The Insouciant Pantomime Dame

Thanks to BlogMenai for reminding us that Chris Bryant is a man with double standards. Following Jonathan Edwards' complaint about this article in the Daily Mail, the Labour MP for the Rhondda provided this quote for the Independent on Sunday:

"I can't believe Jonathan Edwards has risen to the bait. Roger Lewis's piece is fatuous nonsense, but the last thing people want is a moaning version of Welsh nationalism. Wales is at its best when it is triumphantly insouciant about the criticism of others."

Independent on Sunday, 28 August 2011

I'm sure that some people might not know what "insouciant" means. But to save anyone the trouble of reaching for a dictionary, Chris Bryant has been kind enough to provide us with an example.

After being called a "pantomime dame" by George Osborne just before Christmas last year, he didn't just brush it off and carry on regardless; he took it as a slur on his sexually and shouted that the remark was "homophobic". He immediately went to the media and on Twitter to complain that George Osborne was wrong to say it and should apologize.


So there we have it: if someone makes an insulting remark about someone who is gay, the "insouciant" Chris Bryant thinks you should make an issue of it and demand an apology.


It looks like Chris Bryant was using a big word he didn't understand ... either that or he's a two-faced hypocrite who has one set of standards for himself, but applies the exact opposite set of standards to others.

"I can't believe Jonathan Edwards Chris Bryant has risen to the bait. Roger Lewis's piece George Osborne's remark is fatuous nonsense, but the last thing people want is a moaning version of Welsh nationalism gay rights. Wales The gay community is at its best when it is triumphantly insouciant about the criticism of others."

Why should Cymraegophobia be treated any less seriously than homophobia, Chris?

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Teachers flatter themselves ... and deceive us

In the Western Mail on Thursday was a report which said that 42% of head teachers in Wales are able to speak Welsh.

     Nearly half of the nation’s head teachers are able to speak Welsh

That figure in itself is not too bad, and indeed the Chief Executive of General Teaching Council for Wales, the body which collected the data, said:

The head teacher data suggests schools are in a strong position to give leadership to Welsh language development, which means that the influence of the language is now being felt beyond Welsh-medium and bilingual schools.

On the surface that seems fair enough, but the statistics reveal a far bleaker picture than the upbeat press release suggests. We can read them for ourselves from the link on this page.


I want to start by commending the GTCW for collecting data on language ability. They added this to their statistics in 2007, so there is now enough information to iron out any blips and see if there are any discernible trends.

So far as headteachers are concerned (page 46) the figure for those who can speak Welsh has remained constant for the past five years at 42%. We can also see that only 37% are able to teach in Welsh ... a figure we'd expect to be lower since language ability varies, and some who speak might not do it well enough to be able to teach in Welsh.

But the figures for deputy and assistant headteachers are markedly lower. For deputies the figures are 31.4% and 27.4%, and for assistants 31.7% and 24.9%.

When it comes to teachers in general (page 9) the figures are just about the same as they are for deputies and assistant headteachers. There has been a very slight increase in the percentages able to speak Welsh over the last five years (from 30.9% in 2007 to 32.0% in 2011) and teach in Welsh (25.5% in 2007 to 26.3% in 2011) but the increases are hardly significant. If we bear in mind that the next generation of headteachers is going to be drawn from these pools, the trend for headteachers is likely to be downwards rather than upwards; though obviously those with better skills are more likely to be promoted.


But what of the future? Fortunately the statistics include data for newly qualified and registered teachers, and for those who reach the induction standard each year. But sadly the figures for these groups aren't very much better.

For newly qualified and registered teachers (page 22) the figures are 32.5% and 25.2% ... the first being more or less static over the past five years and the second showing a slight rise. For those who reach the induction standard (page 30) the figures are slightly higher at 35.9% and 27.9%, but there is no general upward trend and the figures were higher a couple of years ago than they are now.

All in all there does not seem to be any progress towards increasing the numbers of teachers who can speak Welsh or teach in Welsh.


As it happens, the GTCW figures probably paint a more rosy picture than is justified. They appear to be self-declarations of Welsh language ability, but more objective information on teacher training can be obtained from this document:

     Initial Teacher Training in Wales 2009/10

Teacher training in Wales can include elements that enable a teacher to teach bilingually or lead to a formal certificate of bilingual education. But the proportion that obtains this is tiny:

Table A.6 - Students completing ITT courses in Wales

2002/03 ... Non-bilingual 1,815 - Bilingual 295 (14.0% of total)
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)
2009/10 ... Non-bilingual 1,460 - Bilingual 200 (12.0% of total)

Source | Source for earlier years

It's worth pointing out that one set of figures is for those teaching in Wales and the other is for those doing teacher training in Wales. A proportion of those who train in Wales will go on to teach in England, and similarly some who train in England will come to work in Wales. But I'd be willing to bet that no training establishment in England includes bilingual teaching, and the number of newly qualified teachers in Wales was 1,542. So at the very most only 13% (200 out of 1,542) had been trained to teach in Welsh as well as English, which is only about half of the newly qualified teachers who claimed they could in the GTCW statistics.

Incredibly, the trend is downwards rather than upwards. Even without the anomalies of 2004/05 and 2006/07 we were training far more teachers able to teach bilingually a few years ago than we are now.


