Wednesday 2 June 2010

Strategy and implementation

I've been reading the Welsh Government's strategy for Welsh-medium education. Like most of the government's strategies, it's full of fine-sounding words. How about this, for instance: "We therefore expect local authorities in which there is a choice between Welsh-medium and English-medium provision to identify how they will provide sufficient and appropriate places for children whose parents/ carers desire then to have Welsh-medium education".

I can't find any clause which excludes Carmarthenshire from this requirement, although they have clearly been excluded from it by the government. Nor can I find the clause which says: "and after you've been working on the plans for two years with our full knowledge, we can then reject them on a whim", although such a clause clearly applies in the case of Cardiff.

I was glad to see that they do recognise that the term 'bilingual provision' is used to mean a wide range of different sorts of provision. Looked at in detail, the range is so wide as to make the term pretty much meaningless in practice. The killer line in what they have to say on 'bilingual settings' is that "Bilingual provision, therefore, does not always ensure that an individual becomes a bilingual speaker".

It's true, if something of an understatement – the reality is that 'bilingual provision' as seen in much of Wales hardly ever results in a child who was not already fluent in Welsh becoming a fluent speaker of the language. But it's a fact about 'bilingual provision' which authorities are rarely willing to spell out to parents. If they did, the demand for true Welsh-medium education would likely increase further.

Their strategy requires education authorities to factor in 'the additional demand which often appears when a new and convenient Welsh-medium school is opened'. But that's a meaningless exhortation if authorities are simply allowed to ignore the base demand in the first place.

As with so many government 'strategies', I was left with the impression that the production of a strategy is seen as an end in itself, rather than a basis for implementing meaningful change. I'd be delighted to be proved wrong, but I won't hold my breath.


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

What to do about Carmarthenshire, eh? Apart from parents in Ammanford, Burry Port, Carmarthen, Llandeilo and Llanelli, residents of the county have no chance to send their children to Welsh medium schools.

Unfortunately the old old Category A, 'traditional Welsh', school has become a fig leaf for largely English medium schooling, but with a Welsh 'ethos'.

A child from a non-Welsh speaking background would usually not be able to use Welsh functionally at the end of a Category A education, and those who enter school from the increasing rare Welsh speaking homes of the county would not achieve full age-related literacy in the language.

Why does Carmerthenshire deny the desire of parents in the rural area and in the Aman and Gwendraeth Valleys for designated Welsh Medium schools? And why do they get away with it?!

John Dixon said...


I agree with your comments about the category A schools - too many people have been deluded for too long into believing that they are Welsh-medium schools. They are not - I know of many, many pupils who've spent the entire years of their primary education in such schools and who come out unable to converse in Welsh.

That's not to say that they don't provide a good level of education - it just isn't Welsh-medium education.

Your final question is the key. It isn't just Carmarthenshire who are to blame; the Education Department of the Welsh Government is equally at fault. And that really was the point of my post - that department is more than happy to produce fine-sounding strategies, but not to implement them. Whatever the formal advice set out in such strategies, the key is what is actually said in day-to-day meetings and discussions with county council officials.

Never let it be forgotten that a number of senior officials from the Assembly Government were active participants in the discussions which produced the flawed proposals for Dinefwr/ Gwendraeth. I cannot blame the county council for thinking that they are therefore acting in accordance with the Welsh Government's wishes. And the further down the road the proposals are allowed to go, the greater the justification for believing that.