A proposal for two new Welsh-medium schools in Swansea

About a month ago, I wrote this post about the need for expansion of Welsh-medium education in Swansea, especially in the light of the decision to close Cwm Primary. A week later, Leighton Andrews approved the closure of Llanmorlais Primary, and this week he confirmed that Arfryn Primary (shown below) would also be closed.

     

     

To my mind, these were each very obvious decisions. Llanmorlais is a smaller rural school, which sadly was in the same situation as many rural schools across Wales; but in the case of Cwm and Arfryn there are other schools very close by that have enough surplus spaces for the children concerned. No child is going to be very inconvenienced by having to travel what is only a few hundred metres further, and indeed for some children the journey to the alternative school will be shorter.

The decisions mean that there are now no outstanding matters awaiting Welsh Government approval (the proposal to amalgamate Pentrepoeth Infants and Juniors and convert Craig Infants to a small WM primary is still in the early stages of consultation) so I thought it would be good to see what possibilities these decisions open up for the much needed expansion of WM education in the city.

     

The map above shows the existing WM primaries in the Swansea urban area (there a a few outlying WM schools off the map) together with the positions of Craig Infants, Cwm Primary and Arfryn Primary. From the survey conducted by Swansea in 2007 we know that there is considerable unmet demand for WM education, and Heini Gruffudd of RhAG identified five areas of the city where new WM schools were needed in this document. These were:

•  Morriston (the top priority)
•  St Thomas/Bonymaen
•  Cwmbwrla/Landore
•  Townhill/Mayhill (not Mayals, it must be a typo)
•  Killay/Dunvant

So how do these areas of need match the school premises which will otherwise be vacant in September? Well, it's not 100% perfect, but there are some very good matches.

The most obvious match is that the Cwm Primary site will meet the demand from Bon y maen, and will make it very much easier for children from St Thomas, who would otherwise have to travel nearly twice as far to Lôn Las. All the details and numbers were in the previous post, so please click here to read it.

The picture for Morriston is more complicated. At present children from Morriston mainly go either to Lôn Las to the east or Tirdeunaw to the south west. This is an extract from the RhAG report:

Morriston is special because it has a large number of children attending Welsh medium school, without a Welsh medium school in the area.

The call for Welsh medium education in Swansea originated in Morriston in 1947, but although this is still the largest Welsh speaking ward in Swansea, there is still no Welsh medium school there.

The Council’s recent statistics show that nearby Welsh medium schools have the following numbers of children from Morriston ward:

Gellionnen ... 15
Lôn-las ... 51
Tirdeunaw ... 38
Felindre ... 2
Total ... 106

There is every sign than Morriston will be able to sustain a Welsh medium school successfully. 39% of people asked in Morriston said they wanted Welsh medium education for their children.

In total, there is the equivalent of seven primary schools in the Morriston area: Ynystawe, Glyncollen, Cwnrhydyceirw, Pentrepoeth Infant and Junior and Graig Infants, Llangyfelach, Morriston and Clase ... all are EM schools. So if 39% of parents want WM education, this means that about two and a half of these schools would need to become WM schools.

Swansea's recently announced plan is to make Graig Infants a WM school – which is effectively the "half" school (less, in fact, since its capacity is only 115 ... the equivalent of a 0.5 form entry school). Although that is a welcome development, it is obvious that it is a long way short of what is required. We also know that it won't happen quickly. Swansea are not envisaging it happening until September 2011, but it is almost certain that there will be objections which make it highly likely that it won't happen until September 2012. Things need to happen before then.

Looking again at the map, it should be obvious that Lôn Las is drawing pupils from both Morriston to the west and its more immediate catchment area to the east and south. If a new WM school is established at the Cwm building, Lôn Las will be able to provide more places for children from Morriston. Similarly Tirdeunaw is drawing pupils from Morriston to the north east as well as the areas to south, so if a new WM school is established at the Arfryn building, Tirdeunaw will be able to provide more places for children from Morriston.