As if this wasn't bad enough, the final facet of the equation turns disappointment into total farce. Those who checked the figures I quoted against the GTCW document itself will have seen that there is a figure for newly qualified and inducted teachers "able to teach Welsh as a second language". Putting this alongside the other figures gives:

Newly qualified teachers able to ...

Speak Welsh ... Teach in Welsh ... Teach Welsh as 2nd language

2007 ... 31.7% ... 23.3% ... 54.6%
2008 ... 33.1% ... 24.9% ... 57.4%
2009 ... 32.3% ... 24.9% ... 56.8%
2010 ... 29.0% ... 22.2% ... 55.1%
2011 ... 32.5% ... 25.2% ... 53.2%

Teachers who meet induction standard each year able to ...

Speak Welsh ... Teach in Welsh ... Teach Welsh as 2nd language

2005/06 ... 32.7% ... 25.9% ... 54.0%
2006/07 ... 35.3% ... 27.8% ... 54.4%
2007/08 ... 37.0% ... 29.5% ... 57.9%
2008/09 ... 35.5% ... 28.5% ... 58.2%
2009/10 ... 35.9% ... 27.9% ... 56.5%

These figures tell us all we need to know about why we are so bad at teaching Welsh as a second language. A third of those who consider themselves able to teach Welsh to our children cannot themselves speak the language.

Can we for one moment imagine employing a teacher who cannot speak English to teach our children English? Or a employing a teacher who cannot speak French to teach French? Or employing a teacher who cannot do arithmetic to teach numeracy?

This is the reason why so many of our children sit through Welsh lessons but learn nothing more than a few words. It's not a lack of interest. It's that we tolerate a teaching profession which thinks it has members who are capable of doing a job that is quite obviously beyond their capabilities. It's that too many schools continue to employ such teachers rather than insist on employing enough teachers who are properly qualified to teach Welsh. And it's that the Welsh government is not prepared to do anything to change the teacher training requirements so that we train enough new teachers who are able to teach Welsh.

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Carwyn's Website

While checking one of my previous posts, I noticed that the site which Carwyn Jones set up to support his to bid to become leader of the Labour Group in the Assembly is now being used for rather different purposes.

I'd advise those who are easily offended not to visit

But those who do will no doubt be pleased to see that someone's found a way to enhance, extend and prolong the site's effectiveness.

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Welsh Language GCSE Results

Continuing the trend set in 2009 and 2010, I want to look at today's GCSE results to see what they can tell us about how Welsh is being taught in our schools.

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, still do not take any Welsh GCSE. The number of entries for each can therefore be used as one indicator of the state of Welsh teaching in our schools.

Unfortunately, the StatsWales figures which would show the number of 15 year old students have not yet been officially published. However the provisional figure they gave me is 34,815 for maintained schools, and it is relatively easy to adjust for the extra students in independent schools based on last years' number. In total there is a fall of just over 1,000, which is in line with the demographic trend of the past few years. The number of entries needs to be set in this context.

Total number of Year 11 students at start of year
36,065 (was 37,072) ... down 1,007

Welsh First Language
5,291 entries (14.67% of year) ... was 5,444 (14.68%) ... down 153 (down 0.01%)

Welsh Second Language (full course)
9,999 entries (27.72% of year) ... was 10,304 (27.79%) ... down 305 (down 0.07%)

Welsh Second Language (short course)
12,784 entries (35.45% of year) ... was 12,485 (33.68%) ... up 299 (up 1.77%)

Total Welsh Entries
28,074 entries (77.84% of year) ... was 28,233 (76.16%) ... down 159 (up 1.68%)

Number who did not take any Welsh GCSE
7,991 (22.16% of year) ... was 8,839 (23.84% of year) ... down 848 (down 1.68%)

Source for GCSE results
Source for Year 11 size (last year)

In numerical terms, the decrease in the number of WSL full course entries is almost exactly matched by the increase in the number of WSL short course entries—300 in round numbers—and I'm willing to bet that someone will describe this as evidence of a switch from the full course to the short course and therefore as a retrograde step. But that isn't true.

In percentage terms, the WFL and WSL full course entries remain virtually unchanged; but the number of WSL short course entries has gone up, showing that both the number and percentage of students who weren't taking any form of GCSE in Welsh at all has gone down. We are now in a position where nearly 78% of Year 11 students take some form of GCSE in Welsh. Back in 1998 that figure was less than 34%, so this is something positive even though there is still some way to go. I think it's fair to say that the WSL short course GCSE isn't very much of a qualification compared with the full course, but it is better than not taking any GCSE at all.

These tables show the overall picture, and a spreadsheet with all the details is available here:



It goes without saying that the standstill in the percentage taking WFL and WSL (full course) is something that should cause considerable concern.


In the first instance, the figures for Welsh first language GCSE still do not reflect the percentages of children who are in Welsh-medium education. We know (from the 2010-11 WMES Report that 15.9% of children were assessed in Welsh at first language standard at the end of Key Stage 3 in 2009, so we should expect pretty much the same number to be taking a WFL GCSE in 2011. But the figures suggest that about 450 students who should be taking a WFL GCSE are taking WSL instead. As I've said before, sometimes this will be because a WFL student needs a certain number of A* or A grades for the next stage of their education or career, and would be guaranteed to get one if they "downshift" in this way. We can't blame individual students for doing this. But I suspect that some schools do this routinely as a way of enhancing their figures, and that is certainly not right.

