Update on New Welsh-medium Schools

Having talked about education in Euskara (the Basque language) last week, I thought I should balance it by talking about some developments in Welsh-medium education.

One year delay in Vale of Glamorgan

I mentioned the Vale of Glamorgan's plans for expansion of WM education here in November. I praised VoG for taking the initiative in both surveying demand properly and coming up with a good set of proposals in the form of starter schools. So I was rather disappointed to read their official consultation document, and find that they have had to put those plans back by a year. Instead of starting these new schools in September 2010, they are now proposing to launch them a year later.

The demand for Welsh-medium schools has increased substantially in the past three years to the extent that current demand now exceeds capacity; this is especially the case in Barry and the rural Vale.

To confirm future demand for Welsh medium education a survey was undertaken during July and August 2009 of parents with children under three years of age living in the Vale of Glamorgan. The survey revealed that, of those who responded, 26% are very likely to require a Welsh medium school place for their children. The survey highlights an unmet or latent demand for Welsh medium education. This is due to the existing distribution of Welsh medium primary schools across the Vale and the travel distances involved to access these schools, especially Ysgol Iolo Morganwg in Cowbridge.

Analysis of Welsh medium demand for September 2010 indicates a shortage of places throughout the Vale to accommodate parental demand for Welsh medium reception school places. The Council, therefore, is in danger of not meeting its statutory obligations.

Ysgol Iolo Morganwg serves the rural vale including Llantwit Major. There is insufficient capacity to accommodate the anticipated demand for Welsh-medium reception school places for September 2010 onwards from those resident within the school’s catchment area. Around 40% of children attending Iolo Morganwg (66 children) live in Llantwit Major and the surrounding area and receive free school transport to Ysgol Iolo Morganwg costing the authority in the region of £115,000 per annum.

Due to the length of the statutory processes required by the Welsh Assembly Government including the need to undertake proper and reasonable consultation when proposing the establishment of new schools, we will not be in a position to open new schools in September 2010 as originally planned. The opening dates for both new schools will be set at September 2011.

Consultation Document

The reason they have given is that the statutory procedures they have to follow are so complicated that they cannot act as quickly as they had hoped to. I don't want to engage in any finger pointing because I don't know the full circumstances. My main reaction is simply disappointment.

It's almost certainly too late to do anything differently in terms of formal procedure now, but there are still immediate issues to be dealt with; namely that there will be parents who want WM education for their children this coming September. These can't simply be turned away. Therefore it looks to me as if VoG are going to have to find one or two more temporary classrooms for their existing WM schools.

But if VoG wanted to be more proactive they might well look at what Cardiff did in a very similar situation last year ...

Ysgol Gabalfa, Cardiff

Cardiff planed to open a new WM starter class in Gabalfa Primary School in September last year. The existing EM school had a large number of surplus places so it made perfect sense to put it there, especially to relieve pressure on Ysgol Melin Gruffydd, about a 1km to the north, which is full to bursting and with no room to expand.

But as it happened, even though Gabalfa was quite happy with the arrangement, there were still the same drawn out formal procedures to go through (if there is even one objection, the matter has to be referred to the Assembly) and these simply could not be completed in time for September 2009. Therefore the Education Minister in the Welsh government gave permission for it to happen in September 2010 instead.

But this is where Cardiff got clever. When it was obvious that the decision would be delayed they could have just let things rest for a year, but instead they went ahead and set up the starter class. However they did so not on the basis of it being a new starter stream, but as temporary accommodation for Ysgol Melin Gruffydd ... which just so happened not to be on the Melin Gruffydd site.

So the question is, Why can't VoG do exactly the same? Some of the new starter schools they propose will be on land that is currently part of other schools, so it might well be possible to go ahead anyway but with the temporary accommodation "technically" being part of the existing school. I'm not saying it can be done, perhaps there are insurmountable difficulties, but I am suggesting that someone tests the water to see what's possible.


Meanwhile, the good news for Gabalfa is that Cardiff Council have now decided [details here] that they want the starter class to become a permanent WM school. As we can see in the picture above, Gabalfa Primary has separate Infants and Junior blocks, and the intention is to convert the Infants block (top right) into a 1FE WM school, leaving the Junior block (top left) as a 1FE EM school. The building in the foreground is a special school. One of the good things about this plan is that the site has an abundance of open space, so in future there would be room to expand the WM provision as the demand for WM places increases.

Ysgol Glan Morfa, Cardiff

At the same meeting, Cardiff also decided that they want to increase the age range of Ysgol Glan Morfa in Splott from 4-11 to 3-11, i.e. to incorporate nursery provision [details here]. Cylch Meithrin Gwaun Sblot are providing a nursery in the school on a non-statutory basis, but if the Local Authority step in it will provide a more solid core service, enabling the Cylch Meithrin to use its resources to provide an extended wrap-around service.


Of course these positives in Cardiff still leave a number of more long-standing problems in the city such as the Whitchurch reorganization and the future of Treganna/Lansdowne. The second of these is in Leighton Andrews' intray, and what he does with it should provide us with an idea of whether he'll prove to be any good at his new job.

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James Dowden said...

Has anyone actually mentioned to the Vale council about Cardiff's little wheeze? It's likely that they simply aren't aware of this possibility.

Anonymous said...

Shame to hear the Vales proposals delayed another year. I read the origional report which proposed the new schools so was disappointed to read your article mentioning the delay. It does seem a tortuous process sometimes (increasing Welsh Language provision) with roadblokes every step of the way.
Least Cardiff has shown inititiative in getting round these blocks. I have been pleasantly suprised by their progressive attitude. It's worth poping over to Vaughan's blog and reading/following the link about Cardiff Councils findings and proposed actions on child/youth provision through Welsh. Sounds very promising and for once a council that is takeing a pro-active stance to the language. (I'd post the link if I was computer literate to know how)

MH said...

What Vaughan said about Cardiff was interesting and very encouraging. For others the link is here ... or in English here.

By strange coincidence he picked up on one report from the Executive Business Meeting last week, while my post picked up on two of the other reports discussed at the same meeting. We then posted our respective comments within one minute of each other!

Anonymous said...

THe report certainly struck a chord with me. I work in the youth service for a council (not Cardiff) and believe that out of school provision by the councils is absolutly key to helping normalise the language for those (the wast majority in many areas) who come from monoglot families but attend Welsh medium education. It's by no means the answer in itself but it can play a large part in helping to bring the language out of the school and into the community.
However, usually welsh medium youth provision is an after thought (if it gets any thought at all!) and only token efforts are made by our councils. The work is usually left to organisations such as Mentrau Iaith and the Urdd(as the report acknoledges is the case in Cardiff at present). So to actually read about a council being pro-active and looking at ways to make the language a central plank in the delivery of it's youth provision is a massive step forward. If these steps are implemented and cannot overstate what a massive boost for the language this would be (especially if other councils follow suit and this approach becomes the norm).


Anonymous said...

One would presume that RHAG might have something to say to the Vale council regarding this delay Surely something should be done, rather than put the whole thing on ice for a year.

Incidentally, MH any gossip on Newport. The report that they produced on WM education development a couple of years ago, recommended establishing 2 new schools in addition to the existing YG Casnewydd in Hartridge.
So Ifor Hael was set up in Betws but haven't heard anything being on the cards for Pill, Maesglas, Tredegar Park etc so far?

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