That's not a complete solution, but it's half of the solution. The other half of the solution would be to either build a new WM school in Morriston, or to convert one of the other EM schools to a WM school. But the timescales for that are obviously much longer, irrespective of the matter of finding the money to build a new school.

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Timing is an important factor. Both Cwm and Arfryn are going to be vacant from July this year. Because of the statutory procedures, it takes time to establish a new school ... even if there are no objections. A good example of this is what has happened in the Vale of Glamorgan. In November last year, they produced a very good plan for expansion of WM education, and intended to set up new starter schools for September this year as I mentioned here. But the red tape involved has meant that they have now had to delay things for a year, as detailed here. So it's fairly obvious that Swansea will not be able to establish two new WM schools in their own right at Cwm and Arfryn for September 2010.

But the key is "in their own right". Schools need things like boards of governors and head teachers, as well as their own budget ... so it is understandable and right that this isn't done at the drop of a hat. But there is a better solution.

Cardiff Council wanted to set up a new starter class at Gabalfa last September, but couldn't go through the procedures in time. So instead they set up a class at Gabalfa, but not as an entity in its own right. Instead they set it up as temporary accommodation for Ysgol Melin Gruffudd ... which just happened to be on a separate site. The very same could happen in Swansea. Cwm Newydd could be set up in the first instance as temporary accommodation for Lôn Las, and Arfyn Newydd set up as temporary accommodation for Tirdeunaw.

This strategy has other advantages. It means that Swansea can adopt a "suck it and see" approach to both. Because it is a temporary arrangement it can be set up for, say, two years in the first instance. If the demand proves to be real, then they can be set up as permanent schools in their own right, with plenty of time to go through all the statutory procedures. But if the demand isn't there nothing much has been wasted, because the school buildings would only have stood empty otherwise, and the current economic climate means this is hardly the right time for selling off the land. If that is Swansea's intention, they would get a much better price if they waited a couple of years.

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So all in all, setting up temporary starter classes in the two vacated buildings—but administratively part of Lôn Las and Tirdeunaw respectively—will be a win-win situation for everybody concerned. But it is a decision that Swansea needs to take and announce quickly, because parents are already planning what primary schools to send their children to this September ... and they can't make the choice unless they know that these options are available to them.

This is an opportunity that is too good to be squandered. Councillor Mike Day is Swansea Council's Cabinet Member for Education, and his email is mike.day@swansea.gov.uk. He's a LibDem, but this isn't a party political issue and shouldn't be made into one. It is simply a matter of respecting what parents in Swansea want for their own children, something which all politicians would surely agree on. The proposals I've set out here are intended as a practical way of meeting the demand that Swansea Council's own survey has already identified.

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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Encouraging news. Under the mismanagment of councillors and the director of education our second city has for too long has been a cold place for WM education.

However, I do think it's time the supporters of WM education (of which I am one) took a very serious look at the success and failures of the system. How is it if after at least a generation of WM education in the East Glamorgan Valleys that we're still seeing over 95% of kids coming from non-Welsh speaking backgrounds? Are the people who go through WM education just moving away, do they not pass on the language, do they feel their grasp of Welsh isn't sufficient to call themselves 'Welsh speaking'? What's going on? Are any roots being planted there?

I'm also concerned that the lack pf linguistic ability of the children in Welsh can hinder their progress and the progress of other children in the class. If this is a concern with the English language in inner city schools in England and children from immigrant background, it must be an even bigger challenge for WM educaiton. Are all kids at 11 honestly fluent in Welsh?

I read somewhere that a person needs some 20,000 hours of conversation in a language to feel they are fluent. Adding together all school hours from 4 - 18 years only gives you about 14,000 hours. From my recollection of WM education in Cardiff, many of the kids were passive users of the language, rare conversing, or answering more than 'ie' or 'na' to a teacher's question. I'm not convinced they were fluent either in spoken or written Welsh.

