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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Plaid Gwersyllt said...

And it is not just statistics, the reality is that teachers of Welsh as a second language cannot speak Welsh!!

Cai Larsen said...

While in agreement with much of what you say, I'd like to quickly note that governing bodies are ultimately responsible for employing teaching staff. Local authoroties can set their own policies & try to guide governing bodies, there is little they can do to force the issue when push comes to shove.

MH said...

You make a good point about schools being primarily responsible for the teachers they employ, Cai. So I've corrected that sentence. But even though some local authorities will set guidelines, others won't ... or won't consider it an important enough issue to make a fuss about.


That's the reason I put together the figures, PG. But please don't make too sweeping a statement about WSL teachers, either. Some of them can speak Welsh, and it is quite possible for children to learn to speak Welsh through being taught it as a second language. Possible, though not actually achieved most of the time.

In very round terms, more than 50% of children in secondaries can speak Welsh [here] but only 20% would be in WM education, so some 30% have reached that stage by being taught WSL. The rest are almost certainly being taught WSL by those teachers who can't themselves speak Welsh, and we need to focus on that problem. At some point, we need to insist that Welsh can only be taught by teachers who are qualified to do so, and we need to train enough teachers to do this. In the same way that governments have prioritized or given incentives for other subjects that have not been taught adequately, we should do the same for Welsh.

The deception—which is a strong word, and one that I use reluctantly—is that most parents will have a reasonable expectation that their children are being taught by teachers who are competent in the subjects they teach. Parents who themselves can't speak Welsh can be fooled into thinking their child's Welsh teacher is competent simply because s/he can string a couple of sentences together. In some schools and areas, I'm sure it is an open secret that the teachers taking Welsh lessons aren't up to the job; but most parents 81% agree, 7% disagree] think it is important that children learn to speak Welsh, and many parents will be under the impression that their children can learn Welsh through EM education. They have a right to expect that ... especially after twelve years of lessons.

We of course would make the point that the only way of making sure that your child will learn to speak Welsh is by choosing WM education, and more and more parents are coming to realize that. But we still have a duty to the others. A one in three chance of them being able to speak Welsh isn't good enough.


I've removed your comment for the same reason as I've removed so many of them before, Anon. If you want to give figures you need to back them up. It's a shame you keep refusing to do so, because you might make a useful contribution to the discussion. It's up to you.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering what level of ability/qualification you think a teacher needs to be able to teach Welsh as a second language? GCSE Welsh 1st language/A level Welsh 2nd maybe in secondary school? And primary?

Anonymous said...

To teach Welsh Second Langauge at Primary level should require a GCSE Full Second Language level or above, as well as regular (at least annual) refresher courses. EM Primary schools should also recieve support from visiting Welsh language support teachers.
To teach it at the Secondary level it should require a degree in Welsh.
These of course together with a PGCE.

MH said...

Anon. The reasons for your posts being deleted include: making claims that you provide no evidence for; making claims that are not backed up, and sometimes directly contradicted, by the evidence you do provide; outrageous lies; defamation; and your habit of pretending to be different people, usually in order to "agree" with what you've written.

This is a shame, because you occasionally make good points that I'd be happy to take account of, and which could contribute to the discussion. The point you made about the two anomalies in the table was one of them, and I thank you for it. But those anomalies don't affect the downward trend.

As I've told you before, one lie is all it takes to twist something that is otherwise true into a lie. But unfortunately—for you, that is—it doesn't work the other way round; including one bit of truth in a pack of lies won't turn it into the truth.

Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago there were six Welsh speaking Head Teachers in English Medium schools in Pontypridd. Today there are none.

Anonymous said...

The headline should say, '42% of Head Teachers know some Welsh'.

MH said...

No, the 42% headline is right, 17:24/26. This is the number of headteachers who say they can speak Welsh. I think the majority of teachers and headteachers will know "some Welsh" ... but clearly not enough Welsh to call themselves Welsh speakers.

The problem with the report is that it seems to imply the figure is going up, when it isn't. I don't know what the figures for ten or twenty years ago were, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were higher back then, as your Pontypridd example would illustrate.

MH said...

