Negotiations in Belgium

It's been some time since the political situation in Belgium has been in the news here, but what has happened over the weekend is probably enough to justify a progress report.

The federal election took place on 13 June this year, and resulted in large gains for the N-VA in Flanders and for the Parti Socialiste in Wallonia, but negotiations have still not led to a federal government being formed. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, as it was always expected that negotiations would take months rather than weeks. It goes without saying that the situation is complicated, but I'm going to attempt to explain things as I see them. As the EU has a penchant for pillars, I'll build on that theme.

Pillar 1

The basic premise on which agreement will be reached is that—even though the N-VA is the largest party, and therefore its leader Bart De Wever might normally expect to be Prime Minister—the Parti Socialiste leader Elio di Rupo would be Prime Minister, provided that the constitutional changes wanted by the N-VA were implemented.

The longstanding outstanding issue is the electoral/judicial district of BH-V (Brussels Halle-Vilvoorde) whose constituent parts have different constitutional statuses. Brussels is one of the three geographical regions of Belgium (the other two being Flanders and Wallonia) but Halle-Vilvoorde is part of Flanders. The three regions are constitutionally distinct from the three language communities of Belgium (Dutch, French and German-speaking) with Brussels having bilingual status. It is this overlap between "regions" and "communities" that gives rise to the problem, both at a political level (because political parties in Belgium operate as separate linguistic entities) and in terms of administration of justice.

There are of course a number of ways in which the BH-V problem could be solved, and indeed some do not see a problem at all ... or, to be more precise, would see the problem not as the electoral region itself, but in the idea of the current arrangement of regions and communities. However the Constitutional Court has ruled that the current arrangement is anomalous and must to be resolved, but has not said how. In general terms, Dutch speakers are primarily concerned that Halle-Vilvoorde remains unambiguously part of Flanders; whereas French speakers see the area as a suburb of Brussels, especially the narrow southern strip that separates Brussels from Wallonia. The map below shows Halle-Vilvoorde in red and Brussels in white. In grey is Leuven, the other district in Flemish Brabant. Wallonia is to the south.
So the first plank of the deal is that BH-V is split as the main Flemish parties want.

Pillar 2

If BH-V is split, Brussels itself becomes more tightly defined and might be seen to be disadvantaged. In time honoured fashion, the solution is to smooth any reform by means of money. So, as I read the situation, the consensus seems to be that the Brussels region should get a better financial deal. The sum being talked about is €500m a year. In political terms Brussels is run by the Parti Socialiste. So, as far as Elio di Rupo is concerned, the deal should stand on these two pillars alone ... and he does have the agreement of the Flemish Greens and Socialists, as well as the Walloon parties in the negotiations.

But the two big Flemish parties, the N-VA and CD&V, the Flemish Christian Democrats, do not want to agree a deal for financing Brussels without a wider agreement on a formula for rebalancing finances of Flanders and Wallonia as well. The negotiations now seem to have broken down on this point.

It isn't really clear what the precise sticking points are because nothing has yet been committed to paper. In general terms Flanders wants more of tax money retained at regional level rather than forwarded to federal government. Wallonia is anxious to maintain the current arrangement because it is a net beneficiary of federal redistribution. According to this report about €14bn of public spending should shift from being spent by the federal government to being spent by the regional governments, but this is only a very small part of overall public spending which is just short of €200bn a year. Also, as we in Wales and Scotland know only too well, having a budget to spend is only half of the fiscal equation – good governance is not only about spending money, it is about being responsible for how that money is raised.


So it remains to be seen what will happen next. As the report I linked to says:

On Sunday Di Rupo said rival sides positions' were "incompatible" and announced he would give up his mediation efforts. But a day later he said he bowed to demands by King Albert II to soldier on 'out of a sense of loyalty to the state.'

Flemish newspaper De Standaard argued that the weekend's events seriously compromised relations between the main political players, dashing initial hopes that arch-rivals Di Rupo and De Wever could strike a business-like partnership.

"We are not yet negotiating the final split-up of the Belgians. Feelings and intentions are not there yet. But on Sunday night we took a further step in that direction," the paper warned ominously.

I don't think it's reached that point yet, either. The major reason why Belgium has not split so far is because of deciding what to do about Brussels and the surrounding areas. So, if the situation as I read it is correct, an agreement about what exactly constitutes Brussels and what constitutes Flanders is more important for the eventual independence of Flanders than any shorter-term arrangement about finances. I do not think the Flemish parties would throw that away. If things are as reported, the BH-V split without additional concessions to French speakers in Halle-Vilvoorde has given them what they wanted.

But equally, the Flemish parties are not going to be content without any move towards greater fiscal autonomy for the regions. The balance between taxes set and collected by the federal treasury (about 90%) and those set and retained in the regions would need to shift. Di Rupo has proposed a Commission "to formulate proposals to suggest new funding models" but, as we in Wales and Scotland know, this might be of little value unless matched by political commitment.


To us it might seem strange that Belgium could run without a government since June, but it isn't really a problem for them. It's not even a hundred days yet. Up until now things have been very cordial and consensual. So perhaps this first sign of so-called irreconcilable disagreement is evidence that the hard negotiation has only just begun.

Bookmark and Share

Ysgol i Ogledd Gwyr - A School for North Gower

In April this year, Leighton Andrews confirmed that three primary schools in Swansea could be closed because they had large numbers of surplus spaces, and alternative schools which also had spare space were available within easy travelling distance.

At the time, I wrote posts showing how two of them, Arfryn and Cwm, would be ideal locations for Welsh-medium schools. I still think that. And I have to admit that I didn't think that the third school, Llanmorlais, would be as suitable as the other two. But that only shows my lack of detailed local knowledge, or at least my knowledge of how determined local people would be, because they definitely have other ideas about it.


The map above shows the location of the primary schools on the Gower. Click it for a larger version. It is by no means a densely populated area, as can be seen from the relatively low number of red triangles for English-medium schools on the Gower compared with the western outskirts of Swansea. It should also be noted that north and south Gower are quite distinct, each with its main east-west links, but with comparatively few north-south links.

For south Gower, getting to a Welsh-medium school means travelling to Llwynderw. For north Gower, the school is Pontybrenin, since Y Login Fach has to take children from Swansea due to the lack of more WM schools in the centre of Swansea. That results in a one way journey of over 20km for children living in Llanmadoc. Even for a rural area, this is a ridiculous distance to have to travel, even if transport is provided. The equivalent journey for children going to an EM school is only a third of that, just over 6km, to Llanrhidian.


When it was clear that Llanmorlais was to close, Heini Gruffudd of RhAG put together a proposal to use the Llanmorlais building as a new WM primary school. Rather than repeat what he said, the proposal itself can be downloaded directly in either English or Welsh:

The case for a Welsh-medium Primary School for Llanmorlais

English  •  Cymraeg

The school building isn't big, but it has capacity for 106 children, plus a nursery of 15. Although that may be small by urban standards, a school of that size is perfectly viable in a more rural setting. In fact only this year Swansea have invested in work to Llanrhidian School, which is only fractionally larger with 111 pupils, plus a nursery of 20. We can read about it here. So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a school of this size in north Gower. The only reason Llanmorlais was closed is because there weren't enough children wanting go to Llanmorlais and Penclawdd to justify keeping both open, so the smaller one was closed.

But RhAG's proposal didn't seem to cut any ice with Swansea's education department.

So what then happened is that a local parent, Menna Jenkins, actually went out to other parents of pre-school age children in north Gower, and collected signatures from the parents of 45 children who wanted them to have a Welsh-medium education. This was reported in the local press on Tuesday.

Parents take Welsh school call to council

Parents and children calling for a Welsh-medium school in North Gower took their plea to Swansea Council today. This morning, campaigners handed a petition to cabinet member for education Mike Day and head of education Richard Parry at the Civic Centre.

Welsh speaker Menna Jenkins is part of campaign group Ysgol y Ogledd Gwyr/Welsh Primary for North Gower (YOG). The mum of two from Llanmadoc said:

"Despite now having a list of 45 names of children aged up to 4 years old, who would attend a Welsh- medium primary in North Gower, the director of education is refusing to open a school in the area. We actually have more names for one school year than most of the existing Gower English-medium schools. We feel this is grossly unfair."

