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.

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Anonymous said...

See http://www.golwg360.com/publications/viewpublication.aspx?id=384&PageID=754

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Small victories count though. I was at a Newport Leisure Centre last night and heard this conversation between a mother and son after a vending machine visit.

"Newid, luv?"

"Dim newid, Mum"

They were obviously non-Welsh speakers but somehow our language is creeping back. A patois, maybe? Somehow those little bits of Welsh, those odd words, seem important to me.

Welsh in Gwent feels in a strange, subliminal way to be the language of the future not a relic of the past.

MH said...

Thanks for the page from Golwg, Anon. It's a mystery to me how one would ever be able to find it, though. There seems to be no obvious link to it from anywhere on the site. Perhaps there are more gems hidden away somewhere.

But it's good to see the info, and it seems they have used a higher year 11 figure, since they have the 15% WFL but 62% WSL. No source. That's the trouble with statistics: if you see one set of figures from an authoritative source, you accept it. The problem only arises when you then see other figures that appear to contradict it, sometimes from the same source. But the difference is small and the trend is clear.

I found the chart for the Key Stage assessments interesting. I had read the figures, but not seen a graph. Putting it in this form does suggest that the KS1 and 3 Welsh first language assessment targets are maybe not as low as I at first thought. The key to getting WFL GCSE entries to increase is to deal with the 3% or 4% that are assessed in WFL in primary schools, but not when they move to secondary schools.

I had looked at the A Level figures for Welsh last week and, as the Golwg graph shows, they are all over the place with no real discernible trend. But one thing from the AS figures did catch my eye: although the WFL figures are almost exactly repeated in the following year's A Levels (i.e. students are taking it as the half way point of their A Level course) the WSL figures show there are many who take the WSL AS but do not go on to take the WSL A Level. Both last year and this year that difference was about 350. This year the AS figure is much higher than ever before (785). Do you, or does anyone else, have any thoughts on that?

My guess is that students in sixth forms whose first language isn't Welsh want to keep on improving their Welsh by studying it, but don't want it to get in the way of their chosen A Level subjects when it comes to the exams. So for example, if you aim to do maths and science A Levels to get into college, there isn't much point in doing an A Level in Welsh as a means to get accepted onto the course.

Anonymous said...

I found the Golwg page in a Tweet by @hywelm.

Anonymous said...

As a exam invigilator at a newport high school. I have to question the merits of forcing children to learn welsh, when there is no interest or perceived merit in the language by those pupils. I don't know how much it costs to enter these pupils for the exams. However,it can only be a waste, given they sit there having completed their names, gazing into space waiting to be released from examination.

MH said...

If you really were an invigilator—or if you'd even read what I posted—you would know that no child is forced to sit a Welsh exam, and that any child who does sit an exam is able to leave the exam room if they think it's pointless being there.

Better luck with your next assumed identity.

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