We should also note that the figures are not likely to go up in the short term. The percentage assessed in WFL at KS3 this year was only 16.0%. However in the long term the figure should go up, reflecting the increase in numbers starting in WM education, but with the important proviso that we must improve the transfer rate from WM primaries to either WM secondaries or to a WFL stream in other secondaries. At present, the loss between primary and secondary education is over 16% of the WFL primary cohort.

The WMES set a target for KS3 assessments in WFL of 20% by 2015, which should be reflected in the WFL GCSE entry two years later. However, as the rate has not moved for the past three years (16.0% in 2008, 15.9% in 2009, 16.0% in 2010) this is now going to be a particularly tough target to hit. It can only be achieved if we take action now, in particular by ensuring that children who can speak Welsh to first language standards through being in WM primaries continue to be taught Welsh to first language standard even if some or all of the rest of their secondary education is not in Welsh. What has tended to happen is that all children in each school have been taught to the same, but lower, standard for the sake of those who haven't been in WM primaries (or who have been in traditional primaries which are nominally WM, but where the standard of Welsh is lower than in designated WM primaries). This means that the more able children have been held back, and the only immediate solution is streaming. But even so, it will take a few years for this to work through to the KS3 and GCSE figures.


For me, the more disappointing figures are those for Welsh to second language standard. Although it is good to see that more students doing the WSL short course are taking the GCSE that goes with it, we should also be seeing an increase in the number of schools offering the WSL full course as opposed to the short course. This lack of progress is entirely the fault of schools, for there is absolutely nothing to stop every non-WM secondary school in Wales teaching the full WSL course now. But there has been no real sign of any progress in the past few years, and things have now reached the point where it is obvious to me that nothing will happen unless the Welsh government does something to make it happen.

In practical terms, the most direct incentive that would change this is to make WSL a core subject alongside English, maths and science (WFL is a core subject only in WM schools). It is already a compulsory subject, and that wouldn't change ... but making it a core subject would mean that it will be measured as part of the Core Subject Indicator, which both government and schools regard as an important measure of performance.

The easier alternative would be to set minimum standards for teaching Welsh as a second language; but although that might mean that the number of hours of Welsh taught each week increases, it provides no incentive for the quality of teaching to increase. And beside that, schools should be largely free to set their own timetables rather than for each detail to be set by the Welsh Government. What matters is for government to set national standards, but then leave it up to schools to determine exactly how they achieve those standards. Making WSL a core subject would therefore be a better way to increase the standards of Welsh in non-WM schools.

If we introduce this now, at Key Stage 1, it would eventually work through and result in all students who do not take the WFL GCSE taking the WSL full course GCSE in about twelve years' time.

The original version of this post did not include those in independent schools in the overall number of students, this has now been corrected.

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Labour starts its U-turn in Scotland

Henry McLeish was the Labour First Minister of Scotland between 2000 and 2001, but he is now leading a movement to try and get the Labour Party to reverse its position and support fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Henry McLeish: Scotland needs freedom to run its finances

Former First Minister Henry McLeish has called for Labour to back Scottish financial independence or face political oblivion north of the Border.


Labour veteran Henry McLeish said yesterday that complete fiscal freedom from the UK is the only way his party can return to the front foot against the SNP. He has put the case for the sensational policy U-turn to UK Labour leader Ed Miliband and senior Scots MP Jim Murphy and said he is “very optimistic” they will agree.

Mr McLeish, who was First Minister from 2000 to 2001, said the Labour-backed Calman plan to give Holyrood more power was “not sufficient”.

He added: “Fiscal autonomy or devolution max, when Labour gets to that point then we will have a credible alternative to put against independence and there is no doubt it would win the support of the Scottish people in a referendum.”

Scottish Daily Express, 21 August 2011

This is interesting on a number of grounds. First, it is a realization that if the Unionists are to have any hope of defeating the referendum on Scottish independence, it won't be enough to argue that the UK is OK the way it is. The UK is not OK, and any hopes for keeping it together can no longer rest on scare stories about all the horrible things that will happen if Scots dare to vote for independence, but of radically re-inventing the UK so that it goes at least half way towards meeting their desire to take more responsibility for their own affairs.

Second, it is a realization that only Labour can invent a credible alternative to independence. As the article goes on to say:

Mr McLeish also said it would be a mistake to form a “Unionist alliance” with the Conservatives ahead of the SNP’s independence referendum.

That's a statement of the obvious. Put bluntly, it doesn't matter what plans the Tories or the LibDems might have for creating a better UK, because few people in Scotland care two hoots for what either of those parties think. If the three Unionist parties put on a united front, the No to Independence campaign is going to be tainted by the Scottish distrust of the Tories and LibDems ... something that will only grow into contempt—if it hasn't already—as the policy decisions of the ConDem coalition in Westminster really begin to bite deep. For if we think things are bad now, just wait a couple of years to see how much worse things will get.

