What does Carwyn mean by "bilingual" education ... and who is calling for it?

I must confess that my previous post was not the main point I wanted to make with regard to Carwyn Jones' manifesto. There was another far more significant difference that I noticed when reading the Welsh and English versions, this time about something that the Senedd does have broad control over: education.

This is what it says in the Welsh version:

Hoffwn weld ...

• Parhau i gefnogi addysg cyfrwng Cymraeg ar bob lefel gan gynnwys hyfforddi athrawon, gyda lle i fwy o ysgolion dwyieithog sy’n adlewyrchu’r gofyn gan athrawon.

And this is the English version:

I want to see ...

• Continuing support for Welsh medium education at all levels including teacher training, with space for more bilingual schools that reflect parental demand.

The two are virtually identical apart from the last phrase. The Welsh version translates as, "with space for more bilingual schools that reflect the demand by teachers".

This is something that requires clarification. Obviously one or the other is wrong, and we need to know which one.


Now some of us may think the answer is obvious, but in fact it is far from obvious. From a parental point of view there is actually very little demand for bilingual schools. The increasing demand is for Welsh-medium schools. In fact where bilingual schools are proposed the general feeling among parents wanting a Welsh-medium education for their children is that a bilingual school will compromise the general ethos of the school and tend to water-down its Welsh content. And the feeling among parents who want an English-medium education for their children is probably just the same, but the other way round. We can see this in what is happening with regard to secondary education in Carmarthenshire.

It's also worth noting that many schools are officially classed as "bilingual", but in practice not very many of them actually are; they tend to be predominantly either one or the other. Parents see them as one or the other in relation to the other choices available in their area.


However things are quite different from the point of view of teachers and those with an influence over educational policy in general. One of their general concerns is that Welsh is still not being taught well enough as a second language in EM schools, and that one of the most effective ways of doing it better is to increase children's exposure to Welsh in other taught subjects and in non-formal school activities. To give one example, this approach has been very successful in Treorchy Comprehensive School, an EM school where a large part of the teaching content is now in Welsh. It is undoubtedly a good model for other EM schools to follow ... but this initiative has definitely been led by teachers rather than by parental demand. This is not an isolated case, as a consequence of its success many local authorities are now looking to increase the amount of Welsh used in EM schools.

Therefore Carwyn Jones could be talking about either, and someone should put him on the spot to clarify which he means.


Turning now to comment on the issue itself, I think that both WM education and an improvement in teaching Welsh as a second language in EM schools should work in parallel. One of the main trends in education over the last few decades has been the growth in parental demand for WM education. This is particularly true in the eastern half of Wales and, in the few places where surveys have been conducted, they show that the demand is always at least twice as great as the supply of places available, often more. So if Carwyn Jones had said that he wanted to see more places being made available in Welsh-medium education rather than bilingual education, it would have raised no eyebrows ... it would be a statement of the obvious.

But he didn't. And as a lawyer, he is far too precise with words for this to be just a slip, so we have to presume he means what he actually said.


My concern with Labour (no matter which leader they choose) is that they are in general far too centralist and far too controlling. Therefore, rather than regarding the growth in WM education as the result of parental choice, they are more likely to regard its growth as divisive. However WM and EM education are in no sense opposites. WM education produces children who are competent in both English and Welsh, so there is nothing divisive about it. In contrast EM education results in only about a quarter of children leaving school competent in Welsh. For most of the remainder it gives only a basic grounding in the language ... and for far too many of our children it fails to do even that.

This obviously needs to be addressed. But my fear is that Labour would prefer a model in which all schools in Wales were broadly the same. I have no doubt that many in Labour are sincere in wanting to see more children speak Welsh competently ... but their natural political instinct is to want this to happen across the board in all schools. What else could Carwyn Jones mean by this emphasis on bilingual schools? It might make some ideological sense, but the effect in practical terms would be to curtail the growth of WM education.


My view is that we should ensure an adequate supply of local WM places for all those parents who choose it and that, as a separate but equally important issue, the EM sector should take the steps it needs to ensure that children become competent Welsh speakers. But I can all too easily see a situation in which parents who want WM eduction will in future be told they can't have the WM school they really want because their council, following some new Assembly guidelines, is planning to raise the amount of Welsh taught to some arbitrary figure that will supposedly make the local EM school "bilingual".

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