Alun Cairns' Gem

Continuing the theme of Welsh-medium education, an article about it was front page news in this weekend's Barry GEM, and was also in a number of the other local papers in the Vale of Glamorgan.

"Find solution to demand for Welsh medium education"

"WORK TOGETHER IN VALE" – CALL

Demand for places at a Welsh medium school in Barry is outstripping supply. There are 63 Vale youngsters hoping to go to Ysgol Gymraeg St Curig in the town but just 60 places available.

The Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Vale, Alun Cairns AM, said that while he was pleased that demand for Welsh medium education was increasing locally, it was causing a headache to both schools and education officers.

He explained: "We have an issue at St Curig’s where in September there will be 63 children competing for 60 places. Strict rules about class numbers mean that it may not be possible to accommodate the three extra children, although I am hoping that a sensible solution can be found."

Last month, The GEM reported on how a temporary classroom was likely to be sited at Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg in Cowbridge to accommodate all the pupils who want to start there in September.

Mr Cairns, a Welsh speaker himself, said: "The Vale Council is doing its best to cater for this demand for Welsh medium education with news of a new Welsh unit in Llantwit Major, which will ease pressure on Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg. I understand that there are also plans for a new Welsh medium school in Barry, so in the long term this issue will be addressed. I am calling upon the local authority, the school and parents to work together in a bid to deal with this problem in the short term. Although free school transport would be laid on for any pupils who have to attend a school outside Barry, I can understand the anxieties of parents on this.

"Everyone must put their heads together to come up with a solution that satisfies all parties."

The head of strategic planning and performance at the council, Paula Ham, said, "The council has worked closely with schools and parents to accommodate all applications for Welsh medium school places for September, 2010. We are currently consulting on the establishment of new Welsh medium schools in Barry and Llantwit Major, with the aim of meeting growing demand in the future."

Glamorgan GEM

The situation itself is hardly a great surprise, but I'm less than impressed by Alun Cairns' contribution. When a politician comes up with, "I am calling upon the local authority, the school and parents to work together in a bid to deal with this problem in the short term" he is in effect saying that he hasn't got a clue how to solve it, so will everybody please else get together and do it and leave him to get on with his campaigning. When a solution is found, he will no doubt claim that it was all down to his intervention. Thanks for that sparkling contribution, Alun. A gem for the GEM.

For me, the thing to do is to suggest ways of actually solving the problem.

In particular, I think it's unreasonable for him to think that parents have to make compromises for things that are outside their control. If parents want their children to have a WM education, it is up to the local authority and schools to ensure that they get it. It simply isn't the parents' problem. In the main it's down to the local authority, though the schools affected also have role.

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As I wrote in this post last year, the Vale of Glamorgan came up with some good plans to increase WM provision in the Vale as a result of a survey of parental preferences which they conducted. Paula Ham, who was quoted in the article, deserves particular credit for working out a plan as soon as VoG recognized the extent of the parental demand ... and I have to say that this is in marked contrast to Swansea, who conducted surveys in 2007 and 2008, but who have only recently come up with a proposal to convert one very small school in Morriston to WM.

VoG proposed the introduction of "seed schools" which they intended to be set up in September this year, but their good intentions got caught up in the complicated procedures necessary to set up new schools, and therefore they had to put their plans back by a year, as I mentioned here.

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But in spite of the administrative delays, the parental demand is of course still there, so VoG have a short term crisis on their hands. Reading between the lines, it appears that VoG have decided to set up a temporary classroom at Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg in Cowbridge as a short term measure before the seed school in Llanilltyd Fawr (Llantwit Major) starts in September 2011. What Alun Cairns said about busing children from Barry to Cowbridge seems to imply that VoG have not yet made a similar decision to set up temporary accommodation in one of the three WM schools in Barry before the introduction of the new seed school proposed for the town. They seem to be hoping that the one new classroom will be big enough to cope with the increased demand from both the Rural Vale and Barry at the same time ... and that the inconvenience of travelling can be put up with for a year.