Unless the parents and kids commit to WM education fully, watching some Welsh tv, listening to Welsh some music, the parents making some effort to learn the language and maybe simple even token conversation in it with their kids (as parents of immigrants do with their kids in English) then I'm not sure we're able to give the kids the confidence and full benefit of WM education.

As I said, I'm a great supporter of WM education, my children go to WM school, I want it to flourish and I believe it offers children from all backgrounds an excellent education in the broadest sense. A flourishing WM sector including people from different religions, political and ethic backgrounds is important for a flourishing Welsh language culture.

Decades of attack from (usually Labour councillors) has made supporters of WM over defensive at times, but I do worry that there are some fundamental issues which are simply not addressed or not given enough weight.

Simple head counting WM education numbers is no good to anyone.

Ian Titherington said...

This is a really constructive and encouraging article and I hope that politicians in Swansea realise that by blocking the future demand for WM education, they are actually falling behind the rest of the South.

It's time to meet the demand in Swansea.

Lyndon said...

The map brings home just how few and far between WM primaries are in Swansea city itself (Tyle'r Ynn is in Briton Ferry, NPT by the way, so the situation is worse than your map suggests)

Regarding Anon's comment, I don't doubt the fluency of the WM pupils, a check on GCSE results should be enough to ensure that. I agree that just sending the kids to school every morning isn't enough though, they need to go to Urdd, Welsh language after school clubs, Menter Iaith in the holidays, we even cruelly force ours to go to chapel on Sundays.

MH said...

Working backwards. What mistake, Lyndon? But thanks ;-) Map corrected. The red triangles are EM primary schools, btw.

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And thanks Ian and Anon for saying that it's encouraging. However what I've set out is only a proposal. It will only be encouraging if Swansea actually take up the idea. So, if you think what I've said offers a way forward, please write to Mike Day, or your local councillor. Or set up a group to campaign for it.

It is ironic that Swansea were one of the first local authorities to survey preferences of parents with very young children (the summary document is here) but that they are offering so little (a half FE school at Graig Infants) in the way of expansion of WM provision to met the demand identified in the survey.

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Anon raises a lot of other points. First, we are talking about a project that will take a couple of generations. So the children that leaned to speak Welsh before should only just be having children of their own now. But even so, the aim isn't necessarily to produce a new generation that speak Welsh instead of English ... but to produce generations who are able to speak both Welsh and English competently. It's a matter of choice which language they will prefer to speak, and in which situations.

I also think the word "fluency" is difficult. It is certainly something that any learner of any language should aim for, but it is a subjective measure. That's why I prefer to use the term competence ... which I would practically define as the ability to do a job which involves dealing with people in Welsh.

But the simple head count of those in WM education does say something. It says that the children concerned leave school competent in both English and Welsh. The same is true for some (although only maybe a quarter or a third) of the children who learn Welsh in an EM setting. We have now reached the situation where over 50% of all children in Wales leave school able to speak Welsh. There's still some way to go, but the expansion of WM education seems to me to be the surest way of increasing that percentage.

Anonymous said...

From the aerial photo, it looks like Swansea recently spent a lot of money re-roofing Arfryn School.

It would be very irresponsible to do that and then not use the building.

Simon Brooks said...

You are wrong to say that the aim of Welsh medium education is merely to produce people with the ability to speak Welsh or English. The aim of Welsh medium education is the intergenerational social reproduction of the Welsh language community. The reason why Welsh language schools are open to those from non Welsh-speaking homes is because we are committed as a nation that anyone in Wales, regardless of background, be given the opportunity to be part of the Welsh-language community if they so wish.

The points raised by Anonymous are fair ones, although it is a shame he remains anonymous.

MH said...

Thanks Simon, but I think "the intergenerational social reproduction of the Welsh language community" needs to be unpacked a little. However I definitely did not say the aim was "merely" anything; I said that the aim was "not necessarily to produce a new generation that speaks Welsh instead of English".