Touching on some previous comments, I'm not particularly convinced that a grade at GCSE level should determine what subjects someone can teach. However there should obviously be a minimum entry standard for being accepted onto a teacher training course, and I think it should at least include either a full GCSE at C or above in Welsh or, for those training as adults, an equivalent qualification.

The key, however, is what the teacher training course itself should entail. Depending on subject and age group, the course needs to include modules regarding teaching Welsh, and passing the course would be dependent on achieving minimum standards. This might well mean that those with weak Welsh language skills would not go choose to go into those sectors of teaching which require Welsh language ability, but it wouldn't exclude those who were committed enough to learn as part of the course.

At secondary level, the situation is easier because teachers train for specific subjects. If an English-medium secondary school has thirty or forty teachers, it probably only needs two teachers able to teach Welsh. But these teachers need to not only speak Welsh to first language standard themselves, but be specifically trained to teach Welsh as a second language. As I've said before, I think being able to teach Welsh is a higher standard than either being able to speak Welsh or being able to teach in Welsh. The problem is that the education system currently thinks that a lower standard of Welsh will do. A potential teacher of Welsh needs to learn to teach Welsh on top of being able to speak Welsh well enough to give lessons in another subject in Welsh. That skill needs to be acquired as part of teacher training for new teachers of Welsh at secondary level, or as a CPD module for existing teachers.

It might be worth cross-posting this comment by Iestyn on another thread as an example of the difference a couple of teachers like that have made to Tredegar Comp's performance:

Tredegar School's Welsh department is run by two enthusiastic young Welsh speakers who use everything they can to make the subject interesting and relevant - I had the pleasure of dicussing this with them in the Blaenau Gwent Eisteddfod last year. It's not surprising that they get good results, as they teach a living language that is relevant to the local pupils.


The situation is much trickier at primary level, because the usual pattern is for one teacher to take one class for all subjects. As Welsh is an integral part of the curriculum in all schools, it would require nearly all primary school teachers to be competent in Welsh. This would be a huge change.

To a degree we can reach a interim solution. The Athrawon Bro service provides specialist Welsh teachers who will spend a day or a couple of half days teaching in a number of different EM schools. But the only long term solution is for all primary teachers to be able to speak Welsh. Specifically this means not assuming they can speak Welsh on the grounds that they got a GCSE five years or more earlier, but ensuring that their training includes modules in which they are required to learn how to teach a minimum standard of Welsh.

For existing primary school teachers who have not learned Welsh, the solution must be for them to take these modules as part of their CPD. Though in the interim we might have a situation where a teacher who cannot speak Welsh could work in a team with teaching assistants who can speak Welsh.

Anonymous said...

When i said above
'To teach Welsh Second Langauge at Primary level should require a GCSE Full Second Language level or above, as well as regular (at least annual) refresher courses'

What I meant was that Primary School teachers be trained to at least GCSE Welsh Second Language level when they are teaching, as well as being taught how to teach Welsh during the PGCE course.
Not just that they have a GCSE in Welsh.

MH said...

Thanks, Anon. I was setting out some of my thoughts in response to the general question about what the qualifications should be. I didn't intend to criticize what you'd written. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

MH - it's these kind of reports and figures which make many of feel uneasy when people try to 'big up' the number of Welsh speakers. This was the case with the recent debate we had on Syniadau about Huw Jones's of S4C's comments on the number of Welsh speakers.

It's not that we don't want to believe the facts it's that we don't.

Thanks in any case for this posting.


MH said...

It's in nobody's interest to either big up or play down the numbers, M. All we can hope to do is look at the various sets of information available to us and attempt to put the pieces together to give as clear a picture as possible.

I'd agree that the press release that led to the story in the Western Mail was more upbeat than the figures warranted. Not because the 42% was wrong, but because the quote implied that the situation was improving. I don't want anybody to be lulled into the conclusion that it is.

The one thing I want to put across to anybody reading this in a position to change it, is the extent to which teachers who by their own admission can't speak Welsh are actually teaching Welsh. Unless we improve the numbers of teachers actually able to both speak and teach Welsh, we cannot hope for the standard of Welsh that children learn at school to improve.

We now have a Welsh-medium Education Strategy which, although more limited than I'd like, is welcome. What we now need is a Welsh as a Second Language strategy to transform the way we teach Welsh in non Welsh-medium schools.

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