I do not think that this is a satisfactory answer. We are still only in April, and it seems that not only is Sain Curig full, but that the two other WM schools in Barry must also be full, as it is obvious that parents would be given the choice of going to one of the two other WM schools in Barry (Sant Baruc and Gwaun y Nant) if they had spaces available, rather than having to travel all the way to Cowbridge.

But in the messy everyday world, the problem is that not all parents plan for their children's education so far in advance. In conversations I have had with RhAG, it seems that some parents will still turn up at a WM school on the first day of term expecting a place, only to be told that the school is full and that they would have to go elsewhere. Another example of this is Llanelli, where extra temporary accommodation had to be put up at the very last moment because the demand had been underestimated. So, if VoG has a situation in which applications for WM schools in Barry have already exceeded the space available in April, I think it is almost certain that the crisis will get a lot worse by September.

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I think the only reasonable solution is for VoG to say that they will put up an additional temporary classroom in one of the Barry schools. I fully understand that space is at a premium and that some play space will be lost as a result. That is something that the school concerned will have to compromise on, but it is better than the alternative. The cost to the local authority will not be all that much, either. The new seed schools will be made up of temporary accommodation to last for a few years while new schools are being planned and built. So it's simply a question of buying or hiring one more demountable classroom a year early, and moving it to the new location over next year's summer holiday. Sure, moving it will cost money, but not that much money.

The sad reality of WM eduction in many parts of Wales is that although the local authority has a duty to provide WM education, they are under no specific obligation to provide it locally. That means that parents who want it for their children have often had to send them long distances to get it. Not every parent is willing to do that, and the VoG survey shows that 6% of all parents do not send their children to WM schools simply because of the distance and inconvenience involved. If VoG are serious about respecting parental choice, they owe it to parents to provide the necessary temporary accommodation locally in Barry itself.

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3 comments:

Siônnyn said...

My two children grew up in Penarth town centre, and were well served by their local WM primary school, Pen-y-Garth, about 2 miles away.

But , when it came time for them to go to Secondary schools, they both had to endure bus journeys or almost an hour - one to Cardiff, the other to Barry. There would have been at least 60 children in each year in the same situation in the town.

Even I, a firm believer in the WM system, was tempted to send them to one of the excellent EM schools, 5 minutes away, to save them 2 hours a day on the bus - a lot of time over 7 years!

I gave them the option, and they both elected to go WM! They now both have BAs in Welsh! I'm proud of them.

It turns out that they did most of their homework on the bus! |(Nothing else to do!). They were in a largely Welsh speaking environment while travelling, and I think, looking back, it was good for them!

Anonymous said...

At least in the VOG (and Cardiff) we now have councils whore aren't actively anti WM Education! These things are always complex though.

One of the problems the VOG has to handle is the (understandable)attitude of some parents at Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg that the establishment of a new WM primary in Llanilltud Fawr will delay desperately needed improvements to Ysgol Iolo's buildings.

Put simply the new school will allow Ysgol Iolo to continue as a one-form entry school in its present (inadequate) buildings.

There's no doubt that a new school in Llanilltud fawr is of long term benefit to WM education but parents, naturaly, put their own children's interests first.

I think you are being a little unfair to Alun Cairns, who is a governor of Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg.

What he's saying isn't unreasonable. Since the posionous language wars of Cardiff don't yet exist in the VOG, seeking a consensus solution based on goodwill is possible.

He's not saying much, but its a lot better than the sort of venom being spouted by Jonathan Morgan and Kevin Brennan et al a little further east.

Anonymous said...

Would the tardiness on expanding WM education in Swansea compared with VoG and Cardiff have anything to do with the comparative success of Plaid Cymru in the two more easterly counties? After the last elections Plaid dropped down from 4 to one councillor in Swansea.
Efrogwr

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