Singling out just one thing as "the aim" of WM education would perhaps be too sweeping a statement, because others might see the aim as something different. But I'd like to put it to you that, even if we each put the emphasis in different places, WM education might have multi-faceted aims, or at least aims that were not as mutually exclusive as your comment suggests.

As I said, I'd like you to explain the comment a little more, for I'm not sure I understand it properly. But I'd guess that you are thinking of things primarily from the point of view of communities that are primarily Welsh speaking. In those circumstances, winning WM education was the simple universal right for the people of any country or area to be educated in their own language. And of course for incomers to those communities to become a full part of them. However, in these areas WM education is something that has already been largely achieved; certainly in Gwynedd and Môn, though less so in Ceredigion and Sir Gâr.

But in so far as the more Anglicized areas of Wales are concerned (and my posts about the expansion of WM education have largely concentrated on those areas) there are not all that many Welsh speaking communities to reproduce. Now of course I'd be delighted if Welsh speaking communities were to become established in these areas (or re-established, from a historical perspective) and WM education would certainly facilitate that, but I do not see it as the aim of WM education.

Perhaps the difference between our points of view is that I prefer to concentrate on the all-Wales perspective, whereas you concentrate your effort more on the Welsh speaking communities in the heartlands. If that analysis is right, then please keep on doing it. It is necessary work and I support it. But I think I have a bigger vision for the future of Welsh. I want to see it become a national language, which everyone who grows up in any part of Wales is able to speak.

Rather like the first Cardiff in Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd, I can't quite envisage Cardiff becoming a Welsh-speaking city in the sense that Welsh is the predominant language you would hear on the streets. But I do think it is entirely possible for the vast majority of people in Cardiff to be able to speak Welsh, and to use it out of politeness when people speak to them in Welsh on the streets, or out of obligation when providing a business or service to customers and clients who choose to use Welsh. Same with Newport, or Wrexham, or a host of other towns. That's what I'm putting my efforts towards, and I think that can be best achieved by ensuring our children are competent in both languages, irrespective of which one they prefer to speak in any particular situation. I don't think Welsh-medium education is the only way of doing it, but I certainly think it's the easiest and best way of doing it.

Simon Brooks said...

OK. Let me put it another way. The reason most Welsh-speakers in Cardiff (for example) send their children to Welsh-medium education is not for them to become bilingual. If truth be told, my daughter, who is six and still a Welsh monoglot to all extents and purposes, would become a better bilingual in English-medium education. The reason Welsh-speakers send their children to Welsh-medium education is in order to make sure they are "socialised" in the Welsh-language community. They do this because they want their children to reproduce the minority language community in the next generation. There's nothing wrong with this. All minorities do this. This is why Muslims bring up their children in Cardiff as Muslims, for example.

I agree 100% with your argument for WM education which is essentially a "social inclusion" argument; i.e. Wales will become a bilingual country and it is better that children from English-speaking homes be given the chance to benefit from this. Clearly too, WM education is the only way to do this.

The only point I make is that while it seems that WM education does very well in terms of passing on a skill, it is not a huge success in terms of the socialisation of the language. This is not an argument against WM education, nor is it an argument against expanding WM education. In fact, many language planners would argue that asking the education system to do this is unfair. However it is perfectly legitimate for us to ask questions regarding why this hasn't happened.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anon at the beginning of this post and I'll give my name as Macsen.

There are so many points to discuss which mostly go off the original posting but which underline the whole debate. They are issues which people are aware of and or only quietly being discussed. I'll keep to one part. Is WM succeeding in producing children who are fluent in the language? I'm not sure they are. The schools can't be wholly responsible for this nor should they but they play a very big part.

