continue. You’ve made my day. I haven’t laughed so much in years.

  13. @ below landsker

    For Christmas, I wsa thinking of buying you a course in logic. Let me know if you that’s the kind of thing you’d find helpful.

    Firstly, the context: the current system of teaching Welsh as a second language is not working. Therefore a solution is required. Doing nothing means carrying on with a proven unsuccessful system.

    Secondly, all education is an experiment of one sort or another. The important thing is to find an experiment that works for the young student.

    Thirdly, pilot schemes are a way of implementing change responsibly. Problems that may arise from particular teaching methods can be identified, discussed and amended as and when as resources are targeted quite intensely in pilot projects. This avoids rolling out mistakes on a huge scale with all the costs that would involve.

    Fourthly, I have not decided anything, I have expressed an opinion which is my democratic right. The decision would be made by the Minister of Education, Huw Lewis alongside the Cabinet..

    Fifthly, who appointed you spokesperson for young people?

    Sixthly, do you have any suggestions that would help improve the current situation?

  14. BelowLandsker – a person with an obvious hatred of the Welsh language, who comments on every article which has an language angle, and it is always negative, always narrow minded, always reactionary & intolerant, and hides behind a fake name; these trolls are ten a penny on the internet esp Twitter & newspaper comments section, its a shame it’s happening now on the ClickonWales comments section.

    By the way, very few leave English-medium schools that can speak Welsh, true, and 100% who leave Welsh-medium schools are able to speak Welsh and English (and usually a third language) – so the obvious conclusion is to choose Welsh medium education if you want the best for your children. Fact.

  15. The narrow-mindedness of English Imperialist mentality shown by the usual suspects here is staggering.

    I went through English medium education and it is failing our children. It is even failing them in England.

    Moreover the French admit that monoglot education is failing their children and the same is true of the USA.

    There was a report in the press only this week that Welsh Speakers have higher qualifications on average than English speakers. Ergo (that’s Latin for those Imperialists above who don’t know), the Welsh language is clearly the best way to lift educational standards in Wales.

    The narrow-minded Imperialist prejudice that masquerades for so much of the English-medium education we’ve had to suffer for generations is an on-going disaster.

    Increasing the availability of Welsh-medium education is the first step we should take. It’s not the only one. The English language extremists (some of which are above) will cry “foul” at the demise of their Imperial dream but the English Empire is dead and it’s not coming back.

  16. Important article well put. All children brought up in Wales deserve to know the history of the country and to learn to speak its language. Anybody who knows anything about the education system in Wales knows that most children leave school having learned nothing about either.

  17. I see the abuse has started for anyone who dare suggest some restraint in implementing a totalitarian Welsh medium education system. You aren’t intimidating anyone boys. Those days are gone I’m afraid. The questions are going to be coming thick and fast during these times of austerity and Welsh Government incompetence. The Welsh public will no longer be silenced with threats and a can of spray paint.

  18. I think R Tredwyns’s comments are right. But where is the money and resources to come from? Where are the teachers to teach the teachers? As for the original article it would have some sort of credibility if some sort of ‘business plan’ had been presented. Simply saying that something must be done won’t work, and as for the deadlines, what happens if they aren’t met?

  19. Good to see that a Welsh medium primary school is planned to be open in Tenby in September 2016. It appears not everybody living south of the lansker is as prejudiced against the Cymraeg as belowlandsker.

  20. @ Yvonne
    “Obesity is a big problem in Wales…. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a word for ‘obesity’ in the Welsh language. Could this be part of the problem?

    You’ve put forward an intriguing hypothesis there. Welsh speakers are becoming obese because there is no word for obesity in Welsh. Overweight Welsh speakers continue to pack on the pounds because for them they can’t get any fatter than fat(which as you may know is tew in Welsh).
    However as pointed out earlier there is a term for obesity – gordew. Basically Welsh speakers are getting obese for the same reasons as non-Welsh speakers are – too many pies.

    “ And how many other problems are we storing up for ourselves by going backward in terms of language rather than forwards?”

    There are Welsh terms for alcoholism, heart disease and diabetes also so you need not that worry that the Welsh language is contributing to levels of ill health due to gaps you think might be in Its lexicon.
    It’s good that you’re concerned for the nation’s health though.

  21. CA Jones…. Just because I stand up for those who do not want EM primary education eradicated across the ENTIRE country does not mean I am not pleased about an individual WM primary in Tenby. It will great for the area and obviously enough people to justify it want it.

    …. but of course you know this already! You are just trying to smear your opposition. A tired old Welsh nationalist tactic that is less effective now than it ever was. Cries of ‘Anti-Welsh’ are soo 2012. We Welsh are becoming more critical of our political masters in Cardiff bay and will be checking for evidence based policy and not policy based evidence as far as education is concerned. This could be bad news for cymdeithas yr faith with their undemocratic ‘demands’ and ‘deadlines’ on our government.

  22. @ Colin Miles

    Your questions are very apposite. An analysis of the problems, an outline of improvements followed by a business plan showing delivery methods is exactly what’s needed to deal with this inequality.

