Virtually no demand for Castilian-medium schools in Euskadi

I came across a story in El Periódico about the language preferences for primary schools in Euskadi (the Basque Country)

Euskadi will not open Castilian-medium classrooms for lack of a quorum

The Basque Government will not be able to open Castilian-medium classes next year due to lack of applications. In the whole of Euskadi, a total of 104 Basque families have requested to enroll their two or three year old children in Castilian in schools that do not offer Model A, in which all subjects are taught in Castilian.

As reported yesterday in The Courier, no school, either public or mixed, received the 20 applications that would bring the opening of new classrooms in Castilian. There is not even a school that reaches a minimum of 15 pre-registrations, the threshold proposed by the Peoples Party [strongly unionist, right of centre].

At the close of the pre-matriculation campaign, there were 728 applications for Model A, a huge gap compared to 4,077 applications for B (bilingual) and 13,436 for D (all in Euskara). Requests for full education in the Basque language are 20 times greater than those for Castilian. Demand for Model A represents only 4% of the total.

El Periódico - 18 February 2010

The translation may not be perfect, but the picture is clear enough. In many respects the language situation in Euskadi is remarkably similar to that in Wales. Euskara is spoken by 25.7% of the population (665,800 out of 2,589,600) although it should be noted that the Basque Autonomous Community (where the schools figures are from) is only one of three areas that make up the Euskal Herria (Basque Country) ... but it is not markedly more Basque-speaking than the other two areas.

In essence, even though only a minority of parents speak Euskara, the overwhelming majority of them want their children to speak it. And of course, just as with Welsh-medium education, children that go to Euskara-medium schools come out being able to speak both Euskara and Castilian, whereas most of those who only learn it as a subject in Castilian-medium schools don't.


I'm sure some people will think I am being over-optimistic, but I see this as a pattern of what we should expect to see happening in Wales. We know that in some areas of Wales (Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Sir Gâr) most primary education is Welsh-medium, in some cases over 90%. Elsewhere in Wales the demand is far greater than the current provision. Only a few Local Authorities have properly surveyed demand, but I think it would be safe to say that over 40% of parents in Wales as a whole would send their children to WM schools now if there were enough of them, and if they were close enough to where they live.

We also know that because Welsh is so ineffectively taught in EM schools, many Local Authorities are increasing or aiming to increase the amount of Welsh used both in teaching and non-teaching activities. If this trend continues we might well see that EM schools as we know them today become the exception, and that they will become bilingual schools instead. However, this trend should not be used as an excuse not to provide full WM education for those who want it.


So how long will it take until we get to the situation Euskadi is in now, with 74% of our own primary education being WM, 22% being bilingual and only 4% EM?

Well, democratically elected devolved government started in Spain in 1978, just over twenty years before devolution in the UK ... though of course the big changing point in education in Wales came ten years earlier as a result of the 1988 Education Reform Act. So I think it's reasonable to expect us to reach figures like these in twenty years, if not ten.

Which of the two it is will depend on whether the political decisions we take now respond to the ever-increasing parental demand for WM education. Two things are crucial: we need to put in place the resources to ensure we have enough teachers able to teach in Welsh, and we need to see more EM schools being turned into WM schools.

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Anonymous said...

It don't make sense. 104 families, 728 applications. Are there so many quintuplets?

MH said...

The 104 applications are for a Castilian-medium education in schools that do not already have a CM stream. the remaining applications are for schools that do have a CM stream.

As I understand it, after the nationalist coalition was defeated in the last elections (that's a contentious issue, because some parties were banned at the last minute) it was suggested that parents would not choose Euskara-medium or bilingual education if they were given the choice. Hence the threshold that if the parents of 20 children in a school area wanted it, the school would need to provide it. In fact, the demand for CM education was turns out to be mininimal.

In a Welsh context, I know that there are some who think that there is a latent demand for EM education in places like Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. But what's happened in Euskadi seems to show that there wouldn't be much demand, because EM and WM education are not opposites. With EM education a child generally only comes out speaking English, with WM education a child learns both languages properly ... so very few parents are likely to want their children to have only one language when they can just as easily have two. The main exception is likely to be for those who move to the area already having started school, but not likely to remain in the area for long, such as children of families in the services.

Anonymous said...

What's the situation in Euskadi regarding in-migration from Castilian speaking or indeed other areas?

MH said...

Google and Wiki are best for questions like that, Anon. But according to Wiki, 28.2% were born outside the Basque Autonomous Community. Again, that's remarkably similar to the 24.6% in Wales who were born outside Wales.

John Dixon said...

"We know that in some areas of Wales (Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Sir Gâr) most primary education is Welsh-medium, in some cases over 90%"

Some statistics need interpreting with great care. I don't know about the other counties mentioned, but it is a huge mistake to assume that pupils educated in category A schools in Sir Gâr receive a Welsh-medium education. It is perfectly possible to attend a Category A school from age 4 to 11 and still be unable to hold even a basic conversation in Welsh, and I could introduce you to many young people who would demonstrate that fact.

The situation varies from school to schools; some work well, others do not, but that's partly a result of the children they accept. Small rural schools which fear for their future naturally accept any and all pupils in their catchment areas. The county has no provision for intensive catch-up work with non Welsh-speaking children - it's left to the class teacher to deal with the situation whilst still trying to deliver the curriculum, which inevitably leads to pretty extensive use of English in some classes.

In addition, maths and science have traditionally been taught in English in many schools. Category A doesn't necessarily mean what people think it means!

MH said...

Thanks John ... for yet another layer of complication ;-)

It's a difficult picture to unravel because things are different in different parts of Wales. When I mentioned the 90% I was thinking of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd. A couple of weeks ago I put this table up with some comments.

Even in the those two counties, where nearly all the education is WM, we have the situation in primary schools where 30.2% in Môn and 12.7% in Gwynedd do not speak Welsh at all. But in both places this might best be explained by the fact that learning is a process: that children don't speak Welsh to begin with, but that they do when they leave. That continuum is reflected in their secondary school figures, where only about 5% don't speak Welsh.

Sir Gâr is something different, though. I think the nub of the problem is in the diffence between designated and natural (if they're still using those terms) WM schools. Designated WM schools tend to be bigger and better resourced, and tend to draw children from a wider area, therefore the effectiveness of Welsh teaching there is probably good. The natural WM schools tend to be smaller and in more rural areas, and therefore the provision is probably not as consistent, as you say. The percentage of them that don't speak Welsh when they leave is probably reflected in the fact that only 3 out of 11 (though that's set to change, and not necessarily in a good way) secondary schools are predominantly WM ... although there must equally be children that do speak Welsh well, but who then cannot progress further at secondary level, which is another problem.


If that's been a long answer, it's because I don't want people to get a wrong idea ... but the other way round this time. It might well be true that being a pupil in some natural WM schools in places like Sir Gâr doesn't always result in being able to speak Welsh, but that is primarily a result of the size, nature and resources of smaller rural schools. Designated WM schools tend to be different, because they are specifically set up to offer WM education. Nearly all WM schools in more English-speaking parts of Wales are of this type, therefore going to one will almost certainly result in a child being able to speak both Welsh and English.

John Dixon said...

I agree that designated WM schools work and very effectively at that. I have become convinced that the only way forward for Sir Gâr has to be to establish more designated schools rather than depend on the Category A approach. It's easier to do in the towns (it's what is effectively happening to a degree in Llanelli), but harder in the rural areas.

I think category A schools can be made to work (some do), but it would require a genuine commitment from the administration at County Hall. Under current leadership there, that's about as likely as porcine aviation.

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