We need to think of the school as a community. If the whole community of the school - kids, parents, dinner ladies, groundsman, teachers, sport instructors sent from the county, policemen who come in to give a talk, sex education etc isn't done confidently in Welsh then the chances of the children of developing their Welsh-language skills, and of using them, diminish. As I said, there is a number of hours, which I understand experts believe a person needs to have speaking a language to become fluent - I think it's 20,000 hours (I'm ready to be corrected). The whole school career of a child comes to 14,000, which means, unless the child uses the language outside class room then the chances are they won't become fluent and will feel less confident in the language, creating then a self-fulfilling cycle.

I think WM schools need to be ambitious and yes, demanding, of the parents and kids and community which sustains it. I'm not sure all are because we've been afraid of losing support, of being seen as 'snobs', of offending people etc. But I believe a more ambitious and demanding set of principles will lead to better fluency and better education for our children - which is what we all need.

Parents need to be aware that the whole ethos of a WM school is in Welsh and that they need to play a pro-active part in the promotion and use of Welsh within their home to help that. That doesn't necessarily mean changing the language of the home (as some Labour MPs called for in relation to English) but certainly that the children see that their parents can and do and enjoy using Welsh.

There's a need for all teachers and school helpers especially to go on assertiveness courses in the use of Welsh so that they learn a very difficult skill. How to make a newly arrive 4 year old child who come from English-speaking backgrounds into a WM school feel at home but start using Welsh, how to greet parents etc (I would say that they need to greet the parent in Welsh and for the parent to answer in Welsh etc). However, this needs to be done sensitively and with encouragement and it's a very difficult task. I'm not sure teachers nor school helpers are given instruction nor learn 'best practice' in this field.

Do the local councils run swimming, gymnastics, art lessons through the medium of Welsh? Does the football instructor who comes to the school speak Welsh?

English is such a powerful and all-pervasive language that Welsh, even in 'the heartlands' can seem an odd language out of sync with sections of society unless it's self-conciously used and planned for.

So, basically, what I'm saying HM is that celebrating the opening of a new WM isn't enough and I also think you're a little under ambitious - even if I tend to agree with you're general assesment of the actual use of Welsh in the forseeable future in places like Cardiff. To get to that point even we need to be more ambitious I think HM.

In the same way as you wouldn't open a new business park without first making sure you had the necessary local infrastructure and training, then we also need to do the same with local Welsh-medium infrastructure and training. I don't think that's done at the moment and I think we're failing WM pupils and the Welsh language and the general well-being and cohesion of our nation.

Anonymous said...

A very worthwhile thread dealing with these exciting but difficult questions. An expansion in WM education is essential but, as posters have said, it is only part of the picture. A major problem is that the language is still so marginalised in adult domains (politics, admin, business, trade, higher and further education, the mass media). If the battle can be won in these areas (as well as having sufficient and suitable WM education) we would be much less likely to face a situation where many children - even in ragged remains of the "heartlands" - use English among themselves outside the classroom and why many of those from non-Welshspeaking homes soon forget their Welsh. As it is, perhaps for some politicians (and parents), a woolly support for WM education is a way of appearing to do something for the language without seriously promoting the use of the language in the wider domains of life.
Efrogwr

Anonymous said...

I am a parent currently taking my 3 year old to nursery at YGG Pontybrenin, a journey of 12.5 miles as we live at the end of the Gower peninsuala. As if this journey wasn't bad enough, the school is bursting at the seems. the intake for reception in September 2010 is 72, despite official intake being 47 (proposal to increase to 60 hasn't yet been passed). We have set up a group called YOG - ysgol i Ogledd Gwyr. Central to our proposal is to open LLanmorlais as a Welsh Medium school. The LEA keep telling us that there is 'no demand' for WM education which is a load of absolute nonsense! So, we are currently undertaking a survey of our own . Please could you ask any parent who wishes their children to receive a WM education and who live within a reasonable travelling distance to Llanmorlais/Penclawdd to contact mennasimpson@hotmail.com or YOG10@hotmail.co.uk asap so that they can be included on the ever growing list of names which indicate that there would be a viable school in the area.
I'r gad, Diolch.

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