Thursday, 14 May 2009

Missing the point

The Assembly Government's long-awaited strategy for Welsh-medium education was published earlier this week, and it's quite a hefty document.

It contains a lot of good intentions, but I ended up disappointed. As Syniadau has already commented, the targets seem less than ambitious. I also felt that they were comparatively short term, and that the targets stated needed to be placed in the context of more ambitious longer term goals.

But the over-riding factor for me was that it confirmed the impression that I have gained from other recent discussions about secondary education re-organisation in Carmarthenshire. I just don't think that either the ministers, or (and perhaps more importantly) the officials at DCELLS, have grasped the difference between Welsh-medium education and Welsh-medium provision. The terms 'provision' and 'education' seem at times to be used as though they were almost interchangeable. They are not.

I could find nothing in this document, for all the praise heaped on the success of Welsh-medium institutions, which would prevent – or even deter – an authority like Carmarthenshire from pursuing a course of action which will lead to the merger of a Welsh-medium school with an English-medium school. Indeed, the emphasis on 'provision' seemed almost to encourage that sort of response. It's easy to see again why Carmarthenshire believe that they've effectively been given the green light by DCELLS for their proposals.

Parents across Wales are increasingly choosing Welsh-medium education for their children. For those of us who make or have made that choice, the term means education through the medium of Welsh in a Welsh language institution. It does not mean an option to study some subjects through the medium of Welsh in an English language institution.

The document almost seems to suggest at times that separate institutions are fine in the anglicised areas of Wales, but less necessary in the north and west. This is a fundamentally flawed perspective, and I suspect that it is based on a hopelessly over-optimistic assessment of the success of 'bilingual' schools in offering such choice. In that context, it is interesting to note that in the map of 'Welsh' secondary schools, the document shows 6 in Carmarthenshire, whereas in fact there are only 3.

In theory, the other three offer a high proportion of subjects through the medium of Welsh; but the reality revolves around the word 'offer'. I'm aware that when pupils are asked their choice of language for any particular subject, there is an inevitable tendency to 'conform' and 'not rock the boat'; and when the majority choose English, the 'offer' can rapidly become a case of 'sorry, not enough of you opted for Welsh, so the course will be in English only for this year'. So, a school can still claim to 'offer' 60% of subjects through the medium of Welsh, whilst only 10% of pupils actually receive any Welsh-medium instruction.

The County Council is making proposals which would make this more normal, and dismantle the successes of the past in the process. On the basis of this document, the Assembly Government seems to be willing to sanction that approach. They can expect a lot of opposition from parents.


caebrwyn said...

there is a very forceful opposition to the changes involving Pantycelyn and Tregib School, I believe that the decision to build a new super school has already been made by the council and the protests have been and will be ignored. No one can understand why there is any need to change the status quo, welsh language education is fine, my children all learned to speak fluent welsh at school, as does everybody elses children I know. The subject ranges are also excellent, especially with the current arrangements with coleg Sir Gar.
Reorganisation such as is proposed will not only affect the education of our youngsters but will radically alter the communities of Llandovery and Llandeilo.

david h jones said...

only Welsh-medium education - which means all subjects, the administration and ethos of the school in Welsh, works if you wish to produce pupils who leave school at 16 fluent in both Welsh and English.

Anything else is a smoke-screen or misleading ... which is the reason some AMs and people support it.