Welsh Language GCSE Results, 2013

Continuing the trend set in previous years, 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.

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This year the figures are quite encouraging. Although the size of the cohort has increased by about 1,500 compared with last year, the number taking Welsh GCSEs has increased even more. So in both numerical and percentage terms Welsh First Language entries this year are higher than ever before, Welsh GCSE entries at all levels are higher than ever before, and those students not taking any form of Welsh GCSE has now fallen to its lowest level ever.

Total number of students aged 15 at start of year
36,782 (was 35,207) ... up 1,575

Welsh First Language
5,636 entries (15.32% of year) ... was 5,224 (14.84%) ... up 412 (up 0.48%p)

Welsh Second Language (full course)
10,183 entries (27.68% of year) ... was 9,728 (27.63%) ... up 455 (up 0.05%p)

Welsh Second Language (short course)
14,744 entries (40.17% of year) ... was 13,685 (38.87%) ... up 1,059 (up 1.30%p)

Total Welsh Entries
30,593 entries (83.17% of year) ... was 28,637 (81.34%) ... up 1,956 (up 1.83%p)

Number who did not take any Welsh GCSE
6,189 (16.83% of year) ... was 6,570 (18.66%) ... down 381 (down 1.83%p)

Source for GCSE results
Source for Cohort Size

The tables below show how the numbers and percentages have changed over the last 15 years, and a spreadsheet with all the details is available here:

For me, the most important numbers are those taking a Welsh First Language GCSE. There has been a steady increase over the last 15 years from 10.94% in 1998 to 15.32% this year. In percentage terms (as opposed to percentage points) that is a 40% increase.

More disappointing is the fact that the percentage taking the Welsh Second Language full GCSE has remained relatively static. It has been at about 27% for the last five years, and is still lower than it was ten years ago when it stood at around 31%. To me this represents a failure at school level. I would have expected more schools to offer (and timetable for) the full course rather than the short course, but the evidence clearly shows that there has been no real overall change for the past eight years. This is something that the Welsh Government should have addressed before, and certainly needs to address now.

The big increase has been in the numbers and percentages taking the Welsh Second Language short course GCSE. The number taking it has increased from 6,910 in 2001 to 14,774 this year, and the percentage has increased from 18.68% to 40.17% over the same period. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the short course WSL GCSE is not really a very good measure of a student's competence in Welsh. But on the other hand many students will not have a choice about whether to take the full or short WSL course if their school only teaches the short course; and it is therefore a very positive sign that more students are themselves opting to take the only Welsh GCSE that is available to them rather than thinking so little of the language that they don't bother to sit the GCSE at all.

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In overall terms it is remarkable that fifteen years ago, when those taking their GCSEs this year were born, two-thirds of the cohort (66.28%) did not take any Welsh GCSE at all. Now the figure not taking any Welsh GCSE has fallen to only 16.83%. But in numerical terms that is more than 6,000 children who have been taught Welsh for the whole of their time at school, yet come out with nothing to show for it. So although things are moving in the right direction, there is still some way to go.

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