Swansea Evening Post, 24 August 2010

To me, the case is quite clear. But let's consider Swansea's response:

Swansea Council plans to increase capacity at Welsh primaries at Gellionen, Pontybrenin and Tirdeunaw. There are also plans to use Graig infants in Morriston as a Welsh school, if the Assembly approves council proposals to close the school and merge with the nearby Pentrepoeth.

I commented on the Morriston proposal in the second half of this post. And yes, it is true that Swansea Council have plans to increase capacity at Pontybrenin, as well as two other WM schools. But what they say is misleading. Each school in Wales has a defined capacity, and there is a certain amount of leeway for schools to take in more pupils. But there is a limit to how much this can happen. If a local authority wants to increase capacity by more than 25%, it needs statutory approval. This is what Swansea is in the process of trying to get, as we can read in this document:

     Consultation on proposal to increase capacity of three Welsh-medium schools

But this is just a paperwork exercise. They are going through the legal process of formally increasing the capacity of the school, but they are not planning on increasing the physical space available for children in these schools. As the consultation document makes clear, there is going to be no capital expenditure on the school accommodation in order to increase space. The situation is that they have been squeezing more and more children into the original school premises, and things have finally reached the point where they cannot continue to do that because it takes them over that 25% limit.

What is happening at YGG Pontybrenin is quite clear from the StatsWales figures:

Nursery 1 ... 7
Nursery 2 ... 72
Reception ... 47
Year 1 ... 52
Year 2 ... 50
Year 3 ... 37
Year 4 ... 28
Year 5 ... 32
Year 6 ... 22

Total statutory ... 268
Total ... 347

Years 4 to 6 reflect the fact that this was a one form entry school with a capacity of 230 in 2006. Because of the increase in demand, they increased the admission number because, at that time, the older year groups were smaller and there was therefore room to do so. So Swansea currently present the capacity of the school at 331 (i.e. 47 x 7). They now want to increase the admission number to 60, which would equate to a standard two form entry school with a capacity of 420.

But look at the way they've worded the statutory proposal:

YGG Pontybrenin, Loughor Road, Gorseinon, Swansea

The number of full-time pupils at the school in January 2010 was 268. The present capacity at the school is 331. After the enlargement the proposed capacity at the school will be 420. The number of pupils to be admitted to the school at age 4/5 in the first school year in which the proposals have been implemented is 60.

Statutory Notice, 21 May 2010

I venture to suggest that any person reading this without being aware of the situation on the ground would conclude that the proposal is to physically enlarge the school. It isn't. For that reason I would urge the Education Minister, for I'm sure this will be referred to him, to set a condition that the admission numbers cannot be increased unless enough additional physical space is provided so as to prevent further overcrowding. I only wish that Swansea Council would do this at their own initiative. But they haven't, and they show no sign of doing so.

But even an admission number of 60 will not be enough. The figures show that the nursery currently has well in excess of even that admission number. In physical terms, this school is going to be so jam-packed that even the parents of children at Treganna will think that their accommodation is spacious ... and in comparison with what Swansea are proposing to get away with, it will be!


If Swansea were thinking of building a new extension block at Pontybrenin, I might have some sympathy with their intransigence to RhAG's proposal. But they're not. Or they might claim—as other local authorities have done—that it is not a good idea to have small schools, and that it is better for children to attend a larger school because of the greater range of educational opportunities it might offer. But Swansea obviously don't think that ... otherwise they would not have spent money improving English-medium Llanrhidian only this year. The whole thing smacks of double standards.

And what if Swansea did decide to build more WM space? Why would anyone in their right mind spend money on a new building or extension block, especially in times like these, when they already have a suitable building that is now going to stand idle? Yes, I'm sure that if the intention were to build a brand new school, people probably wouldn't build it where Llanmorlais Primary is. It is rather isolated from the village, a couple of hundred metres off the main road, with the road to it not being particularly wide. But it has been quite good enough up to now. At the very least it could be used for the next few years, until a better site for a new school closer to Llanmorlais and Crofty is found. It's done that job for over a hundred years, so why can't it do the same for another ten?

I would urge Swansea Council to carefully reconsider RhAG's proposal. They have got nothing to lose by setting up a new WM school in this building, even if only on a short-term basis to begin with. Local people have worked hard to prove that a Welsh-medium school for north Gower is both wanted and needed. Does their hard work count for so little?

Bookmark and Share

Welsh Language GCSE Results

One of the things I look for when the GCSE results come out are the results for Welsh. Not particularly at the percentage of passes or grades achieved (which tends to creep up by a small fraction every year, in common with all GCSE subjects) but at the number of entries.

There are three different types of Welsh GCSE: Welsh First Language, Welsh Second Language (full course) and Welsh Second Language (short course). However a substantial number of Year 11 students, even though they study Welsh, do not take any Welsh GCSE. The number of different GCSEs taken can therefore be used as one indicator of the state of Welsh teaching in our schools.

Last year, the numbers taking WFL and WSL (full) went down. However this should be set against a general fall in pupil numbers, and in fact the percentages went up. The number taking the WSL (short) GCSE did rise, but only slightly. That made last year's results a little disappointing. But I'm delighted to say that figures for this year show a substantial improvement in numbers, even though the total number of Year 11 students continued to fall [see footnote].

Total number of Year 11 Students
35,822 (was 36,440) ... down 618

Welsh First Language
5,444 entries (15.20% of year) ... was 5,254 (14.42%) ... up 190 (0.78%)

Welsh Second Language (full course)
10,304 entries (28.76% of year) ... was 9,989 (27.41%) ... up 315 (1.35%)

Welsh Second Language (short course)
12,485 entries (34.85% of year) ... was 11,485 (31.52%) ... up 1,000 (3.33%)

Total Welsh Entries
28,233 (78.81% of year) ... was 26,728 (73.35%) ... up 1,505 (5.46%)

Number who did not take any Welsh GCSE
7,589 (21.19% of year) ... was 9,712 (26.65%) ... down 2,123 (5.46%)

Source for GCSE results
Source for Year 11 size

I tend not to give too much attention to the overall pass rate because nearly everyone who takes a GCSE passes it. The A*-C pass rate is more important. For WFL it was down from 73.1% to 71.6%, for WSL (full) it was up from 70.3% to 72.7% and for WSL (short) up from 44.6% to 47.7%.

The overall trends since 1998 can be seen in these two charts:

We have moved from a situation in which 65.98% of our children did not take an exam in Welsh to one in which only 21.19% do not take one. Overall, the last five years have seen very good progress, which is something to celebrate.

But we have to be careful not to over-represent what this means. Estyn continues to highlight that Welsh second language teaching in our schools is particularly poor. For some children, getting a WSL GCSE does reflect an ability to speak, read and write Welsh competently, but for the majority it still represents only a grounding in the language. So these results show that more of our children are getting a better grounding.

If this rate of progress continues, we should get to the situation where every child gets a GCSE in Welsh within four or five years. But I'm sure we are aware that following the WSL (short) course and getting a GCSE at the end of it isn't very much of a qualification. All the indications are that it will be phased out in favour of the full WSL course. We should be looking for a "sliding scale" effect. We need more schools where students aren't taking any exam in Welsh to take the WSL short exam, more who are doing the short course to switch to the WSL full course and exam, and more who are doing the WSL full course to switch to WFL, even as a stream within predominantly English-medium schools.


Doing the WFL course and getting a WFL GCSE is invariably a good indiction of the ability to speak, read and write Welsh competently. It is good to see a steady increase in the percentage of students taking the WFL GCSE, but we need to be aware that 16.3% of year 11 pupils are taught Welsh as a first language [Tab 7.18] but only 15.2% took the WFL GCSE. The discrepancy is not as great as in previous years (and here I must apologize for last year using the overall numbers in WM and bilingual schools rather than the specific number taught Welsh to first language standards) but it still means that about 400 children each year are opting to take a WSL (full) GCSE instead, probably because for an otherwise average student it is a sure-fire way of getting an A* grade, which might make all the difference to the next stage of their education. No one can blame a child for wanting to do that. But of course it also artificially boosts the school's statistics, which is rather underhand if done routinely.