But there is a third factor, which is particularly relevant to us in Wales. It will not be sufficient to offer the Scots a little bit more of what they already have. Nor will it be a question of just working out a deal between Scotland and Westminster. The problem with the current devolution settlement as it applies to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England is that it is asymmetric and badly thought through ... so making it even more lop-sided is only going to make things worse. A radically different UK requires dealing with the problems of over-centralization as they affect all the peripheral parts of the UK, not just one part.


What might Labour come up with? I don't want to second-guess that decision, not least because for me and other nationalists the only real answer is independence and anything short of that is just going to be a messy compromise. But if the Labour leadership do embrace this plan—and Henry McLeish is "very optimistic" that they will—they will be very tempted to come up with something that sounds wonderful but actually offers only the minimum that Labour think they can offer in order to keep Scotland as part of the UK. Political principles and short-term electoral politics don't always go hand in hand. The battle will be whether Labour can grasp the first or whether they will settle for the second.

So the touchstone of whether Labour's alternative to independence is serious or not will actually be how it deals not only with Scotland, but with Wales and Northern Ireland too; and specifically whether it will allow the devolved governments of Wales and Northern Ireland the same freedom to run our finances as Scotland's former First Minister is convinced is right for Scotland.

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Wales 42.2% ... Northern Ireland 34.5% ... England 26.8%

Last year, in this post, I wrote about how the the headline A Level figures for Wales did not include the Welsh Baccalaureate Advanced Diploma, which UCAS rate as the equivalent of an additional A Level at A grade for college and university admissions.

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%.

Syniadau, 20 August 2010

This year, I hardly need to make the same point again, not least because Leighton Andrews has made it instead, and rather forcibly. As virtually no-one was making this point last year, I'll take it as a positive step forward. I'm glad someone reads this blog.


     Education Minister Leighton Andrews said the A-level results did not
     take into account the Welsh Baccalaureate – BBC, 19 August 2010

Leighton Andrews stopped short of saying that Welsh students outperformed those in England and Northern Ireland, so I think it would be worth doing the same calculation as I did last year to quantify just how much of a difference the Welsh Baccalaureate is making to our performance.

•  A total of 37,875 A Levels were taken in Wales this summer, with an A*-A pass rate of 24.4%. But if the WBac is added, the number taken rises by 8,318 to 46,193 and the A*-A pass rate rises to about 9,052 (23.9% of 37,875) + 6,948 = 16,000 = 42.2%

•  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 34.5%.

It's worth noting that there has been a very large increase in the number of students taking the Welsh Baccalaureate advanced course. This year, there were 12,914 students in Year 13 in schools, but others would have taken it at sixth form colleges.

As I said last time, this isn't a totally accurate comparison because there are other alternatives to A Levels used as entry requirements to colleges and universities, most notably the International Baccalaureate. But that is only taken by a very small percentage of students, and is of course taken in Wales too, so it can only make a very small difference to these figures.

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Welsh lessons for the Met

I came across this rather heart-warming piece by Rosamund Urwin in today's London Evening Standard.

Welsh lessons for the Met

On Friday evening I went to see the Peckham peace wall. Patrolling the streets around Rye Lane were the Welsh police, the "Heddlu". Theirs appeared to be a "hearts and minds" mission: every officer had a permanent grin, they already knew the names of the local shopkeepers and I witnessed one be remarkably charming to a woman who was ranting at him. Perhaps the Met could learn a little something from the approach of their provincial colleagues.

London Evening Standard, 18 August 2011

That makes me feel rather proud of our police. Well done bois.

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How do we know what people think?

One thing I've particularly missed over the past few months has been the monthly opinion poll by YouGov commissioned by ITV Wales.

Of course I can understand why ITV decided not to keep it up. The referendum on primary lawmaking powers and the Assembly elections were big events in the Welsh political calendar and they were enough to justify a month-by-month analysis of political opinion in the lead up period. But as a political junkie, I have to say that I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms and am in desperate need of a regular fix. I'd like to think I'm not alone.


It's probably fair to say that there is a general consensus that Wales is not as well served as it could be in terms of either informing or measuring public opinion on social and political issues. From this report a few weeks ago, it seems likely that the Assembly's Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee will launch an inquiry into the state of the Welsh media in September. This is long overdue and badly needed.

In this respect, it's worth noting that it is newspapers that are largely responsible for commissioning opinion polls in the UK as a whole; but that in Wales—probably because we do not have a strong print media of our own—the broadcast media have had to step in to fill the gap. It was good while it lasted, and if it had proved to be sustainable on a long-term basis there wouldn't now be a problem. But it wasn't sustainable. Therefore we need to look seriously at other ways of filling that gap.


Over the past few years I've been following the situation in Catalonia and Euskadi, and these two countries provide us with examples of how this problem could be solved.

For example the Generalitat, the Government of Catalunya, has set up the Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió, which conducts a comprehensive survey of public opinion four times each year as the Baròmetre d’Opinió Política. The sample size is 2,500 and the survey covers a wide range of socio-political questions including what issues people consider most important, what media they use to obtain information, and their opinions of political parties. Euskadi produces a similar EuskoBarómetro, but twice a year and with a sample size of 1,200. I particularly like the Catalan version, and would recommend that people look through the latest survey to see the range of questions asked. It is much more than, "If there were an election tomorrow, who would you vote for?" Cut and paste the text from the pdf into Google Translate if any of the questions are unclear. That's what I do.


