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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Cibwr said...

Mmmm £500 million, sure its not £1 billion? where do you get that figure from... plucked from the air I imagine.

Anonymous said...

You are probably on the right track with £1 billion. But when questioned Rhodri Morgan (as first minister )accepted conservatively in excess of £500 Miilion. Isn't it strange that Cardiff Bay refuse to publish the figure.
The truth is out there!

MH said...

I think our favourite fantasist is climbing the walls because Welsh is growing and he doesn't like it. Tough. We live in a democracy, and we have decided that we want Wales to be a fully bilingual nation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the stats MH. Could you do a bar graph for % A*-C pass rate for Welsh Ist and Second Lang. for the past four years?

Anonymous said...

The huge, unspoken problem with the teaching of Welsh and indeed of Welsh language schools is resourcing them with teachers who are themselves fluent in Welsh. I know Athrawon Bro help in primary schools, but a few years ago I did some supply work at a WM school, and while most of the teachers spoke good Welsh, a couple spoke a form of pidgin, which could not be properly called Welsh. I'm sure the situation in EM schools is far worse.

Anonymous said...

MH. When have the people of wales been asked or voted for a fully billingual nation? When have the people of Wales been appraised of the costs associated in achieving this? The answer is simple butty. We never have, quite simply because the majority would vote with a resounding No or 'Dim bach' where I come from!
If you are brave enough why not ask the people?

MH said...

Anon 10:22. The data for the past ten years is available here. If you think there's anything that needs to be highlighted, then please point it out.


Siônnyn, it just so happens that I am working on the question of teachers right now, following this report in the Western Mail yesterday. Watch this space.


Anon 15:55. The commitment to Wales becoming a truly bilingual nation was made in Iaith Pawb, introduced in 2003 by the then Labour/LibDem government, but with the support of all parties in the Assembly. Representative democracy in action.

If you don't like that commitment, find or set up a party that will change it. But of course nowhere in Wales has enough people who agree with you to get such a party elected.

As for being "appraised of the costs" why don't you do some appraising? Please provide us with these costs ... but remember you need to include links to back them up, rather just pluck figures out of the air.

Anonymous said...

71% pass rate A* - C in Tredegar Comp for Welsh second language - Highest A-C pass rate of all compulsory subjects - highest number of pupils from one subject to attain a C or better - on top of the 100% pass rate at a and as level. An English School in the old county of Gwent. If thats the case in Newport maybe they should come take a look at how it's done!

Anonymous said...

You've given the 2010 link for GCSE results.

I see you've looked at the number of 15 yr olds as well as numbers in Year 11. Neither will be totally accurate as not all in Year 11, nor all 15 yr olds form the pool from which GCSE candidates come. Your bar charts probably give a pretty good indication of trends but paying too much attention to small changes in numbers and/or percentages may be misleading. Your analysis also doesn't consider the few hundred pupils taking entry level exams.

It would be good to have an analysis of entries x age x subject similar to this one available for England: http://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/ca/digitalAssets/187573_Report_20_-_How_old_are_GCSE_candidates.pdf

MH said...

Sorry about the 2010 link, Anon 23:52. Now fixed. Thanks.

As you saw from my spreadsheet, there are several sets of data which each give slightly different numbers. Last time I had used Year 11 data, but there was a break in it which meant it wasn't possible to compare like with like over the whole period so I needed to make a value judgement as to what was the best fit.

The dataset for 15 year olds (techically those who are 15 years old at the start of the academic year) which is what I switched to for the charts when I found it, seems better in three ways. First it is a consistent set over the whole period. Second there is a council-by-council breakdown on the StatsWales site which will help anyone who wants to look at things in more detail. But more importantly it seems to be the dataset used by StatsWales for comparable purposes such as the level 1 and 2 thresholds and the CSI.

If you look at the pdf version of the same data for last year (table 3) the notes show that the problem of taking GCSE's early is taken into consideration. This answers one of the questions addressed in the document you linked to. As for adults, they take a different qualification in Welsh, namely Defnyddio’r Gymraeg. So all in all, I think this is probably the best data to use determine how many students who take other GCSEs do not take a Welsh GCSE.

