By Hefin Rees Edwards
The Welsh Government recently announced plans to introduce the teaching of Welsh as a first language in English medium schools. This is part of a wider set of reforms aimed at boosting the skillset and attainment of pupils in Wales. They are set to be introduced along with the new curriculum in 2022. This is partly in response to the growing calls to address the poor uptake of Welsh by pupils in English medium schools and to the ‘One Language for All’ report issued in 2013 by Professor Sioned Davies, which highlighted the falling standards and attainment in Welsh second language teaching and how urgent action was needed to reverse current trends. The proposals are also meant to aid the Welsh Government to reach its target of a million Welsh speakers by the year 2050. Education Minister, Kirsty Williams AM, claimed that “removing the term ‘Welsh Second Language’ is vital if we are to achieve the goal of a million Welsh speakers.”.
There have been concerns raised with this latest announcement. Some have however noted how the introduction of Welsh as a first language may not help improve Wales’ already poor educational record. The lack of Welsh language teachers is also another issue which could put strain on the educational needs of children in Wales, as recent statistics show that only 34% of teachers who are registered with the Education Workforce Council Wales are Welsh speakers and not necessarily qualified to teach Welsh. The real challenge comes at the secondary school level, where the lack of staff is most notable and where the process of integrating Welsh as a first language may be more difficult.
The approach would be to embed Welsh across all of the curriculum and ultimately abolish the Welsh second language GCSE qualification and have all students study Welsh as a first language. The National Association of Headteachers Cymru, National Education Union Cymru and Association of School and College Leaders Cymru have all supported the plan on the condition that more funding is allocated to the provision of the new curriculum.
The Welsh Government have responded by announcing that £24 million will be invested in teachers and training in order to reflect the changes being made in English medium education. Neil Butler of NASUWT welcomed the increase in funding but said “there are questions about whether it will be sustained” or instead be a “short-term shot in the arm”.
Overall there is large agreement that the sentiment behind the change is good, but the practicality of the policy is still in doubt. However the Welsh Government has felt that now is the time for action, heeding warnings by the likes of Professor Davies that Welsh Second Language is at the “eleventh hour”.
More details on exactly how the money will be spent and what type of training and provision teachers can be expected to receive are to be announced later by the Welsh Government.