There is no reason why the Welsh Government should not use public money to set up something similar in Wales. It would serve a number of purposes: it would give everybody interested in politics and public policy a much better idea of how people in Wales see certain issues; it would help both political parties and other organizations to formulate better policies that are more relevant to what people in Wales want; and it would help stimulate a more informed public debate in the media.

Political debate in Wales is too shallow, often consisting of assertions made without any real grounds for support followed by knee-jerk reactions from all the usual suspects. Our media in Wales might well be weak, but perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that we've only got the media that our current level of public debate and involvement deserves. How can we expect our level of public debate to become more mature or our national media to grow stronger without giving them something much more solid to feed on?

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HTV fails

It was sad to read that the second American attempt to build a plane capable of reaching anywhere in the world within an hour has failed.


     Falcon HTV-2 is lost in bid to become fastest ever plane

It makes you wonder what the purpose of such an aircraft might be. Back in the sixties, there was a very obvious need for such a vehicle as International Rescue raced to save lives in any part of the world.


I'm sure the Americans must have something similar in mind. I mean, what other useful purpose could such an aircraft possibly serve?

And it does say something that a small, independent island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean should have succeeded in something that a large nation like the United States just can't seem to manage.

Think what effect a flotilla of them could have.

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The unambitious plans of Simon Thomas

I was catching up with a bit of news today and noticed that Simon Thomas had made a speech about renewable energy at the National Eisteddfod last week. The details are here:


     Galw am Gymru 'hunangynhaliol' erbyn 2030

Put it through Google translate if you need to, but in essence he was calling for Wales to be self-sufficient in electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

As I explained in this post last month, Wales is already on course to produce more than all the electricity we need from renewable sources long before 2030. We will reach that milestone when the Round 3 windfarms off the coast of Wales in the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea are operational. The Atlantic Array in the Bristol Channel is set for completion in 2016; the windfarms in the Irish Sea zone are a little further behind, but I would guess they'll be producing electricity by 2020.

The energy plans of the previous Welsh Government, outlined in March 2010, were:

Based on Wales’ natural advantages in areas such as wind and marine renewable resources, our aim will be to renewably generate up to twice as much electricity annually by 2025 as we use today.

A Low Carbon Revolution, March 2010

OK, maybe "up to" twice is a little vaguer than I'd like, but the target is still a lot more ambitious than what Simon is calling for. Is he even aware that this target exists, and that it was Plaid Cymru and Labour together that set it?

And to cap it all, even the Tories have more ambitious plans for renewable energy production in Wales than Simon does. Their manifesto for the Assembly elections in May said they:

... aim to produce 100% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. We will aim to achieve 70% delivery by 2020.

Welsh Conservative Manifesto, 2011

But to be honest, I really don't think the Tories understood what they were promising. In rough terms electricity accounts for about a third of the total energy we consume. They probably meant 100% of our electricity needs by 2025, rather than our total energy needs. But even so, this is still more than Simon is calling for.

Bless you, Simon, but you need to be much more on the ball than this. Wales has huge renewable energy resources, and exporting the electricity we don't need will earn us huge revenues if we have control over them. You're right about that, but these resources are being developed much more quickly than you think.

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Struggling with Statistics

Whenever I see a statistic quoted—or at least one that appears implausible—my first reaction is to ask where it's from and whether it's being used in the right way. So that's exactly what I did when I saw this claim by S4C's new chairman, Huw Jones, at the start of an article on the IWA website yesterday.

Welsh broadcasters struggle with adverse statistics

S4C is working out its future against a backdrop of Wales suffering a net loss of 3,000 Welsh speakers every year ...

Click on Wales, 5 August 2011

Where does this number come from? A quick Google found this article by Siôn Jobbins, in which he says:

A Welsh Language Board Statistical Trends presentation in 2004 (which is on their website) estimated that among the Welsh-speaking community the number of deaths at 6,500 and out migration to England at 5,200 outran the number of children born to Welsh-speaking homes or raised Welsh-speaking plus immigration of children into Wales (from England mostly) by 3,000. These aren’t precise figures and are maybe skewed towards the more western, Welsh-speaking parts of Wales to the detriment of the east. Having said that, the presentation calculated that the Welsh language community is running at an annual deficit of 3,000 a year.

Daiaspora – Cambria Magazine, September 2007

That presentation was produced by Hywel Jones and can be downloaded from here. This is the relevant diagram from it:


The very first thing to note is that the net loss of 3,000 Welsh speakers relates to fluent Welsh speakers only, not the total number of Welsh speakers. Huw Jones is therefore painting a blacker picture of the difficulties facing S4C than is warranted from the source he is quoting. The other statistics he quotes may well be correct, but that one definitely wasn't.

In general terms, this survey shows that 57% of those that speak Welsh (i.e. described themselves that way in the 2001 census) consider themselves fluent. But we can be more precise about the figures for children.


By a welcome coincidence, the set of statistics which has a direct relevance to how fluent children are in Welsh was highlighted by Tory AM Suzy Davies only this week, although the figures she was quoting were in fact released last year:

     Davies: Pupils’ Welsh fluency levels "unchanged" since 1986

But even though the figures she was quoting are correct, she too was using them wrongly by making a direct comparison between 1986-87 and 2009-10. This is because the assessments of whether a child is able to speak Welsh, and whether they can speak it fluently, were made by teachers prior to 2002-03 but by parents from then on. Suzy Davies' press release didn't mention it at all. Let's be charitable and assume that she wasn't aware of the change and wasn't knowingly trying to mislead anybody. Kudos to Tom Bodden for picking this up in the Daily Post, though without making any comment on how this change was significant.