Now I fully agree that things will fluctuate from year to year, and that it's not worth getting too concerned with fine detail. My intention is to illustrate something that tends to get overlooked elsewhere. However I think I can remember someone giving me a link to a document produced by BYIG showing the same thing in a slightly different way. If anyone reading this can remind me of it, I'd be grateful.

Anonymous said...

Annon. You will never get WAG to tell you the real cost of funding the Welsh language. See attached freedom of info link http://cymru.gov.uk/publications/accessinfo/disclosurelogs/dlgov2010/2010/dlgov41/?lang=en

But translation alone at WAG in 2208/2009 was £2 million. So think of all the gov departments, health boards local authorities quangos etc, and £500 million doest scratch the surface.

MH said...

The reply to the FoI request you linked to shows precisely the opposite of what you've claimed, Anon.

Your problem is that you think of translation and signage as a "cost of funding the Welsh language". If you want to put it in those terms, translation and signage are just as much a "cost of funding the English language". In fact more so because, for example, the Assembly doesn't provide simultaneous translation from English to Welsh or, at present, translate contributions made in English into Welsh.

The FoI request you linked to is another example of the same thing. The reply wasn't translated into Welsh, but replies to FoI requests made in Welsh are translated into English. As an example, this original, was translated into English purely for the benefit of people who haven't learned to read Welsh. By your logic, that must be a cost of funding the English language.

But keep on thinking of examples. So far, you've managed to identify more money being spent on funding the English language than you have on funding Welsh.

Anonymous said...

MH. I think you are missing the point Anon is making. WAG will not publish the cost to the tax payers of Wales what the Welsh language really costs. In fact WAG expressly refuse to publish this information. If we want an open democratic Wales, then this information should be available. Unless of course, there is something for Nationalists like your goodself to be frightened of in making this information available for discusiion and debate. Perhaps Anon has touched a raw nerve, because it would appear from your posts you fear a reaction from Dai public that would not support your political ambitions? Is the language of heaven costing the earth?

MH said...

Once again, you're making allegations that you can't back up, Anon. The Welsh Government isn't "refusing to publish" anything about the cost of Welsh. They answered the question that was asked, as everyone who reads the link you provided can see. It is you that has got it into your head that huge sums are being spent on Welsh, but the premise of your assertion is wrong. All you've done so far is show that as much, or more, money is spent on providing services and information in English as in Welsh.

The challenge for you is not to find examples of money "spent on funding the Welsh language", but examples of money "spent on Welsh" for which there is no equivalent or greater sum "spent on English". You've not only failed to do that so far, you've actually done the opposite ... but you can have as many goes as you like.

Iestyn said...

Anon 23.14

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 tis 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.

O'ficccallaig said...

a bit late on this blog however...

The Welsh GCSE qualification should be offered as one qualification advanced or foundation , as all other subjects.
There is no English second language GCSE for students from Welsh speaking homes, why are students from non Welsh speaking homes routed to a WFL qualification when their first language is patently not Welsh.
Fine,take a higher exam if the ability is there , but without the heavy political overtone brought using the word "First " and the consequent implication that everything else is "Second".

Why have 3 GCSE's for the same subject ?

MH said...

You say "as all other subjects", O'ficccallaig, but the GCSE English exam is very different from, say, the GCSE French or Spanish exam. Very few people would claim they could speak French or Spanish purely on the basis of getting a French or Spanish GCSE ... it is just a basic introduction to the language. That is what is meant by teaching something to second language standard. Anyone who could speak French or Spanish to first language standard would get an A or A* GCSE without even trying.

However teaching and examining a language to first language standard doesn't make "everything else" second. It's perfectly possible to learn two, or more, languages to first language standard. After all, everyone who grows up in a Welsh speaking family is also able to speak English to first language standard, so why shouldn't everyone who grows up in an English speaking family be expected to speak Welsh to first language standard as well?

But I agree that it's inappropriate to have two standards of teaching and examining Welsh. I think we should do away with Welsh second language and have only one standard of teaching and examination for Welsh, just as there is only one standard of teaching and examination for English.

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