Note: The GCSE figures are published on the same basis each year, and so provide a uniform dataset. However it is more difficult to do this for the number of children in each year group. The StatsWales dataset for year 11 only goes back to 2005/06. Data up to 2007/08 was published in pdf form, and is helped by footnotes which the data on StatsWales lacks, but the numbers for the overlap years do not exactly match. The information from the school census downloadable as a spreadsheet gives another set of numbers for maintained schools which are about 1,400 below the 2007/08 pdf. Although there is a rough correlation between the pdf maintained figures and the StatsWales figures, which would suggest that the StatsWales figures do not include independent schools, adding the interpolated data for independent schools would increase the discrepancy to about 2,000. Therefore the "best fit" seems to be to take the StatsWales figures as a total. Doing this gives a uniform dataset for the past five years, with just one "break line" between 2004/05 and 2005/06. The data, including links to the various sources, are on this spreadsheet. If anyone can point to better data, or point out any mistake I've made in the figures, please let me know.

Bookmark and Share

Contrasting articles on Catalunya and Euskadi

Thanks to Col·lectiu Emma, I've just read an interesting article by Paddy Woodworth, comparing what is happening in Catalunya with what is happening in Euskadi, the Basque Country, a place with which he seems to be well acquainted.

  Madrid's nightmare


  Foreign Policy, 20 August 2010

It's worth reading alongside a contrasting article that appeared just over a week ago in Spiegel Online.

  Zero Tolerance in the Fight against ETA


  Spiegel Online, 13 August 2010

One of the great imponderable questions of the last century is whether a country like Ireland would ever have won its independence from the United Kingdom if it had not fought a war for it; or whether the UK would later have relinquished its strategic interest in the north if people hadn't been prepared to fight for it. We in Wales and Scotland can only consider ourselves fortunate that we are now in a position to become independent when we vote for it.

But once a fight for independence has become violent—or indeed the fight to prevent it, for in any armed conflict both sides use violence—it requires no little effort and commitment to then fight by peaceful and democratic means.

To my mind, Der Spiegel's article reads too much like a vanity piece for Patxi Lopez. As I read the situation in Euskadi, the Basques will undoubtedly vote for independence whenever Spain allows them to do so ... that's why Spain refuses to let them exercise that choice. They have been able to portray far too many Basque leaders calling for independence as terrorist sympathizers, imprisoning them and banning their parties in an attempt to quash any mechanism by which independence could be achieved by democratic means.


But Catalunya, like Wales and Scotland, has no real history of violence in the fight for independence, so the issue is not clouded in the same was as it has been in Ireland and Euskadi. If Catalunya can gain its independence by peaceful means (the onus being on the Spanish, because they're the ones who might use military force to prevent it) it will then be hard for them not to let Euskadi do the same.

And when Scotland wins its independence, it might in turn be the catalyst that triggers Irish reunification. For the unionist community has far stronger cultural and social links with Scotland than with the RUK. And their loyalty to the crown will be tested to breaking point when a queen they respect and can look up to passes away to be replaced by a son who cannot be looked up to.

Bookmark and Share

Exposed: the secret behind Labor's failure

The reason for Julia Gillard's failure to win a majority in yesterday's Australian elections became apparent when this picture was published yesterday.


It clearly shows her voting Green. She later apologized, saying that she was concentrating so much on the media that she didn't realize what she had been doing.

Unfortunately for the Australian Labor Party, many of their previous supporters did the same. Labor's share of the vote fell by 5.4%, and more than twice as many of those votes went to Green Party than went to the right wing Coalition.

Bookmark and Share

A few observations on the Australian election

When Kevin Rudd was deposed, it was an exercise in the supremacy of party machinery over the choice of the electorate. Labor thought that victory would be secure, because parties hardly ever lose after only one term. Julia Gillard has shown that neither being born in Wales, nor being a woman, provides any inoculation against being a bastard. I'm pleased to see that Labor's calculations have backfired.


The House of Representatives was elected by AV, and its inherent unfairness is shown in the fact that the Greens got 11.5% of the vote, but only one out of the 150 seats.

Labor ... 37.9% of vote ... 72 seats = 48% of seats
Coalition ... 44.0% of vote ... 73 seats = 48.7% of seats
Greens ... 11.5% of vote ... 1 seat = 0.7% of seats
Others ... 6.6% ... 4 seats = 2.7% of seats

The Senate is elected under STV. And as a result the Greens now have 9 of the 76 seats (though only half the seats were up for election this time). A much fairer reflection of the way the votes were cast.

Labor ... 31 seats (15 new) = 40.8% of seats
Coalition ... 34 seats (18 new) = 44.7% of seats
Greens ... 9 (6 new) = 11.8% of seats
Others ... 2 (1 new) = 2.6% of seats

As a very good example of how counting for an STV election works, look at this page. It looks complicated but isn't. The first four of the six seats were decided very quickly (in the first five rounds of counting) with their surpluses redistributed. Then candidates with low support were eliminated and their votes redistributed until the two other candidates eventually reached the quota in rounds 33 and 36. I have to congratulate ABC for presenting the information so clearly.

We should use what has happened in Australia to inform our debate about the merits of AV and STV.


The Coalition is an arrangement between the Liberal and National parties. I wonder if that will be the fate of the Tories and LibDems in the UK. Doing this sort of deal might be the only way for the LibDems to avoid being wiped out.


As for the outcome, everything will now depend on the four Independent and one Green representative. One of the independents, David Wilkie, is very close to the Greens. It's very hard to imagine these two supporting the Coalition. If Labor were to pick up the remaining doubtful seats, they might just join with them at the price of getting Labor to pursue a more Green agenda. But I don't think Labor will.

Bob Katter is best described as an ex-National Party maverick, and as right as you can get. Robert Oakeshott is an ex-National, and will surely remain on the right. So is Tony Windsor, who is only standing as an independent because he wasn't selected as his party's official candidate a few years ago. These three should be natural allies for the Coalition which, added to the Coalition's projected 73 seats, will mean that Tony Abbott will become Prime Minister with a majority of two seats.

Bookmark and Share

And when you add the Welsh Baccalaureate ...

Following a question from Macsen about the Welsh Baccalaureate in the comments on my previous post, I've looked into these results too, and they do have a very significant impact on the A Level figures for Wales.


The Welsh Baccalaureate Advanced Diploma normally includes A Levels (although it can include alternative equivalents like NVQ level 3) and those A Levels are included in the published JCQ figures. However the WBac itself (i.e. the WBac "Core") counts as the equivalent of an additional A Level at grade A (120 UCAS points), but is not included in the JCQ figures.

There were 4,360 WBac Advanced Diplomas awarded this summer, which is very healthy in comparison with the 2,564 who took maths A Level in Wales and 3,732 who took English. But of much more significance is the fact that the WBac pass rate was 81% ... so if it were to be counted as an A Level in the JCQ figures, it would push the Welsh grade figures up dramatically.

A total of 37,315 A Levels were taken in Wales this summer, with an A*-A pass rate of 25.0%. But if the WBac Core is added, the number taken rises by 5,383 to 42,698 and the A*-A pass rate rises to 9,329 + 4,360 = 13,689 = 32.1%

The combined A*-A pass rate for Wales, England and NI is 27.0% (Scotland takes different exams). For England alone the figure is 26.8% and for NI 35.7%. However Welsh A Levels and the WBac together can't be taken as an exact equivalent to other countries' A Levels, because of factors such as the International Baccalaureate. There are schools which offer the IB in all the countries of Britain, including Wales, even though most are in England. But the IB works as a completely different alternative, replacing rather than complementing A Levels, and that makes comparison difficult. It is offered by very few schools (fewer than 5%) and only taken up by a small handful in those schools. The number of diplomas awarded, even when counted as the equivalent of 4 A Levels, is less than 1% of the total number of A Levels passed. In contrast the WBac is taken by over 40% of those in year 13 in Wales.


So I now have to revise what I said before. It's not that our A Level students do slightly worse than England as a whole, but about equal to those regions of England with similar levels of prosperity. In terms of the sort of grades that get students into higher education, we in fact do quite a bit better than England, although it's difficult to put a precise figure on how much better. But we still spend much less money doing it.

Thanks Macsen. If you hadn't asked I wouldn't have looked for the figures. You've made my weekend ... and I hope yours!

Bookmark and Share

A better explanation for A level performance

I thought it would be a good idea to comment about the level of expenditure per head in Wales on education, particularly as it has been given as a reason for the Wales relative performance in A level results relative to England.

     School 'funding gap' dispute in Wales after A-levels

In the first instance, I think that a pass rate of 97.1% as opposed to the 97.6% is insignificant. All it shows is that the vast majority of those who sit A levels pass them. A levels are primarily used as a basis of selection for further courses, so the grades matter much more than the small percentage that fail.

But as for the grades, I found an article in the Telegraph to be more enlightening than anything I read elsewhere. It gives the percentages that got the new A* grade for each region of England. In tabular form they are:

London ... 9.6%
South East ... 9.6%
Yorkshire/Humberside ... 9.0%
South West ... 8.6%
East ... 8.3%
West Midlands ... 7.4%
East Midlands ... 6.9%
North West ... 6.7%
North East ... 6.3%

The Telegraph, 19 August 2010

Although the correlation isn't exact, it seems obvious that there is a good degree of correlation between these results and the relative prosperity of these areas.

The figure for Wales was 6.5%, and that puts us above the north east of England and just behind the north west of England ... which happens to roughly match where we are on most economic indicators. That therefore leads me to think that our results have less to do with how much per head we spend on education than on general economic prosperity. More affluent parents tend (because they can more easily afford it, not because they care less about their children) to invest more in their children's education. This can be anything from having more books in the house, to having more space in the house so that a child can concentrate on homework in quiet, to being able to afford a computer and decent internet access, to paying for additional tuition.

So how relevant is the £527 per head difference? Without putting too fine a point on it, it would be hard to find anyone working in education who doesn't want extra money spent on education; just as we won't find anyone in the NHS who doesn't want more spent on health ... or in social services who doesn't want more spent on care ... or in the police who doesn't want more spent on law and order. So of course people who work in education want more spent on education, especially at a time when everyone is concerned about job security.

But the real question is whether it would make a difference.

Personally, I doubt whether it would. Things aren't as simple as that. Of course this doesn't mean that I have any objection to spending more on education; but at a time when public spending is being cut back drastically one could say that England has something to learn from us if we can achieve broadly similar results to equivalent regions in England, but do it for £527 per child less.

Following Macsen's comment, I've now added a new post about the Welsh Baccalaureate which, because it counts as an A Level at grade A, makes a substantial difference to the overall picture.

Bookmark and Share

A week and a half ... but not in Wales

Diane Abbott is in Scotland for the next week or so, trying to gather support for her leadership bid.

Far be it from me to comment on Labour's internal affairs, but if Diane Abbott has anything in her favour it's that she is the only left wing candidate in the field. There might be shades of difference between the others, but they're all straight out of the new Labour mold.

In this interview with the Herald, she explains why she's now concentrating on Scotland:

Ms Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in London, will visit Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of her visit, taking in meetings with Scottish trade union leaders and speaking at Holyrood’s Festival of Politics.

“I think I have a lot of potential support in Scotland,” she said, adding that she was the only leadership candidate of the left. “I think what I am saying about things like the role of the private sector is much more in tune with Scottish Labour than what a lot of the other candidates are saying. But I need to get my message across.

I have not spent a week and a half in Wales. I genuinely think the Scottish Labour party has always had a very fundamental role in British Labour politics. In a way the Scottish Labour movement is the keeper of the flame when it comes to socialism. I think whoever wins (in Scotland) deserves to win overall.”

The Herald, 19 August 2010

I'm not sure whether or not to thank Diane for her decision not to bother with Wales. Of course it shows that Wales is of little importance to her party, but that's not news. The more telling thing is that she does not regard the Labour Party in Wales as having any particularly left wing credentials. Who can blame her for that? Just look at the sort of MPs that Labour now picks to fight seats in Wales.

Or perhaps she knows more than she lets on. With her consistent opposition to things such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for being against Trident, and for greater fairness in society and narrowing rather than widening the gap between rich and poor, spending time here might make it rather obvious that her views are much more in line with those of Plaid Cymru than with anyone in the Labour Party in Wales. She might be staying out of Wales in order not to embarrass them.

Bookmark and Share

Precious Few Heroes

Thanks to one of the comments on Caledonian Mercury, I've just spent half an hour watching this film on Scottish Independence.

It's quite good. Well ... except for the singing.

Bookmark and Share


Hot on the tail of this dragon, I've found something else that appeals to my inner child.

Details from here. Of course the professional side of me will justify this post on the grounds of getting the scroll box to work. Just slide the button to see the whole thing. And the linguist in me just likes the word frieze. It's a word I haven't heard in years.

But the Welsh word is even more obscure. GPC gives addurndalaith and pilladdurn, but googling them gives only one return for the first and none for the second. I particularly like addurndalaith ... now I just have to see if I can work it into a normal conversation.

Bookmark and Share

Maybe in Manchester ... but not in Wales

Somewhere in David Jones' locker there must be a glimmer of perspective, but it's a long way down.

The Welsh Government has made no secret of its belief that stricter controls are necessary on alcohol. This is from a BBC report at the start of a consultation on drug and alcohol abuse more than two years ago:

Speaking at the launch of the consultation, Social Justice Minister Brian Gibbons said the economic and social costs of alcohol and class A drug misuse were estimated to be as much as £2bn each year.

"It also puts pressure on public services, costing the NHS in Wales up to £85m a year," he said. "It is therefore right we should place a greater emphasis on alcohol and reducing the harm it causes."

Wales' Chief Medical Officer Tony Jewell said the strategy would target younger drinkers. "There is growing evidence that young people in Wales are starting to drink at an early age and regularly binge-drink – with consequent risk of injury, road traffic crashes, unsafe sex and anti-social behaviour."

BBC, 11 February 2008

As things evolved—particularly with regard to the policy the Scottish Government has proposed—the Welsh Government reached a firmer position, which Edwina Hart presented in an oral statement to the Assembly in April this year. This is an extract:

In some ways, it is common sense that lower prices lead to more consumption. But there is now strong evidence to support this assertion – major reports produced by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and by the University of Sheffield, have demonstrated that increases in affordability of alcohol lead to increases in consumption. They have also shown that increasing the price of alcohol will reduce consumption, particularly amongst young people, binge drinkers, and harmful drinkers who are dependent on alcohol. So we believe that there is now a strong case for the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol.

But what can we do about this in Wales? Our substance misuse strategy sets out our determination to tackle the harms associated with alcohol misuse, and commits us to press for robust action to tackle the availability of alcohol, including:

•  Stricter rules on the promotion of alcohol,
•  Consideration of reducing demand by introducing minimum pricing, and
•  Increased taxation, linking levels of tax more closely to alcohol strength

We do not currently have the powers to implement these changes ourselves. Our focus has been on making the case to the UK Government, and I and my Ministerial colleagues have written on a number of occasions to highlight these issues. And I believe that opinion is swinging our way. In recent months we have seen calls for minimum pricing from the BMA, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, and the Parliamentary Health Select Committee.

Oral Statement on Alcohol Pricing Policy, 27 April 2010

So it shouldn't have come as any real surprise to David Jones when Edwina Hart wrote to the Welsh Cabinet asking to set in motion a process for devolving such powers to Wales. But it was. As we can read in this report today:

But Mr Jones told BBC Radio Wales that they were "rather surprised" about Mrs Hart's announcement, as alcohol licensing powers were "specifically excluded" from the devolution settlement.

Well, if they were already included, there wouldn't be much point in making a request, would there? For it is something that is outside the scope of the GoWA 2006.


But to my mind, what he goes on to say displays an even greater degree of political ignorance:

Mr Jones said he would object in principle to powers on alcohol being devolved. He said the matter should be "properly dealt with on an England and Wales basis".

"Differential regimes could lead to so called alcohol tourism whereby people who live in Wrexham could go to Chester and do their alcohol shopping for a different price," he said.

If he—or even one of his researchers or a Wales Office special advisor—had read the Daily Telegraph a fortnight ago, he would know that local authorities in and around Manchester are intending to propose a minimum price on alcohol:

Manchester attempts to impose minimum price of alcohol

The ten local authorities in and around Manchester hope to pass a by-law that would set a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol, in an attempt to end to the cheap deals blamed for drink-fuelled disorder and health problems. It would affect all the pubs, supermarkets and off-licences in Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham and the area covered by the The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), which has a population of 3.9 million.

This move would be far bolder than proposals by the Coalition Government, which have so far suggested investigating the banning of below-cost selling. A consultation has started to ascertain how to define "below-cost".

The Manchester idea has been pioneered by Our Life, an NHS-backed campaign group, which says North West England has one of the worst alcohol problems in the country. Andy Walker, at Our Life, said: "There are 1.3 million adults in the North West who drink hazardous or harmful amounts of alcohol. And the cost to the NHS North West, in terms of treating alcohol-related injuries and illnesses, is in excess of £400 million a year."

Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2010

So we see Manchester, an area with a very similar population to Wales, wanting to locally control alcohol pricing for its citizens in the same way as we want to do in Wales.

Now if the Tory party were being consistent, they would have dismissed Manchester's initiative out of hand. They would say it was illegal. They would say they were against the idea "in principle". They would point out that:

"Differential regimes could lead to so called alcohol tourism whereby people who live in Wrexham Manchester could go to Chester and do their alcohol shopping for a different price."

They might even go so far as to proclaim that:

"Laws over it would never be devolved."

But the Tories didn't do that in the case of Manchester. In fact they did precisely the opposite.

Despite retailers and the alcohol industry insisting Manchester's attempt stood no chance of passing the first legal hurdle, the Home Office said it was supportive of the idea.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We welcome initiatives from local authorities especially when they are responding to the concerns of local people."

The lesson to be learned? If you represent the "local people" of Greater Manchester, the Tory/LibDem Government is all in favour of listening to your concerns and will support your initiative. If you represent the "local people" of Wales, that same government will not take any notice of your concerns ... and will dismiss your initiative out of hand.

Bookmark and Share

Every child should have one


... including those of us who are now children only at heart!

Click image for details.

Bookmark and Share

Leighton walks the same walk

It was good to see today's announcement by Leighton Andrews that £4m is to be spent on early years' teacher (and teaching assistant) bilingual training in Wales ... not least after having written this post about the low percentage of teachers who have bilingual skills only two days ago.

     Extra £4m for early years' teachers Welsh training

The money is welcome, but we need to bear in mind that this is only a continuation of the existing level of funding, not additional money. The original funding stream of £6m ran for three years from 2008, and this merely continues the funding at the same level (in fact less, if we take inflation into account) for another two years.

In broad terms the money will continue to go into two areas: Cam wrth Gam trains about 180 people a year for an NVQ Level 3 qualification, these are new entrants. Geiriau Bach aims at improving the bilingual skills of those already working in early years education.


When the Foundation Phase was introduced, one of the major challenges was to provide enough staff to make it work as intended, because the pupil to teacher/assistant ratio needs to be much lower. So most of this money would be needed anyway in order to train more staff. But the majority of our teachers (we train about a thousand primary school teachers a year, not counting assistants, and about half of these will find work at the Foundation Stage) are still not being trained to work bilingually. This isn't just a problem for Welsh-medium education but is also a problem for English-medium education, because Welsh is just as much a part of the curriculum as English or maths or science. What would be our reaction if only 20% of our teachers were up to standard in numeracy? Would we accept it because they were up to standard with English and science? Of course not. We would ensure that every teacher that qualified had the numeracy skills necessary to teach our children maths.

So why are we still treating Welsh differently? We should not be training teachers—particularly in early years teaching, where the teacher is responsible for all subjects—unless they have a good level of all-round ability when they qualify.

Of course what will happen is that the teachers and assistants being trained to work bilingually will be snapped up by the ever-growing Welsh-medium sector, because that's where they will be most needed. But that probably means that teaching Welsh in English-medium schools will hardly be touched by this initiative, and it is here that teaching standards are at their worse.

The choice between either Welsh-medium or English-medium education is up to parents; but even though parents might want their children educated in English, that certainly doesn't mean that they don't want their children to learn to speak Welsh. Since the eighties, there has been a consensus across the political spectrum that Welsh should be a core subject in the curriculum, and this reflects the fact that 81% of people in Wales think it is important that children learn to speak Welsh, with only 7% disagreeing [Source, para 4.7].


Now I fully accept that it takes time to change things. But to me, the problem is that we are still not only funding, but providing the bulk of our funding, to train new teachers and teaching assistants whose Welsh is not up to standard. The previous funding period (2008-11) has demonstrated that the service provided by Cam wrth Gam and Geiriau Bach works. If it didn't, we wouldn't be continuing the funding stream for another two years. So what is now needed is not a continuation of the same, but to expand it so that a greater percentage of those we train are competent to teach Welsh. That will not involve extra money, it will simply require a reduction in the numbers attending courses that have no bilingual element, and a corresponding expansion in the numbers attending courses that do. For the colleges and other training providers concerned it will mean either making the courses they run bilingual, or closing their courses so that teachers and teaching assistant can be trained elsewhere.

Since Leighton Andrews took over the education portfolio he has certainly talked an outspoken, even provocative, talk. But in making today's announcement he is not doing anything new, he's just walking the same walk as his predecessor.

Bookmark and Share

Tinkering at the edges of School Reorganization

It was either great timing or an even greater stroke of luck that Leighton Andrews' should announce the consultation on revising the statutory procedures for schools reorganization at the same time as news broke that Ysgol Capel Iwan would have to remain open for up to a year, even though it has no pupils.

It's all to easy to put two and two together and conclude that we must speed things up in order to prevent future fiascos of this sort. But I think we'd be shooting at the wrong target.

The situation at Capel Iwan is a fiasco, but it is not too serious a fiasco. It's easy to throw a figure like £110,000 into the air, but the reality is that the staff concerned are not going to be paid to do nothing; they will be given notice or deployed elsewhere. And even if the school had been formally shut down, the building would still be there; empty, needing security, and as likely or unlikely to find a new use as it is now. Yes, it is an embarrassment to Sir Gâr, who had not addressed the problem of a school where the numbers had halved from around 30 in 2006/7 and 2007/8 to 16 in 2008/9 and 13 in 2009/10. But the irony is that if the Council had made a proposal to close the school, it might well have galvanized the local community into a protest campaign and action to save it. That might have encouraged new parents to send their children there, and that might have kept it going for longer. Perhaps lack of publicity allowed this school to die a "natural death".


School closures of this type are inevitable. By any objective measure the number of surplus spaces in schools has to be addressed, and this means that some schools will have to close. In a good number of cases, given the demographic trends, the situation is so black-and-white that it is tempting to think that the statutory procedures can be made more simple. But we must be very wary of using these black-and-white cases as a justification for curtailing all statutory procedures. The tail must not be allowed to wag the dog.

The consultation document that Leighton Andrews has produced is very simple. It merely proposes that the statutory objection and response periods be halved, and that they must not be made in school holidays.


  Objections to statutory proposals for school organisation

In my opinion this is far too simplistic a "solution" to a rather more complicated problem.


The main principle at stake is that people must have adequate time to consider and respond to reorganization proposals. It seems obvious to me that reducing the objection period from two months to one month is, in some cases, not going to allow enough time for this to happen properly. Firstly the documentation is not always available at the start of the period, and secondly it still doesn't give enough time for the local community to set up meetings to discuss the proposals.

We need to be aware that there might be two very different scenarios under which changes are proposed. In all cases the local authority will have already put proposals out for preliminary consultation, in many cases with a number of different options in a genuine desire to engage with the community to find a way forward. In such cases I believe that the statutory process could be refined, because the resulting formal proposal will hardly be news to the community concerned. However, there is another scenario in which a local authority could come up with a markedly different proposal, perhaps because of the unacceptability of a first proposal that did not properly consider the range of options. So although cutting the statutory period might well be reasonable in the first case, it would not be reasonable in the second.

The better solution must surely be for the statutory period to be cut only when there has been sufficient previous consultation on a number of options beforehand, and where the chosen proposal is substantially similar to one of the options. This will mean giving the earlier consultation some statutory status. Publishing it with this status would be necessary to prevent a very cursory proposal being passed off as a proper consultation.


When it comes to a local authority's response time, I would have no objection to this being cut from a month to two weeks. In most instances it is a foregone conclusion that there will be at least one objection to any proposal, and only one objection is all that is currently necessary before the decision is referred to the Welsh Government. So the local authority becomes not much more than a "sorting office". There's no issue of principle at stake, just paperwork.

But Leighton Andrews' proposal misses the wider point. The bigger problem that needs to be addressed is that it only takes one objection for the matter to be referred to the Welsh Government. To my mind, this is a ridiculously low threshold that we urgently need to revise. I realize that there is a political "power play" in operation here. This proposal has come from the WG, and the changes it proposes will simply put more pressure on local authorities without imposing any commensurate improvement in response at a national level. Leighton Andrews has also made no secret of the fact that he wants to take education out of the hands of the 22 local authorities and put it into the hands of a smaller number of regional education authorities instead. In this "power play" it is hardly surprising that his proposal makes no attempt to change the unequal balance of power between local and national government. It is also worth pointing out that if such regional education authorities are formed, they would need to have a corresponding degree of democratic accountability. Local authorities have the great virtue of being directly elected.

I believe that we should set higher thresholds for the number of objections necessary before a decision is passed to national government. I think we also need to make a distinction between objections from local people and organizations, and those of others from outside. I wouldn't want to be dogmatic about the figure, but it has struck me as odd that some proposals attract many thousands of objections when the numbers who would be affected by the proposal can only be in the hundreds. I'd suggest that it should take a minimum of 25% of those in the catchment areas (i.e. the immediate catchment area and the surrounding catchments which children would move into or from) and for the number of such objections to be greater than the number of endorsements, before the matter can be referred to national government. Of course that wouldn't stop others from outside the area making objections or endorsements, or having them considered in the same way as local objections.

But I have a degree of misapprehension about even that. For in principle I think that these decisions should be made locally rather than nationally. Perhaps a good analogy would be with the planning process: that the decision would normally be made locally, but that the minister concerned would be able to "call in" certain proposals in certain defined circumstances. I think that the role of national government should be to set targets and lay down procedures to be followed ... and in addition to this they will also exercise a large degree of influence by means of funding. These tools should be quite sufficient in themselves without passing the power to make almost every decision to a minister in the WG.


There is one other aspect in which the current decision-making process is fundamentally flawed. In some cases the decision will either be to do what is proposed, or not to do it. But in other cases there will be a number of different options, each of which will have its pros and cons, but with not much to choose between them.

What happens at present is that a local authority will, if it conducts a preliminary consultation, have put a number of options forward for consideration. But it will then only be able to put forward one statutory proposal ... though hopefully the one chosen will reflect local opinion better than the others. If the proposal is referred to the Welsh Government (no matter whether we establish a new threshold or not, or whether the proposal is "called in" under the alternative arrangement) the minister is currently only able to rule on that one proposal. S/he must either accept or reject it, and if s/he rejects it everything has to start over from square one, even though it might be obvious that a solution needs to be found urgently.

I would like to see a situation in which the local authority presents a range of options in the first consultation. The LA would then choose its favoured proposal for the second consultation, but could include alternatives. If the threshold for objections was not reached, the LA would proceed with its favoured proposal. But if it was reached, the minister would then have the option of either approving it, or rejecting it in favour of one of the alternative proposals, or rejecting all of the proposals. If Leighton Andrews really is concerned about speeding up the current statutory processes, this flexibility would do much more to achieve that aim than merely cutting out a few weeks, but not changing the current arrangements in any other way.

To put it in blunter terms, there is often more than one way to skin a cat.

What is wrong with the current system is not the time it takes, but that it lacks any degree of flexibility. What is the point of saving six weeks, but then losing a whole year or more by having to go back to square one? Also, as almost all reorganization proposals can only be implemented at the start of the school year, how can saving six weeks make any real difference anyway? Leighton Andrews is just tinkering at the edges rather than dealing with the real problem. I would therefore urge people to reject his proposal as it stands, and to press for a more ambitious overhaul of the system that would result in:

•  the formal recognition of preliminary consultations

•  a higher threshold before the decision is referred to the Welsh Government, or a "calling in" system

•  the inclusion of alternatives which the minister could approve if s/he rejected the main proposal

We have until 5 November to respond. Details of how to do so are here.

Bookmark and Share

Teaching Our Teachers

I've just been reading a report—which I came across more by accident than design—prepared for the Office of the Languages Commissioner of Nunavit in Canada, that gives what I found to be a rather helpful overview of the linguistic situation in a number of countries, including Euskadi, Catalunya, Finland, Estonia and New Zealand.


It was prepared in 2002, and although that makes it a little dated it is interesting to see the how things were viewed at that time, not least because when you are trying to keep pace with events as they happen it's easy to lose the perspective of recent history.


I would like to pick out one thing which particularly struck me concerning education in Euskadi, the Basque Country. As I've said before, I think the situation there is perhaps of most relevance to us in Wales, because the size of our two countries and the proportion who speak our respective languages is very similar.

The proportion of teaching staff with an appropriate command of Basque has risen markedly. In 1996-97, almost 65 percent of the teaching staff had a command of Basque, up from 5 percent in 1976-77.

The biggest hindrance to our goal of creating a bilingual Wales is the availability of teachers who can teach Welsh and in Welsh. What this shows is that the percentage can be dramatically increased in a relatively short period of time. The Basques achieved a huge increase from a very low percentage base in twenty years. We also have records for the last twenty years (though not the same twenty years) which are here:

     Welsh Teaching in Primary Schools
     Welsh Teaching in Secondary Schools
     Total Number of Teachers

There's a wealth of detail which we can pore over at leisure, but the information is difficult to interpret. For example, in primary schools the figures show that out of 13,582 teachers, 2,799 (20.6%) teach Welsh as a first language, 9,148 (67.4%) teach it as a second language, and 478 (3.5%) are considered able to teach Welsh, but don't. I can't see that more than a handful of teachers at primary level would teach Welsh both as a first and a second language, because primary school teachers tend to have care of only one class all the time and the 20.6% roughly equates with the numbers of children in WM education. So the picture is that the vast majority of primary school teachers in EM settings are teaching Welsh, irrespective of whether they are competent Welsh speakers or not. They are merely passing on what little they know because there is no one else to do it. Although this is only an example, one headteacher of a primary school in Llanelli recently said that all twelve of her teachers were capable of teaching Welsh as a second language, but that none of them were currently proficient to teach through the medium of Welsh. I imagine this is repeated in many other EM schools.

The secondary school information is a little clearer, showing that out of 13,102 teachers, 398 teach it as a first language, 648 as a second language, 1,835 teach other subjects in Welsh and 501 don't teach in Welsh but could. At best this would mean that 3,382 or 25.8% of secondary school teachers can teach Welsh or in Welsh, but in reality there will be a lot of overlap in these figures as some will teach Welsh as both a first and second language, and some will teach Welsh and other subjects in Welsh. At a guess, I'd say the figure is very unlikely to be above 20%.

But, as always, the key in looking at any statistics is to compare like with like. On whatever basis it was measured, the number of teachers competent in Euskara increased thirteen-fold in twenty years; yet the number of teachers competent in Welsh has hardly changed over a similar period. This is a remarkable, and painful, contrast.


For what it's worth, we do realize the situation in Wales is bad. According to Estyn, although we teach Welsh as a first language well, we teach Welsh as a second language worse than any other subject.

[54] In secondary schools, the weak performance of Welsh second language continues from previous years, and it is worse now than it was in the past. We reported last year that almost half the work had some important shortcomings. This year, two-thirds of pupils’ work in Welsh second language has important shortcomings. Teaching in Welsh second language is much worse than in other subjects.

[110-111] In schools where Welsh second language is taught, pupils continue to achieve lower standards in bilingualism than in other key skills. Standards in bilingualism are good in just over half of the schools we inspected this year. Standards in bilingualism are lower than standards of Welsh as a second language. Around half of pupils make very limited progress in developing bilingual skills, especially speaking.

[148] The weak performance of Welsh second language continues from previous years and has deteriorated this year. Two-thirds of the work in Welsh second language has important shortcomings.

Estyn Annual Report, 2007-2008

Estyn's last report was presented in a different and rather less detailed format which makes comparison difficult. It suggests things have improved a little, but that things are still bad.

But even the recently published Welsh-medium Education Strategy does not set any objective targets for increasing the number of teachers who can competently teach Welsh or in Welsh. I think this is one of its major shortcomings because, as we can see from the next table, the number of students completing Initial Teacher Training that includes bilingual teaching or leads to a formal certificate of bilingual education is only a small percentage of the total number of teachers we train in Wales:

Table 7 - Students completing ITT courses in Wales

2003/04 ... Non-bilingual 1,820 - Bilingual 290 (13.7% of total)
2004/05 ... Non-bilingual 1,625 - Bilingual 480 (22.8% of total)
2005/06 ... Non-bilingual 1,810 - Bilingual 255 (12.4% of total)
2006/07 ... Non-bilingual 1,450 - Bilingual 460 (24.1% of total)
2007/08 ... Non-bilingual 1,630 - Bilingual 190 (10.4% of total)
2008/09 ... Non-bilingual 1,645 - Bilingual 220 (11.8% of total)

Initial Teacher Training in Wales, 2008/09

To me, it is nothing short of scandalous that the trend is downwards rather than upwards. It shows that the problem is not being properly addressed at a political level.

The point isn't that these teaching graduates are unable to speak Welsh. We know that about 50% of children in secondary schools can speak Welsh. The point is that, except for a few, their ability is not being treated as an integral part of their teaching qualification. It is still being treated as an optional "bolt-on" even though it is an essential part of the set of skills that a teacher needs, particularly at primary level where the same teacher teaches all subjects to their class.


I think that the lack of progress has now become so serious that we should make it a requirement for all teachers trained in Wales to be certified as being able to teach in Welsh. Obviously we need to phase this in, so I'd say we should set a target that 50% of teachers trained in Wales should be certified as able to teach in Welsh from now on, and increase that by another 5% each year. Bearing in mind that a recently trained teacher might well have a career of forty years, even this step will take a few decades to translate into a situation in which every teacher can teach in both English and Welsh.

This might seem radical, but is it? Look back at the statistics for primary schools: they say that 11,948 out of 13,582 teachers, or 88.0%, teach Welsh as a first or second language ... yet I would be surprised if even a third of them were up to that part of their job. We would simply be replacing what the statistics say is true with something that is actually true. If Euskadi can increase their proportion of bilingual teachers from 5% to 65% in twenty years, we can surely do something similar ... but it takes political will to do it.

Bookmark and Share

UKIP support the breakup of Belgium

I suppose UKIP are rather too easy a target, yet I couldn't help but smile at something Nigel Farage said in an interview with the BBC:

He describes the election of a Dutch-speaking separatist party in Belgium's general election, which favours the gradual break up of the country, as "delicious", seeing it another sign that Europe is heading towards break up as a political entity.

BBC, 9 August 2010

If only he had the virtue of consistency. For if he supports the idea of Belgium splitting into Flanders and Wallonia, he would surely also support the idea of Wales and Scotland becoming independent of the UK. In fact he might even persuade his party to put more effort into making this happen, for he could then present it as "another sign that Europe is heading towards break up as a political entity".

But consistency is not one of UKIP's virtues. UKIP and the BNP are the only parties that want to undo the devolution we have and recentralize the UK.

Bookmark and Share

Guffington Pist exposes himself

Several months ago Huw Lewis took exception to an article on the Cambria Politico site in which he was called Screwloose, and his staff wrote emails threatening the website with legal action. I picked up on that story in this post on 19 November and myself encountered a foul-mouthed temper tantrum from a person who identified himself as "Guffington Pist". This is what he wrote:

I must admit that I'm not such a great fan of the style of some posts that appear on the Syniadau blog, but in comparison to many blogs I have read it usually contains nothing of any interest to anybody. There are many blogs that I would take exception to, but this is certainly one of the worst.

At present, the blog has decided to throw its way behind the unproven and offensive crap about Huw Lewis on the Cambria Politico bog (correct). The crux of this support is:

Leaving the entirely simpering and pandering tone to one side, Syniadau is one of those also-ran blogs that is totally blinded by the belief that Labour are nothing but a bunch of insidious fascists all too ready to remove the few powers that Wales has, and probably chuck those uppity bastards into concentration camps into the bargain.

Syniadau is in no position to know what the original post said, but hey, why not comment ignorantly upon its supposed comment, without stopping for one moment to check a single damn fact and then return to the mirror to admire its own cleverness in quoting from the Lewis team letter? Bet those fascists never saw that coming.


I find this a very sad development. Politicians, by virtue of putting themselves in the public eye, are obvious targets to be lampooned for what they say and think, and that obviously includes labelling (and libelling) them mad, no matter whether it's true or not, and whether it stigmatises those with mental health issues. Next week - a round-up of Chubby Brown's best jokes.

In fact I would go so far as to say that the media has a moral duty to report lies - instead they perpetuate them every day ... about Labour. Thanks to ill-informed bedroom wank monkeys like Syniadau, that established part of our political tradition for centuries has returned.

Wales needs lively political debate. Lampooning our politicians has just as important a part to play in that as more serious stories, articles ... and even what we post on blogs. Tomorrow - why have they let women and blacks in the Assembly? A humourous sideways look.

I thought it was one of the better examples of the depths to which Labour Party activists will stoop—or at least evidence of what passes for humour in the circle that produced Annoyingly Dour—and of course left it on Syniadau for all to see. But I kept the details of the IP address from which it had been sent. Our friend has made a few other visits from the same address, but today it became more apparent who was responsible.


As regular readers will know, Adam Higgitt and I enjoy a healthy rivalry ... well I enjoy it, though I will leave it to others to decide which of us gets the better of the other in our exchanges. I left a comment today on the WalesHome blog, prompted by what Daran Hill had said in this post about those opposed to constitutional progress being prepared to:

... peddle any lie they can to scare people into resisting change.

John Tyler—a member of True Wales and one of their most active participants on the web—took exception to this, saying:

Mr Hill, your expression “Firstly, because those opposed to constitutional progress will peddle any lie they can to scare people into resisting change” is disingenuous at the very least.

I was appalled when I read the expression … “peddle any lie”, in three very small words you tell your readers that any opposition to your published position, the “Yes” vote, is unworthy of debate, it has no value, therefore any opposing view is a lie. This is patently untrue.

Actually I agree. Daran had made too sweeping a generalization. But I thought it would be a timely moment to remind people of two of the lies John Tyler has himself peddled. However, as people who've left comments on WalesHome will know, comments are moderated before they appear. The links to both of the examples I gave were visited by "Guffington Pist" immediately before my comment appeared. This means that "Guffington Pist" must be one of the moderators at WalesHome.

This was followed only minutes later by a comment by Adam Higgitt. In it he described what I had said as "unnecessary and unedifying" and "blowing raspberries". A rather misdirected attack, since Daran Hill been the one to talk about peddling any lie, and I was (though with some pleasure, I admit) providing two pieces of evidence to back up that claim in so far as it related to someone who was actively responsible for peddling such lies. But isn't it remarkable how duplicitous some people will be when they invent names like "Guffington Pist" in order to engage in foul-mouthed abuse, but present a supposedly more reasonable face when they post under their usual identity?

Bookmark and Share

To the Civilians of Hiroshima and Afghanistan

Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The first of two examples of the worst atrocities of war: the indiscriminate killing of civilians on a massive scale. There might be some circumstances in which war is justified, but the indiscriminate killing of non-combatants can never be justified.


We rightly mourn the loss of what is now just over five hundred of our armed forces in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and I would not hear a word spoken against their service, nor against those who have been wounded in service. But it is sobering to remember that the loses to our armed forces are as nothing compared to the civilian deaths that we and our allies have inflicted on the people of these two countries.

When we choose to, we are well able to fight wars in such a way as to minimize the loss of civilian life. The Falklands War is a good example of how to fight in an acceptable way. And while I do not want to impugn the conduct of any of our service personnel and the difficulty of the decisions they have to make in the heat of battle, the way that we have chosen to fight these other wars at a strategic level has undoubtedly led to more loss of civilian life than would have been the case if we had chosen to give the same care and attention to the citizens of the places we have invaded as we've done where our own citizens were concerned.


