Welsh Language GCSE results

One of the things I look for when the GCSE results come out are the results for Welsh. Not particularly at the percentage of passes or grades achieved (which tends to creep up by a small fraction every year, in common with all GCSE subjects) but at the number of entries.

The figures for Wales this year, compared with last year, are:

Welsh First Language
5,254 entries (was 5,436) ... down 182 or 3.348%

Welsh Second Language (full course)
9,989 entries (was 10,044) ... down 55 or 0.548%

Welsh Second Language (short course)
11,485 entries (was 11,235) ... up 250 or 2.225%

26,728 entries (was 26,715) ... up 13 or 0.049%


Of course these figures need to be set into the context of a general fall in pupil numbers year on year. There is no precise way of knowing the size of the Welsh cohort from these JCQ figures. However we do know from Schools in Wales, 2008 (table 1.4) that the size of the year group (in both maintained and independent schools) in 2007/08 was 38,725 and that in 2006/07 it was 39,364. Last year's figure for the year below was 37,752 ... which is the best available estimate for this year's figure, although it will not be exactly right because of children leaving or coming to Wales.

To corroborate this in a different way, the numbers who took GCSE English in Wales this year was 37,651, as opposed to 38,737 last year. It's fairly safe to assume that nearly every child takes GCSE English, and the small difference reflects those who are retaking the exam to improve their grade and adults taking the exam on one hand, offset by those who do not take the exam (in the main due to having SENs) on the other. These roughly balance each other out.

This means that there are about 11,000 children taking GCSEs in Wales who did not take any form of Welsh GCSE this year.


For me, this is a source of major concern. We must surely aim for a situation in which every child is expected to take a GCSE in Welsh, in just the same way as we expect them to take a GCSE in English. Of course I would not want to make light of the problems concerned with the value of GCSEs, and in particular the short course WSL GCSE. Neither would I claim that passing either the full or the short WSL GCSE is an indication that you can "speak Welsh" (although having a WFL GCSE obviously is). There is much that can and should be done to improve the teaching of Welsh as a second language.

My point is that the numbers taking a GCSE are some indication of our children's competence in Welsh. And, in particular, that not taking any GCSE in Welsh after eleven years of Welsh lessons is an indication that we are still failing to adequately impart even a basic grounding in Welsh to more than a quarter of our children.


Now of course I will take some comfort from the fact that the overall number taking some form of Welsh GCSE has gone up again this year, even though the number of children taking GCSEs has fallen by roughly 1,000. That's good. Once again Welsh has bucked the trend ... although only just!

However this year's entry numbers in fact mark quite a significant slowdown in the rate of growth that we have seen over the past few years. This time last year, there was a much bigger improvement on the 2007 figures:

Welsh First Language
5,436 entries (was 5,183) ... up 253 or 4.881%

Welsh Second Language (full course)
10,044 entries (was 9,629) ... up 415 or 4.310%

Welsh Second Language (short course)
11,235 entries (was 10,486) ... up 749 or 7.143%

26,715 entries (was 25,298) ... up 1,417 or 5.603%


Indeed, over the ten years up to 2008 the increase had been quite astounding:

Welsh First Language
From 4,007 to 5,436 ... +35.7%

Welsh Second Language (both courses)
From 8,904 to 21,285 ... +139.0%

From 12,911 to 26,721 ... +108.9%

Put into this context, the figures for this year, even though they have increased, are quite disappointing.


I am particularly saddened that the numbers taking the WFL GCSE have declined. All the indications from the number of children attending Welsh Medium schools are that this figure should be rising. If, in rough terms, some 20% are in WM education, we should expect some 20% to be taking the WFL GCSE. 20% of 37,000 is 7,400 ... so something like two thousand children are taking an easier Welsh GCSE than they should.

There are two factors at play: The first is that some children who could take WFL are taking WSL instead because they are virtually guaranteed to get an A* or A grade. This benefits a child who might otherwise struggle to get the required number of good grades for their future career choice, but also makes the school look better than it otherwise would. The second is that there are still some parts of Wales where a child who is fluent in Welsh from attending a WM primary is given no opportunity to maintain that progress if s/he goes to an EM secondary. Carmarthenshire in particular has a very low percentage of children in WM secondaries compared to those in WM primaries. We need to ensure that all EM secondaries have graded Welsh language streams so that those who have progressed further are not held back.


All in all these figures show that we cannot take the momentum of the previous decade for granted. We must push ahead with plans for more children to take the WFL GCSE, since this is the only standard which is equivalent to an English language GCSE. But we must also ensure that all children take a WSL GCSE of some sort. This time last year I thought it would take about seven years to achieve it. Perhaps I now need to revise that timescale to ten years. But either way, we need to act with renewed urgency now.

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Lyndon said...

My wife is an examiner for Welsh second language GCSEs. She gets hacked off at the number of entries from obviously first language kids, particularly from "bilingual" schools in places like Denbighshire, Powys and Carmarthenshire.

Anonymous said...

A further matter is the decline in the take-up of modern foreign languages. If young Welsh people want to talk to young Bretons or Basques, they have to use English.

Young people in Wales can no longer read newspapers in French or German or Spanish.


Unknown said...

MH, you will be pleased to know that I wholeheartedly agree with you on this one!

Brian Barker said...

I understand that the planned language Esperanto, also has great propaedeutic values.

Your readers may therefore be interested to see http://www.lernu.net

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