The percentages were actually going up fairly steadily year by year, but the change in the assessment method produced a sudden reduction in the figures. The figures back as far as 1998-89 are available here and here on the StatsWales site. These are the figures for primary schools:

1986-87 (teacher assessment)

Fluent at home ... 7.2%
Fluent, but not at home ... 5.8%
Total fluent ... 13.0%
Can speak Welsh, but not fluently ... not known
Cannot speak Welsh ... not known

2001-02 (teacher assessment)

Fluent at home ... 6.2%
Fluent, but not at home ... 10.5%
Total fluent ... 16.7%
Can speak Welsh, but not fluently ... 31.2%
Cannot speak Welsh ... 52.0%

2003-04 (parental assessment)

Fluent at home ... 8.4%
Fluent, but not at home ... 4.5%
Total fluent ... 12.9%
Can speak Welsh, but not fluently ... 19.9%
Cannot speak Welsh ... 63.5%

2009-10 (parental assessment)

Fluent at home ... 7.6%
Fluent, but not at home ... 5.4%
Total fluent ... 13.0%
Can speak Welsh, but not fluently ... 24.0%
Cannot speak Welsh ... 62.9%

As I said when I commented on the figures in this post last year, they are not very reliable because parents who speak little or no Welsh are in no real position to assess how well their children can speak it, and it's a subjective judgement which varies according to how much Welsh is spoken in a particular area. Teacher assessment was more objective. But the figures can be used to track relative changes. The trends are that fewer children are growing up in Welsh speaking homes, but that the number of children who are fluent in Welsh as a result of being taught it in school has been going up constantly under both methods of assessment. I won't deny that the increase has been smaller than I'd like, especially in the last six years, but since 1986-87 the overall fluency figure has increased by more than a quarter.

It's also worth noting that the figures represent the whole range of primary school years. Obviously children from Welsh-speaking homes will be fluent from the beginning, but it can take a few years for those learning Welsh to become fluent; so an average of 13% will be few points lower in Year 1, and a few points higher in Year 6. This pattern continues into secondary school. If anyone is interested, I've put the information available from StatsWales into a spreadsheet which can be downloaded here. This makes it easier to compare the year on year changes.


Now the big question is how the StatsWales figures fit alongside the BIYG analysis from 2004. Those figures had shown an "input" of 2,100 children a year fluent at home and 3,000 a year becoming fluent at school: a total of 5,100 a year. The figures for 2009-10 for 11-15 year olds at secondary school are:

Fluent at home ... 15,311 = 3,062 a year
Fluent, but not at home ... 12,059 = 2,412 a year
Total fluent ... 27,370 = 5,474 a year
Can speak Welsh, but not fluently ... 65,099 = 13,020 a year
Cannot speak Welsh ... 81,445 = 16,289 a year

This shows that Hywel Jones' overall "input" figure for children fluent in Welsh was broadly correct, and is a few hundred higher now than it was before. But the StatsWales figures also show that the annual "input" of children who can speak Welsh is very much greater than the figure we get if we only include those who can speak Welsh fluently. I haven't done a calculation on whether the "losses" due to emigration from Wales and death are the same as they were a few years ago (perhaps it's best to wait until the results of the 2011 census are published next year) but if they are broadly the same, it's reasonably clear that the net increase in Welsh speakers will be at least 10,000 each year.


In summing up, I don't want to detract from Suzy Davies' point that our education system should be doing more than it currently is to ensure that more of our children are able to speak Welsh fluently. Even though the figures are in fact going up, they need to go up faster still.

But I am very disturbed by what Huw Jones has said, because far from there being a net loss of 3,000 Welsh speakers each year, there is in fact a net increase in Welsh speakers of more than three times that amount. Now I wasn't there to hear the whole debate, I just read what was reported on the IWA website and Huw might well have qualified his opening statement. But it strikes me that he has made a rather lame-brained and, to put it bluntly, misleading attempt to make out that S4C is somehow having to battle its way up a demographic hill. S4C's potential audience is in fact growing at a healthy rate year by year, not falling.

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Don't get mad, get equal

In some ways the RAF is a very prejudice-free organization. It is highly commendable that they should put a picture of a very obviously gay couple and their children on the page of their website that gives information about schools near RAF "Valley" at Rhosneigr:


Unfortunately, that admirable lack of prejudice doesn't extend as far as their attitude to Welsh. As we can read in this story, they may now have corrected this outrageous claim:

The Day School Allowance (North Wales) (DSA (NW)) is a unique opportunity for Service personnel to educate their children in North Wales.

DSA (NW) is available for the education of children of Service personnel based in North Wales who would otherwise be disadvantaged, academically and socially, by the bilingual teaching policy adopted within the Gwynedd and Isle of Anglesey Local Education Authorities. DSA (NW) is provided as an alternative to Boarding School Allowance (BSA) and assists towards the costs of the independent day schooling in the local area. In common with the principles adopted in other areas where English is not the teaching medium, no parental contribution is required towards the cost of school fees. Also travelling costs 'by the cheapest method appropriate' are also covered within this scheme.