  23. Quite simple really. Make Welsh Language voluntary in schools, allow the people of Wales to choose whether they wish to learn Welsh or not. If the supporters of the Welsh language genuinely believe it is the right of everyone in Wales to speak Welsh it is only fair to say that it is the right of everyone in Wales to choose not to.
    You have to ask why would the Welsh Language Supporters wish to “force” everyone to learn Welsh and the none supporters have no problem with freedom of choice.

    What next”Welsh Language Supporters force replacing ipods for Betamax video recorders in schools.”?

  24. “Benefits of bilingualism” – why not give children an open choice of language to learn is bilingualism is the aim.

    Bilingualism is not the aim. Nationalism is.

    Cymraeg is the correct name for the language of the Cymry, but all people in Wales are British. Cymraeg has long represented the oppression of children in Wales. They are forced to study a language in no cultural context.

    I posit, and have done for sometime, that Wales is bicultural not bilingual. Contextualising the language may lead to greater sympathy but British history has as much place in any British classroom and all Welsh classrooms are in Britain. Cymraeg is a very localised historical anathema. People made choices and those choices were for progress.

    Cymraeg represents Jurassic Park.
    Devolution is the opposite of evolution.

  25. I am not anti Welsh language or Welsh Medium Education and am a keen Welsh learner and work in y Fro as a social worker. I do feel that the time and energy spent on this issue has detracted from the education of less able children / those in deprived homes and areas. They only get one chance. The innovation in education in England, and the extra funding is not available in Wales, we need to close the funding gap, and provide a thorough education in STEM subjects, modern languages and above all in numeracy and literacy. With a few exceptions, I do not see the children I work with flourishing under the current regime. There is also a complete lack of funded innovation sadly many more opportunities in England. Let us show some humility and look at LEAs in England who have turned things round. (eg Hackney!)

  26. And very few leave Welsh medium schools in Valley communities able to speak Welsh fluently either .They always sound like Welsh learners and some of them have quite inept command of Welsh even at 16.They mostly forget it by the time they marry (and they usually marry non-Welsh speakers) and then many (though not all, interestingly) send their own kids to the same schools :and the pattern repeats itself though of course with their kids’ generation more and more of the teachers in Welsh medium schools will themselves be learners. Welsh education policy must not be run by people who put language first not learning. The kids are the poor bloody infantry in a battle that cannot be won.

    By the way, I’m one of those ‘very few’ that came away fluent in Welsh from an English medium school in Pontypridd. I am delighted to be able to read, write and speak Welsh. I gained additive bilingualism:I learned my own language fluently and confidently and then qcquired a good grasp of a second language at school. It’s disappointing that the approach which succeeded with me didn’t succeed with the majority. But then my school wanted us to learn Welsh not save it so it put the interests of the children before nationalist ideology which is what most of the ‘educationists’ in Wales (including sadly the Welsh first minister) are not doing :they are simply and obviously putting an attempt to save the language before the duty to teach children. There is no theoretical justification in pedagogy for diverting children deliberately from tuition in their mother tongue. It usually only happens pragmatically to enable children to have a grasp of the language of a monolingual state and of the market – neither of which Welsh is – or dogmatically when statist patriots enforce the language of the state on a linguistic minority. It is almost unprecedented for educationists to freely back tuition in a rapidly declining language (less than 8% pf Welsh families with children of primary school age now have Welsh as the home language:sad but true) for kids whose home language is actually the majority language. And then to claim that somehow this is better for kids beggars belief. Oh and in case you are curious :my Welsh is streets ahead of relatives of mine who went to Welsh medium schools:one of whom had stopped speaking it before he left school anyway and whose written Welsh is pitiful;the other one speaks limited Welsh now at 30. Both are intelligent though neither went to university which I am fairly sure they would have done if they had been educated as they should have been – and which their parents now agree on – in their mother and not their ‘national’ language. Shame on all those who lie about this stuff.

    It also distracts from the real campaign which needs to be waged to reinforce Welsh in its remaining few heartlands. It’s time to start thinking honestly and acting boldly about such areas – their economies and social attrractions to anchor or attractv Welsh speaking talent – rather than dishonestly in relation to the futile attempt to re-Cymricise the Valleys. Their current crisis can only ber worsened by such thinking.

  27. It is dissapointing but not unexpected to read some of the bigoted, narrow minded comments of Tim Williams and like minded. Scrape the surface and this is what lurks beneath the thin veneer of modern Wales, it’s just like it was in the seventies when Neil Kinnock and Leo Abse strutted their anti Welsh language sentiment with pride and for political gain. Shame on you all.

  28. I do not understand why supporters of welsh medium education feel it imperative to force this on many English speaking welsh communities who without question do not want this for their children. Welsh speakers have been righteously outraged in the past regarding being forced to educate their children through the medium of English. Having stood up for their democratic right of freedom to choose to educate their children in their first language perhaps they could afford the same respect in return to parents who are now being forced to educate their children in a language which is not spoken at home. Forcing this issue on people who do not want it will only lead to resentment, intolerance, divisiveness. Incidentally, as an employer in Gwynedd I am horrified at the level of literacy of my welsh employees. I employ some truly talented exceptional individuals. However, I have never before come across a level of literacy among adults that is on a par with that of 6 year olds in my home country. I am not exaggerating.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy