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.

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James Dowden said...

Gobeithio na ddefnyddion nhw'r brics yna. Lle aeth CH?

MH said...

Ffaelu dod o hyd brics Cymraeg. Ond beth am hon? Mae hi'n wych!

Anonymous said...

As well as teaching/improving teachers and assistants Welsh language skills, as a father to a young child I'm also keenly aware that training needs to be given in what can only be called 'language awareness' (though I wish for a better term!).

For instance, taking that even in the more Welsh-speaking areas a large (even majority) of kids come from non-Welsh speaking home, how does the teacher or assistant deal with a situation (which happens all the time) of the children coming from the background of the high prestige language (English) into an environment where Welsh needs to be fostered? How does this not lead to English becoming the language of the class undermining the Welsh language?

Some of the issues raised are similar to schools in inner city England but the issues facing Welsh are much more complex and demanding.

So, teaching Welsh is only half the job. I think we've overlooked the 'language awareness' or 'language assertiveness' side of the job and expected teacher and assistants to just get on with the job.

Not equipping the teachers and assistants with these skills (more so in designated Welsh medium or old Category A schools in Dyfed) means that the children will find it longer and harder to grasp Welsh and that the language of the class, from the very beginning, will be in English.


MH said...

I don't want to disagree with the practical points you've made, Macsen. But for me, one thing you said stands out a mile.

Why do you regard English as a "high prestige" language? And, if that view is shared, why on earth would people in Wales regard English as "high prestige"?

Ask yourself why the usual anti-Welsh suspects portray those who speak Welsh as an "elite"? Why they accuse those who send children to WM schools as being motivated by not wanting to mix with "normal" children, as if a WM education was the Welsh equivalent of sending your children to an independent school? How on earth can anyone who can speak two languages think it is of less "prestige" than only speaking one ... or three languages instead of two?

If we think that our own language is of little prestige, what does that say about us? Or is it that some sort of inverted snobbery is at play: that if others accuse us of being elite, we have to portray ourselves as being the opposite?

I refuse to think in those terms, one way or the other. Isn't it better to say that we—81% of us, that is—want our children to speak our very own language in our own country ... but realize that it's very useful to speak English too, because it is the second language of most of Europe and it can't do us any harm to be able to speak it just as well as we speak Welsh?

Anonymous said...

MH - I think you miss my point about English being a 'high prestige' language.

It's not a way to branding or slighting anyone it's a statment of fact. English is the 'normal' language of the state, the language of mass communication and now, for the vast number of communities in Wales, of the local society too.

I remember my 18 month old realising that mam and dad would change from speaking Welsh to speaking English in the shop if the shop assistant didn't speak Welsh. He's got the message that Welsh speakers change to English because English speakers can't (won't?) learn to speak Welsh.

Do I think that Welsh is 'less prestigious' than English? No. Do many people who don't speak Welsh but send their kids to WM schools, think so? No. However, in society the language with most prestige, the one we all have to speak and most defer to, is English. The fact that 80% don't speak Welsh is a testimony to that historical fact which is only now, slowly, changing.

I think until we're honest about the power of language, especially the English language, and the complex ways language transfer and language acquisition works in Wales we're in danger of making some basic mistakes in terms of language planning.

The whole point of the language protests since the 1960s has been to raise the prestige (ok, 'status' if you like) of the language. That's changed gradually. However now it’s not so much about hard status and 'battles'. That's what I think the new Language Act is having difficulty with; that's what I think the Welsh Language Board have tried to grapple with, and to some extent (and I'm being kind here) the Iaith Pawb strategy of the first Assembly was about.

The point is, even in a wholly Welsh-speaking environment, such as a WM school, where the tv the kids watch, stories read, visual signs, instruction, 'hard' status etc in Welsh, many kids will change to speak in English not Welsh. My child monolingual Welsh-speaking child is trying to teach himself English so that he can speak to the kids in his class ... I don't think it's happening the other way round. That's also my own personal experience in a WM school in the South East. English was still seen as the cool language, the most prestigious language.

It's not an attack on English. It's not an attack on English speakers. It's not an argument against WM education. It's a recognition of the facts on the ground. This is a situation which Inunktitut faces in Canada, Basque in Spain and more so in France, Breton in France and I'm sure (if not already then soon) many native languages in Africa and India.

So, when we discuss having a strategy for language growth in education which Leighton Andrews to his credit has delivered. And when I see the steps taken, I'm glad. However, I think we need to be honest and one of the things we have to be honest about is the prestige or ‘soft status’ of languages. That's recognised at every level in society, but I'm not sure teachers and especially class assistants are given the adequate training to deal with this complex and sensitive situation and I'm not sure how much research is made into it ... a point which I guess is partly behind the recent, slightly related investment to look into the success of teaching Welsh as a second language to adults in Wales awarded to Cardiff university.


Anonymous said...

... I think I may have had difficulty posting my reply (or realising it had been sent, I was getting a confusing message on the screen). In any case, please don't take 3 identical posts as a sign of being over zealous!


MH said...

No probs, Macsen. I've deleted the duplicate comments. The same thing happens to me all the time.

As I tried to say, I didn't want to take issue with you on the practicalities, because I agree with you. I just found the idea of talking in terms of prestige a little too self-derogatory. Too many Welsh speakers have done that in the past, though I think it is changing. I for one certainly think we ought to consign it to history, and not be afraid to stand up.

Thanks for what you've said about your child. But I wouldn't be so concerned over the matters you raised; it seems to me that this is an integral part of growing up bilingually. More important is the explanation that you give. The reason that you switch to English in the shop is not because English has a higher prestige (which it doesn't) or even because more people speak it (which they do). It's because the poor assistant behind the counter can't do what you as parents, and now your own child, can do.

Noblesse oblige.

Anonymous said...

"Noblesse oblige." ... hmmm, don't buy the positive spin sorry MH.

English does have higher prestige because the shop assistant (by and large, though, again it's changing slowly) feels they have no need to learn Welsh, or even, as is the case even on the Eisteddfod field, to use some common sense and common courtesy to work out as happened to me, that 'un cappuccino plîs' means, well, 'one cappuccino please'.

The prestige lies with the dominant language. People, and kids, work it out very early on.

The trick is to give prestige to being able *and willing* to speaking two languages rather than only one. This needs to be done sensitively but also honestly. We're moving in the right direction.

But without wanting to continue this debate for another 4 posts (!) or arguing over semantics, I think the main point I wish to make, is that teaching Welsh as a second language or even as the medium of instruction is complex. If having X more Welsh teachers is our only guide to success or XX more teachers learning to mutate correctly is a goal, then I think we've missed the elephant in the room and in 20 years time we'll not have moved on as much as we could have.

Teachers and class assistants need to be given skills to deal with the special (though not completely unique) set of complexes around speaking Welsh. I'd suggest awareness/assertiveness training in this field hand in hand with other aspects of the curriculum.

In the case of teaching Welsh as a second language to adults and young people then I'd advocate taking up the first three or four lessons just on the history of the Welsh language, getting to know the meaning of local place names, local history, the way the Welsh language adapts English words and a general introduction to Welsh language culture. This would give the context which I guess is missing for many learners and then can lead to frustration and disappointment when they may feel that their efforts to learn Welsh aren't reciprocated by Welsh speakers or if they, for whatever reason, don't finish the language course and become fluent.

Because of our faulty education system, I'm constantly amazed by the lack of basic understanding many people have of Welsh society, culture and history. I'd advocate this 'Welsh language awareness' introduction in Welsh medium schools too.

That's enough from me for now!


Iestyn said...

MH, and Macsen.

I think that macsen has struck on an imprtant point here. One of the big problems for the Welsh language is that it is not the community language in most of Wales. My 3 year old would never think to sepak English with me - we just don't do it - but he takes a bit of convincing to speak Welsh with anyone outside the home, because he knows that generally it doesn't work.

The same thing is true in local Welsh schools, not just amongst the kids (English is the default language of the yard), but even amongst the teachers.

Head-teachers who address groups of parents "Bilingually", by repeating everyuthing Welsh in English, but not bother ing with the otehr way round, for instance. (Personally I prefer having the most omportant points in both languages, then a random selection of less importnat stuff in one language or the other - otherwise the Welsh still has no intrinsic value.)

My local Papur Bro recently explained a Welsh place name by just translating it into English. Caryl and Daf Du on Radio Cymru often explain names of things (most resently fish and flowers) by just translating them, as though every word neads a "meaning" in English to be valid.

Now the point is, if this is the attitude amongst the bulk of the population, especially those in a position of influence (teachers, media etc0 then there is a perception problem that needs addressing. It is a matter of perception of prestige.

Dr Dilys Davies writes some interesting stuff on the psychology of colonialism, and the psychological difficulties involved in promoting minority languages are farily well documented.

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