Two independent day schools are available in Bangor, Hillgrove and St Gerard's and are both in use by Service families.

Thanks to Google's cache, I've saved a copy for all to see both as an mht file and as a jpg. The revised page is here.

But has removing the offensive sentence made any real difference? Of course not. The scheme is still being offered. And I have to say that I wouldn't want it to be ended, for there are much more important concerns the other way round.

What about air force personnel from Wales stationed in England or Scotland? Do they get a special allowance to continue their children's education in Welsh, or with at least some Welsh ... or are they expected to go to local schools where no Welsh is taught? What sort of financial help do they get to make sure their children can continue to be taught some Welsh in school?

The answer to that is so obvious that it hardly needs answering. Try searching the air force website for one word of Welsh. Yes, making that money available to one group of parents but not to parents in the opposite situation is a blatant example of the double standards that are still being applied to English and Welsh, but we must be cleverer than to say that this allowance is wholly inappropriate and needs to be stopped. Look at it the other way: if the air force is prepared to pay this sort of money so that some children can avoid any exposure to Welsh, it is better that we fight for similar sums of money to be made available to ensure that children from Welsh families in the armed forces can get some teaching in Welsh if they are based outside Wales.


Now I don't expect there will be any schools outside Wales and close to army, navy and air force bases in which Welsh is taught; but what steps do the armed forces take to ensure that the children of personnel from Wales are able to maintain the standard of Welsh they would be taught if they were based in Wales? For I'm quite sure this is the standard they apply with regard to English. I'd have thought the armed forces would have some code of practice with regard to education, and Welsh needs to be addressed as part of it. Our politicians need to start asking questions to make sure it is being properly addressed.

As for answers, one way forward is to ensure that the Boarding School Allowance mentioned on the website is available for any armed forces personnel from Wales, but based outside Wales, to educate their children in Wales. This seems to be the only way to ensure that their children can get a Welsh-medium education.

Or, in much the same way as the Athrawon Bro service provides specialist Welsh language teaching once or twice a week for English-medium schools in Wales without the staff to do it for themselves, another possible solution would be for the same sort of service to be provided by a flying squad of Welsh teachers (Athrawon Hedfanog?) travelling between schools near bases outside Wales, backed up with interactive resources and video conferencing.

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England's NHS IT system is at death's door

After nine years of trying and failing, the Public Accounts Committee of the Commons has at last come to the point of admitting that the flagship policy to produce an electronic records system for the English NHS is unworkable.

Pull plug on NHS e-records – MPs

The Public Accounts Committee said mounting problems with the electronic records system were making the £7bn project "unworkable". The group said the scheme – aimed at reducing the use of paper files – was beset by delays and uncertainty. If it was stopped, the remaining budget could then be spent on a better system, they said.

E-records are part of the overall £11.4bn IT programme. The scheme was launched in 2002 with the aim of revolutionising the way the health service uses technology. It includes developments such as digital X-rays and fast internet connections.

Under the e-records scheme, every patient was to get an electronic file that could be used when they were treated in the NHS. The MPs said it was a "worthwhile aim, but one that has proved beyond the capacity" of government to deliver.

BBC, 3 August 2011

It's sad, because if the project had been approached differently it could have not only have been successful, but done at a much, much lower cost. For an example of how to do it better, they need only look to Wales.


A year or so back, when another of the UK Government's computerization projects (the LIBRA system for Courts) was floundering, I came across this article by Michael Cross in the Guardian:

A Welsh cure for a nation's ills

Obama should look across the Atlantic for the huge task of computerising the US health records – but not as far as England

... For a lesson in how to manage the programme, Obama might do well to look across the Atlantic. Not to the NHS in England, where a £13bn programme is this year reeling from its latest parliamentary battering, but to Wales.

Earlier this month, Edwina Hart, the Welsh assembly's health minister, approved a plan to extend a system called the Individual Health Record (IHR) across the country. The decision comes seven years after the equivalent announcement in England, but no one need apologise for the delay. The Welsh IT team says that, by eschewing political deadlines and working with the NHS rather than trying to impose technology, it has created an electronic medical record that is not only more useful than its English equivalent but will cost a fraction of the price.

The secret, says Gwyn Thomas, chief executive of the agency Informing Healthcare, is to listen to users.

The contrast with the gung-ho English programme, now enervated by contractual rows and political grandstanding, is graphic. In the latest report, the chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, Edward Leigh MP, said: "Essential systems are late, or, when deployed, do not meet expectations of clinical staff; estimates of local costs are still unreliable; and many NHS staff remain unenthusiastic."

Wales and England started off with the same goal – to make computerised medical records available where they are needed. However, the two countries went about it in wildly different ways.

In England, the NHS took it for granted that the right technology was available and that staff were enthusiastic about adopting it. The central challenge was seen to be procuring the technology on the best terms, and implementing it to timetable. This involved a series of billion-pound contracts to provide central services and to rip and replace hospital systems across five regions created solely for the IT programme. Tellingly, one of the programme's explicit aims was to double the proportion of the NHS budget spent on IT. In Wales, by contrast, there were no big procurements and virtually no new money. When Thomas took up his role in 2005, he decided to work with existing technology to make information available where doctors needed it. Everything would move incrementally, with the consent of all concerned.