We fight dirty wars in a shameful way.

Bookmark and Share

Subsidizing English

In 1951 Saunders Lewis wrote an article in Y Faner entitled Awrdurdodau Lleol a'r Gymraeg in which he spoke about how councils across Wales would use English as the language of their meetings even though the majority, sometimes even all but one, spoke Welsh.

In recent years technology has given us a neat solution to that problem; for I'm sure most of us will be familiar with being offered a headset so as to be able to hear a simultaneous translation by someone speaking quietly in the corner of the meeting room. The equipment is relatively inexpensive and can be taken from place to place in one or two large briefcases. This has transformed the situation, because people who would have preferred to speak in Welsh but switched to English out of politeness (or sometimes a mistaken deference) were now able to speak in their language of choice without inconveniencing those who could only understand English.

So it was with some concern that I read this story in Tuesday's Western Mail:

    Cuts signal ‘English-only’ meetings in Welsh town

The town concerned is Aberaeron, where the Council have just decided not to use the service on the grounds that it will save them thousands of pounds.

Some of the reaction to this news has been to point to it as an example of how much Welsh costs; but in fact the service only exists for the benefit of those who do not understand Welsh. Those who do understand it have no need of it. And the money is being spent not on Welsh, but on those who do not understand it. It is an example of the amount of money that is being spent on subsidizing English.

As for Aberaeron Town Council's decision, it appears their intention is to have the Councillors themselves do the translation rather than pay somebody to do it at a cost of £30 or £40 an hour ... or at least that's what they are saying. Personally I have no objection to a councillor doing the job instead on a voluntary basis, providing that they can provide the same service competently. But somehow, just somehow, I suspect this will be an excuse for them not to provide the service at all.


There is an important principle at stake, namely that people in Wales have a right to use Welsh in public meetings like these. For even though our language rights are very much more limited in other circumstances, they already exist in local democracy. I would urge people to exercise them.

The attitudes of sixty years ago are no longer appropriate today. What Welsh speakers did out of politeness and good will has resulted in some, though not all, non-Welsh speakers reciprocating that good will. But all too often the same sort of anti-Welsh attitudes prevail now as prevailed when Saunders Lewis wrote what he did almost sixty years ago.

I guess councils all over Wales will try and use the cuts in money for public services as an excuse not to provide services like this. But any savings that are achieved will be achieved at the much greater expense of denying people their right to use the language of their choice if the service is not provided at all, or of putting pressure on people not to exercise those rights because it will inconvenience those who can't speak Welsh.

If people can't speak Welsh in Wales, it is not Welsh speakers who are to blame. If others cannot understand what they say in public meetings of this sort, it is up to the Council to provide a service that will enable them to understand ... and if any who cannot speak Welsh object to the cost, they should be politely but firmly reminded that the service exists entirely for their benefit.

Bookmark and Share

Peter Black makes a fool of himself

As if it wasn't enough for Carwyn Jones to make a fool of himself by saying that we wouldn't get the £300m by which Wales is currently short-changed unless we voted Yes in a referendum on primary lawmaking powers, Peter Black has now stepped in to muddy the waters yet further.

Over on Freedom Central he said:

The claim that for every day the coalition fails to act on the Barnett formula it costs Wales £800,000 is also misleading and disingenuous. Gerry Holtham himself has suggested that it could take 10 to 14 years before Wales receives the full benefit of such a reform. It cannot be achieved overnight and it does not help that Wales’ most senior politician goes public in this way to suggest otherwise. Where is his evidence? Clearly, Carwyn does not want the facts to get in the way of a good story.

The cost of a no vote - 5 August 2010

The fact Peter can't quite face up to is that Wales is currently losing £300m a year. Carwyn Jones was not wrong about the figure, he was wrong to link it to a Yes vote in the referendum. This is the figure calculated by the Holtham Commission, based on a lower end estimate of what Wales would get if it was funded on the same criteria as a region of England.

The next thing he misunderstood was the timescale necessary to address the problem. It will not take years. Gerald Holtham said that a fix could be applied immediately: namely to establish a "floor" so that future Barnett incrementals to Wales would be multiplied by 114%. Indeed, it's fair to say that Peter Hain probably did try to establish such a floor in his last days as Secretary of State, but the Treasury refused to make any commitment to apply it, saying only that they would "look at the situation" and act if it was clear that Wales was being "disproportionately disadvantaged".

Gerald Holtham was incredulous. He said the government were acting like "silly billies" for not making such a commitment because, at a time when it was clear that public spending was not going to rise at the rates it had been doing, it would cost the government very little to apply such a floor straight away. I commented on it here.


OK, that was before the Westminster election, and Labour clearly missed their opportunity. But now the ball is in the ConDem government's court. They can do what Labour failed to do. The perfect opportunity to apply the floor will be as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review that is due in October.

The 10 to 14 years is a red herring that Peter is using as an excuse for his government's inaction. Gerry Holtham was talking about the long-term replacement of the Barnett Formula rather than the 114% floor that could be applied immediately. Peter wants to imply that because Labour did nothing to replace the Barnett Formula in the 13 years that they were in power, the government that his own party is part of can be excused for doing nothing as well. But that misunderstands the situation. The true picture is quite clear from the Holtham Report:


To put it in blunt terms, if the indicators of Wales' needs relative to England are in the band between 114% and 117% (which is what Holtham has calculated) then Wales was probably getting more than it should have got in past years ... although this would also have been the case for NI, and even more true for Scotland which by every measure is overfunded relative to need. But as public spending increased, the application of the Barnett Formula produced a convergence of spending relative to England ... something known as the Barnett Squeeze. It is only in the last few years that this has resulted in Wales getting less than it should on a needs based formula. But if the situation is not dealt with now the gap will get bigger and bigger, though by how much will depend on the rate of growth or contraction of public spending.


That is why Peter Black, is completely "away with the fairies" when he goes on to say this:

And of course if this is so important then why is it that Labour did nothing to reform the Barnett Formula for the 13 years when they were in power both at Westminster and in Wales? On the First Minister’s calculations that inaction has cost Wales £3.9 billion since 1997.

Peter really should leave maths to people who have some grasp of numbers ... though I suppose if he did have any numeracy skills, it would make him noticeably different from his LibDem colleagues.

Bookmark and Share

Carwyn makes a fool of himself

Who knows, perhaps Martin Shipton has got hold of the wrong end of the stick, but if what he is saying in the Western Mail is true (and I'm sure he has the press release to back him up) then it is Carwyn Jones who is making a fool of himself.

Wales is losing £800,000 a day because the National Assembly does not have primary law-making powers, Carwyn Jones will claim today.

The First Minister will tell an audience at the National Eisteddfod that winning a referendum on the issue next year would trigger a reform of the funding formula experts say robs Wales of £300m a year.

Mr Jones will go on to say: “Now, given that Wales is underfunded by some £300m per year, it means that for every single day Wales doesn’t have these powers, we lose £800,000 each and every day.”

Western Mail, 4 August 2010

Revising the way Wales is funded for devolved areas of spending has absolutely nothing to do with the referendum on primary lawmaking powers. At any time during the last ten years—or indeed in the years when spending decisions were made by Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland—the Barnett Formula could and should have been revised.

This is just cheap, nasty, misinformation designed to get people who don't know better to vote Yes in the referendum. We simply do not need to resort to such tactics. Doing so plays into the hands of people like True Wales who will take it as further encouragement to spread their own brand of misinformation. We don't need two groups muddying the water.


Now it is true that we will save money by getting rid of the LCO process. But it will be a marginal saving. It will cost us more to draft legislation, but this will be offset as money will be saved by avoiding duplication of time and effort in Westminster and Cardiff Bay ... as well as the fact that AMs cost us much less than MPs, partly in salary but mostly in expenses.

That would be a reasonable point to make, and indeed Carwyn Jones does go on to make it. But to claim that getting rid of the wastefulness inherent in the LCO process is linked to changing the way the block grant is calculated is disingenuous, to put it at its mildest.

Bookmark and Share