This involved several radical departures. In England, a central "spine" is designed to carry a summary record of every patient. The Welsh IHR draws data directly from GP records, with sensitive data such as terminations removed. Patients are asked for consent every time their record is viewed – unlike in England, which initially assumed patients to have given consent unless they explicitly opted out.

The Guardian, 29 January 2009

Now I certainly don't want to give the impression that the Welsh system has been trouble free. It hasn't. Mistakes have been made, companies providing services have gone bust. But because the Welsh approach has been fundamenatally different from that of the UK government in Westminster, these difficulties did not derail the whole programme. For those who are interested, there is a series of progress reports here:

     Health Insider, 8 January 2009
     Health Insider, 21 January 2010
     The Guardian, 19 October 2010
     Health Insider, 20 December 2010

To me, as a "health outsider", the picture seems to be one of steady progress; each step being taken after consultation and with consent, and with feedback informing the next step. Though I'd welcome any comments from people who know the system better than I do.


The IT records programme for the English NHS was described by one MP as "one of the worst scandals in terms of wasting public money", and another said, "Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable."

It's timely illustration of the central conclusion of the research done by Adam Price and Ben Levinger as published in the Flotilla Effect. A reminder that being part of a large, over-centralized country brings inherent problems, and that smaller countries can more easily adapt to technological change by virtue of being smaller and more socially cohesive. We can tailor solutions to fit our own needs, rather than accept a one-size-fits-all solution from others.

Of course being able to make decisions for ourselves is no guarantee that we will make the right decisions. But if we compare our decisions about electronic NHS records in Wales with the unmitigated disaster of the decisions made by the UK government on behalf of England, it should give us all the confidence we need to press for more decision making responsibility in more areas to be transferred to Wales.

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Peter Black and the Cofnod

In his blog today, Peter Black made some comments about the Cofnod, the official record of what is said in the Assembly, that illustrate the major problem with the Assembly Commission's position on translating it.

As I'm sure most people reading this will know, the Assembly Commission, of which Peter is a member, made the decision only to translate contributions made in Welsh to English, but not vice-versa. A few weeks ago they published a paper outlining options for translating it, one of which was to use Google Translate to provide a rough translation that would then be corrected by professional translators.

I want to make it clear that I'm not particularly interested in some of the words used in the letter which prompted his comments. However I am concerned about what his response revealed about his attitude because of his membership of the Commission. He said:

... because 76% or so of the Welsh population do not speak the language then any contributions in Plenary by Welsh speakers need to be translated for the record.

But do these contributions need to be translated? As a record of proceedings the Cofnod would be perfectly complete without any translation, either way. If anyone happened to want a version in the other language, they could get a translator to translate it for them ... or even, dare I say it, cut and paste the original into Google Translate and get the results for themselves.

However I think it is a very good idea for the Assembly to translate it, for these reasons: it obviously saves a lot of time and duplication of effort to translate it just once rather than for everybody to get their own translation made; and more importantly, it means there is one official version, not a few dozen that are more or less the same but with lots of minor differences. Sure it costs money, but I think it's money well spent.

So why does it only apply one way? Peter's rather tortured double negative shows his lack of clear thinking. He says:

I am not saying that this is not the situation in reverse. In principle I support a fully bilingual record but it is at this point that priorities have to be applied.

But why do priorities have to be applied "at this point"? In particular, why does the greasy slide from it being a matter of "principle" to it being a matter of "priorities" come after the decision to translate from Welsh to English has been made, but before taking the decision to translate from English to Welsh? If you treat both languages equally the decision must be to translate either both ways or not at all.

There are good reasons for wanting a translation from English to Welsh ... and in fact they are exactly the same as the reasons for doing it the other way, especially when someone is writing about, reporting or discussing what was said in a Welsh language setting: whether this is on-air, on the internet, in a newspaper, in a debate in the village hall or in a discussion in the pub. Yes, just as with those who want an English translation, it's perfectly possible for people who want a Welsh version to get a translation made or to do it for themselves. But why does it need to be done dozens of times when it could be done just once, and isn't it better to have one official version rather than dozens of different ones? It cuts both ways.


The blind spot in Peter's thinking is obvious. He and the Commission he is part of consider translation from Welsh to English as an unquestionable "given". It doesn't even enter their heads to question whether it is needed or not, nor even to take the same compromise position that it's somehow important in principle ... but only if we can afford it. For Peter and his colleagues translation from Welsh to English manages to be important in principle ... irrespective of how much it costs.

Now if I wanted to, I could take his rather fatuous argument and say that the money saved by not making translations from Welsh to English could also be better used in developing the language across Wales. But putting it that way only serves to show how silly an argument of that sort is. Or I could take his equally silly remark that:

"decisions taken in support of the Welsh language ... have to be balanced against competing demands for that money"

... and point out that if translating from English to Welsh is considered to be a decision "taken in support of the Welsh language" then translating from Welsh to English must equally be described as a decision "taken in support of the English language". Neither is true. The money is spent to make the workings of the Assembly as transparent and easy to access as possible, to as many people as possible, irrespective of the language used.

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